Any of us who do bold Bible reading—the three-or-more-read-throughs-a-year folks—will have conversations with God as we read. That’s our insiders’ information . . . what makes the reading so satisfying and keeps us going.
I’m happy to promote relational Bible reading once again for a couple of reasons.
First, it’s a wonderful opportunity—a rich and realistic option. Reading the Bible each day at a normal reading pace, to be with God, has real rewards. Jesus called all his disciples to “abide in my word.” “Abide” as in “spend time and enjoy what I’m saying.” Even thirty to forty minutes each day will carry us through the Bible in three to four months.
A happily married couple will illustrate this sort of abiding love. My mother commented, after my dad’s passing, “You kids never got to know the really thoughtful side of your father—what he shared when we talked at night. It was such a treasure to me.”
I’m pretty sure mom wasn’t saying she would listen to dad talk for six or seven minutes and then pull out her notebook to journal about it for twenty minutes. Or that she spent time the next morning researching what he shared. Their communion was its own reward.
The marriage comparison has its limits. Bible reading isn’t the same as having someone else in the room; and study has a role. I spend hours digging into Bible texts when I get ready to teach or preach. But let’s not let the pendulum swing too far, as in the knowledge-as-a-commodity version of faith. Christ’s ambition is for us to know and love him; and to delight in his Father.
And that sets up the second reason—one already hinted at—for this entry.
It’s this: God’s word always stirs a response. The more we’re exposed, the more we respond. And at this stage of God’s work in history it’s his way of drawing and protecting us. He knows we’re saturated with the values and ideas of the world. The market economy—what meets us on the Internet and in every other sort of media—turns on this: marketers know we grow accustomed to what we see and hear. And repeated exposures move hearts . . . along with time and money. Yet the love and enjoyment of Christ is ignored.
Let’s tighten the focus. My promotion of Bible reading is just a prologue. The real point is to share something of my response to reading Isaiah this week.
For context, on Wednesday I drove to Hug Point on the Oregon coast and stayed overnight at Cannon Beach: great places for Bible-reading. This trip happened to include hours of hurricane-force winds, an extreme high tide, and lost power. It seemed dumb at first—I knew the forecast—yet it proved to be a wonderful scene for thinking about a dynamic creator.
In the two-hour drive to the coast I listened to about half of Isaiah. On reaching the coast I found Hug Point fully awash from both the sea and sky, so I only stayed and prayed for about fifteen minutes. Then, with my coat and Levis soaked, I drove back to a viewpoint just south of Cannon Beach and parked with wipers wiping. The “pacific” ocean was raging!
As the car rocked and shuddered in the pelting rain I revisited and underlined verses in the sections I’d listened to on the drive. Isaiah, accompanied by gale-force winds, is uniquely impressive! I’d done something like this many years ago with two high-school read-through partners from my youth group. Ben, a senior then, went on to be a Navy Seal but I can’t claim a connection!
In Isaiah God is a provocateur, displayed through his feisty prophet. Picture a man called on by God to walk around stark-naked for three years to make a single point.
Isaiah can startle the unwary reader, especially by its abrupt swings: from affirming good to confronting evil; in setting out dark, then light; in presenting God as both angry and anguished. We find shifts between a particular divine “servant”—Jesus will later say “that’s me”—and a broader and faithless national servant-nation, Israel. We find shifts between a promise that deadly nations will swallow Israel; and another promise of a coming banquet when Death will be swallowed.
And this moral oscillation is where my conversations with God are always lively. At the many shifts, bumps, and turns I find myself saying, inwardly—and sometimes even aloud—“Wait! What just happened here? Who are you talking about? Why this?”
So I find Isaiah fascinating: a transparent prophet who shares God’s heart with us. He calls for close listening and a response. In Isaiah God is clearly triune: the Father is called father; the suffering Servant is divine and sent by the Father; and the Spirit hovers over the whole.
Let me leave you with one example of an “Oh, ouch!” from my reading-in-the-storm. As the book reaches a crescendo God offers a number of encouraging glimpses of a glorious future for his people: his goodness will spread even to “those who did not seek me.” And he will create a “new heavens and a new earth” where weeping is ended.
Yet in the final chapter we still find a warning. God confronts sloganeering faith as set against Bible-defined faith. I’ll cite it and invite reflection—does it anticipate Christ’s time? Or ours? Or both?
“Hear the word of the LORD, you who tremble at his word: ‘Your brothers who hate you and cast you out for my name’s sake have said, “Let the LORD be glorified, that we may see your joy”’; but it is they who will be put to shame” (Isaiah 66:5).
Isaiah always leaves us thinking . . . and praying!