Last night I couldn’t sleep. Jos, Nigeria, at 2 AM on a lumpy mattress wasn’t working. So I reached out for my aged little iPod to listen to John’s gospel. I expected it to offer a reprieve and it did—I faded back to sleep by 3. When morning arrived I retraced the ten chapters—part of my current Bible reading—and underlined verses that especially encouraged me in the night.
Yet as I share this I know how odd this Bible reading response may seem to many. And in that oddness I think of God’s 7000 souls in Elijah’s time—the “I still follow the LORD” clan (1 Kings 19:18). They stayed with him even after he’d been dismissed by most of the people of that day.
This four-digit number—7000—wasn’t very impressive in a seven-digit Israelite population. It’s similar to today’s slim percentage of Christians in America who “like” God. Gallup’s 1984 poll cited just twelve percent of churched people as the “deeply spiritually committed” [see my last Spreading Goodness]. It’s a modest crowd. And though the poll results are now dated I suspect God hasn’t gained ground lately. In fact, the “committed” group is probably even smaller by now.
Why do I say that? Because I don’t find as many men today who are willing to team up in Bible reading as in the past. But it’s still a good response to Christ’s call for all his disciples to “abide in my word.” John 8:31—the text just cited—led to my middle of the night choice. And it worked.
Let me say more. When Jesus invites me to come closer my soul leans into him. I find a quiet joy in knowing him as my Lord and companion. And it certainly fits what Jesus said later in the same context, “If God were your father you would love me.” Love comes with being family.
So let me invite any who are ready to take the plunge into bold Bible reading. If you aren’t doing it yet try it out. A good starting point is to read through an entire Bible book in just one or two sittings. Like Genesis, or any of the New Testament gospels. You may be startled by the impact.
As a warning: two approaches are sure to block this sort of Bible reading delight. Guilt trips and diamond mining. Guilt comes with the “discipline” of reading—as if Bible reading is like being forced to swallow sour medicine. I realize some inward “noise” may distract us in the first minutes of reading—and ten minutes of persistence is needed here—but the reading soon comes alive. The second mistake is to just look for “blessings”—as if most of the text is dirt that happens to offer a rare diamond from time to time. That approach misses the point!
Instead strong Bible reading sets up our discovery of the “good shepherd’s” voice. Jesus promised, “my sheep hear my voice” (John 10). And that’s the magic of this approach. The Bible offers God’s “personality.” We catch the drama of his Triune intelligence; the power of his love and eternal communion; the passion he has for his people; and more. God loves puzzles, poetry, suspense, and drama. It’s all there! Multiple readings will never exhaust it.
What also comes through in the flow of reading is God’s selflessness. The Father loved the world and gave up the Son to die for us. And once that reality registers—that God loves us—all of life gains a new and transcendent reference point. We were made by him and for him! That’s what the good shepherd’s voice tells us once we have our spiritual ears open to hear.
Let me quit here with that as an invitation. Whenever lumpy mattresses or a lumpy time in life makes you toss and turn, try turning to the Scriptures. You’ll find a comforting voice waiting for you. And you’ll find yourself offering heartfelt thanksgiving, even in the middle of the night!