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Life

Reading the Bible in 2016: Knowing How to Read

As 2016 gets underway, many of us are starting a new Bible reading plan (and you can even start today though it’s January 7!). What is essential to making your Bible reading worthwhile this year? There’s a lot we could say, but let me boil it down to three things we must do: we must read successively, thoughtfully, and prayerfully.

First, read successively. By this I mean read whole books of the Bible at a time. The Bible is a collection of 66 books with unique genres, and specific themes, tones, and purposes in mind. Each book was written by unique people who had their own personalities and perspectives. If we are to honor this reality and mine the entire Bible for all its riches, reading books from start to finish is necessary. Otherwise, the Bible will become a grab-bag of fortune cookie sayings. You’ll end up abusing God’s word rather than honoring and obeying it.

This does not mean that you need to read the entire Bible from start to finish, though you may do that. But if you to start this year in Romans, for example, then begin at verse one and read to the end—rather than just your favorite parts. This forces you to deal with the everything in the text (even the controversial or difficult portions) and deal with everything in context. Reading in context reminds you that nothing is stand-alone. No one verse says it all. And no one book says it all. Each passage is a part of the whole book, and each book is a part of the whole Bible.

Second, read thoughtfully. By this I mean meditate as you read. Ponder what you are reading! This is not casual or flippant reading. On the other hand, it’s not deep study. I do not recommend that every time (or most of the time) you sit down to the Bible you do deep study. There are times for that—but the preponderance of your time in Scripture should simply be ingesting the Story. As Eugene Peterson writes, “There will be time enough for study later on. But first, it is important simply to read, leisurely and thoughtfully. We need to get a feel for the way these stories and songs, these prayers and conversations, these sermons and visions, invite us into this large, large world in which the invisible God is behind and involved in everything visible and illuminates what it means to live here.”

So jot down notes, make observations and connections, and consider why it matters. But keep the Greek and Hebrew dictionary on the shelf. Enter the world of Scripture and get lost there. And relish it.

Third, read prayerfully. If you divorce Bible reading from prayer, it will all be for naught. The Bible is not a book for you to read to acquire information. It’s a book of transformation because it reveals God and what he is up to. Therefore, you find out, pretty soon after reading it, that it is actually reading you. It exposes you. It brings you face-to-face with God. When this reality sinks in, your thoughts and words are suddenly caught up in conversation with the God who comes to you through ordinary words on a page (or a screen!). Take what you have thoughtfully read and turn it into prayer. Interact with the text. Interact with God. He is very real and he is very much there with you. Look at who God is and what he is doing and praise him for it. See your sin in light of his holiness and confess to him. Marvel at God’s work of redemption, culminating in his Son and thank him. Ask and trust him to fill you with his Spirit so that this text comes to life in you today.

Read the Bible successively, thoughtfully, and prayerfully. If we do this, I think we’ll see God move in and through us, because of his word, in ways we could never have imagined.

Categories
Theology

Roundup of Posts on Scripture Application Questions

Over the past several days, I wrote several posts about questions to ask to help with meditating on and praying Scripture. Ultimately, these questions help us to aid in heart-level application of Scripture. This is the only kind of application that will have lasting value. Now, these questions are not the only ones we should ask, but they are important ones. For quick reference, here are the links to those posts with a brief summary.

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Life

Law & Gospel: Four Questions

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Yesterday, I wrote a post on how to ask questions that facilitate meditation and prayer when you are reading Scripture. In that post, the focus was on the character of God (utilizing the A-C-T-S acronym): What is God like? What does a text reveal about him? The questions below are related, but slightly nuanced: what does God require of us? This nuance gets at weight of the law and the glory of the gospel. It’s important to recognize this when reading Scripture, so let me briefly explain this concept known as “Law and Gospel.”

In some way, every Bible text is calling us to be something, feel something, believe something, or do something. This is law. (Note: This is often implicit, but because the Bible is a covenant document between God and his people, every part of Scripture is designed to conform us to be a certain kind of people.) Yet the problem is that we are unable to do what Scripture commands in ourselves. However, in his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus fulfills the law on our behalf, takes the punishment we deserve, and is raised to life triumphant. This is gospel–good news! Finally one has overcome sin and death! He has earned God’s favor because he, unlike us, did obey God’s law. And he has turned away God’s wrath because he, unlike us, satisfied God’s wrath on the cross. When we receive this gospel and it takes root in our lives, we are transformed from the inside-out. We participate in Jesus’ victory with him and are now empowered by God’s Spirit to actually do what God requires.

Thus the law drives us to the gospel, and the gospel frees us to obey the law. As you read Scripture and come across laws, commands, exhortations, etc., ask yourself the following four questions.

  1. What am I required to be/do/feel/think, etc.?
  2. Why can’t I do this? How do I specifically struggle with this?
  3. How did Jesus do this in my place (think of specifics from the New Testament)?
  4. How does the Spirit now transform me to obey from the heart?

How would you phrase these questions? What ones would you add that have been helpful to you? Be sure to check back in a couple days for more questions.

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Life

Moving From Reading to Relating

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The most difficult aspect of personal Bible meditation, application, and prayer is that most of us simply do not know what to do after we have read a passage. You look at it. You look at it again. You close in a prayer. Five minutes has gone by.

While basic Scripture reading is always helpful (God’s word is alive and will work!), this may keep us limited to intellectually knowing Bible stories or facts. But if we want to know the God of the Bible, if we want to love and obey him, then the word must dwell in us richly. This happens through meditating (i.e. thinking deeply) on Scripture and turning that meditation into prayer. In Eastern religions, “meditation” means to empty your mind. In Christianity, however, it means to fill your mind with God’s word. The result of filling your mind with God’s word is then pouring out adoration and confession and thanksgiving in prayer to God. This is where Bible reading will bear the most fruit. This will take you from reading the Bible to relating to the God of the Bible.

Over the next week or so, I’m going to write some posts which include questions that will, by God’s grace, facilitate meditation and prayer. There is not one way to meditation and apply the Scriptures, so I want to give you several questions that have proved helpful to me. (Note: None of this original to me!) These questions are all application-based, which means they are aimed not at acquiring information (though info is necessary), but at transformation. The point is to massage the word into your heart so that the word takes root and begins to change you. At first, this may seem difficult or clunky. It may even seem like work (it is!). So how will you get better at doing this? I’ll tell you what my dad told me about hitting a baseball: it will take practice and repetition (lots of it). Don’t be discouraged–by God’s grace you will endure!

To start, here are four questions to ask of any text.

  1. What does this say about God and how can I adore him for it?
  2. How do I fall short of this and what other things do I worship when I forget God is like this?
  3. How is Jesus the solution to this passage and to my sin (specifics from the Gospels or Epistles?) and how can I thank God for this?
  4. How does the Spirit empower me to worship, love, and obey Jesus in this?

These questions simply work through the popular A-C-T-S acronym (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication (which is a fancy word for “asking”)).

How would you phrase these questions? What ones would you add that have been helpful to you? Be sure to check back in a couple days for more questions.

Categories
Theology

How Do You Apply the Bible to Yourself?