Thursday, July 28, 2011

Digging Deeper into God's Word

One of the most popular New Year's Resolutions among evangelical Christians is that of reading through the Bible in a year. There are myriads of reading plans available, designed to take the reading through the Bible in many different ways. I have personally tried several different plans, including the Chronological plan, Robert M'Cheyne's plan, and I also experimented with Professor Horner's plan for a month or so. Many plans are divided up into OT and NT readings each day, so the reader does not get "bogged down" in the OT for an extended period of time. While these reading plans are helpful, and reading the Bible daily is something each Christian should practice, too often these plans turn the study of God's word into a checklist. It can play off of our Americanized "achievement mentality", where we base our success and our view of our self-worth on how much we can accomplish. A sense of failure can set in if we fall behind on the reading schedule, and we hurriedly try to catch up by skimming through the reading. 

This utterly defeats the purpose of the Word of God. The Bible is not meant to be read like a newspaper, skimming through chunks of text until we get to the good stuff (familiar passages), or avoiding the parts we are not interested in, those that we do not feel have any relevance to our lives today (Leviticus anybody?). The Bible is meant to be carefully perused, digested, and meditated upon. "All Scripture is breathed out by God" (2 Timothy 3:16), so all Scripture is equally relevant and applicable to our daily lives, if we are willing to be patient enough to let the Spirit illuminate it for us. 

I have recently begun the practice of taking a portion of Scripture and breaking it down over the course of days or weeks, wringing out all the possible meaning that God has put into it (I recommend using at least 3-4 verses, to enable you to get the full context). After reading the passage, I meditate on what I have read, asking the Spirit to open my heart to the truths contained in it. After I have obtained an understanding of the context and the main point of the passage, there are three questions that I ask myself to help clarify it in my mind:

1) What does this passage teach? - In other words, what truths are asserted here, about God, about me, about the world? Many 21st-century American Christians are biblically illiterate and feel that the Bible is utterly irrelevant to their lives. After all, the Bible is OLD. The problem with this view is that these people are searching for themselves in the Scripture instead of searching for God. The Bible is not about you, it is about God, and his plan for redeeming his people through Christ. When reading through difficult OT passages, instead of asking, "How does this passage apply to me?", ask, "What does this passage teach me about God and his character?" This approach will open up the Scriptures in a whole new way and teach you to see things from God's perspective.

2) What does this passage command? - Scripture is full of commandments, both direct and indirect. We must be discerning to identify which commandments apply to us today and which were specific to the original hearers. Ask the Holy Spirit for guidance as you discern God's will for your life.

3) How can I apply this passage to my life? - This is where the rubber meets the road. Some texts are easier than others to apply (Sermon on the Mount vs. 1 Chronicles). This step is where meditation on the text comes in. Be patient. Take time to be quiet before God and let the Spirit help you discern how you can apply the text to your circumstances. Remember, the Scriptures are first and foremost about God, so use that as the starting point. 

Reading the Scriptures is one of the most important spiritual disciplines the Christian should develop. The Bible should not be read haphazardly or flippantly. Taking time to dig into the word and be patient before God will reap many rewards.

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