I came to a living faith reading the Sermon on the Mount. The transforming moment came when my reading unexpectedly turned into a conversation. Jesus was present in his words.
As I moved through the sermon each segment stirred a response and some questions. What Jesus said about sin startled me. So much so that I asked a spontaneous question: “So what do you expect of me?” He answered in what I read next: “You, therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Again, I was stunned.
It didn’t end there. The cycle of questions and answers continued until I reached Christ’s call, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness . . .” So I responded, “Yes, Lord. I will!” And with that everything changed. In that moment I became devoted to my new conversation partner. And I kept reading and asking more questions!
That experience transformed my Bible reading. I now come to the Bible as the place where the conversation continues. I bring my questions and I get to hear the Father, Son, and Spirit God offering answers. The Spirit, as promised, continues to open my eyes and ears.
At a basic level that first meeting gave me a new focus in life. While my values and too many of my sinful choices didn’t change at once, my sensitivity to sin came alive. I was more aware of my selfishness and hated it. So my old struggles continue—and I still manage to disappoint others—yet Christ’s “once, for all” forgiveness continues to invite me forward. He’s profoundly attractive as one who loves me even in my weakness.
Why confess to this awkward place of being both “changed” but “still changing”?
I write in order to ask what other Christian readers are doing with the Bible. And to offer the Bible as a coffee shop for the soul: as a place where God is available for conversations about how to change. God, I’ve discovered, loves to talk about truth, restoration, rest, and hope. And much, much more!
So my surprise is that many Christians seem clueless about the opportunity we have to hear God’s heart. I’ve raised this issue before. Let me come back to it.
But first let me say what I don’t promote.
I don’t promote Bible reading as a discipline. No one, for instance, will ever find a Bible reading schedule posted on my blogsite or in anything else I write. Many of my friends like reading programs but I refuse to go there. What I do suggest is an aggressive reading pace—and by aggressive I’m only talking about 30-40 minutes of uninterrupted reading each day. And even more as opportunities allow. That just happens to result in three or more Bible read-throughs each year.
Why not a schedule? Because Bible reading is a conversation with a real companion—the Triune God—offering himself through the pages! And a more involved conversation just might emerge if we ditch the schedule. It’s a natural feature of love relationships!
To use the analogy of marriage—something the Bible promotes—how would a marriage work if it only operated with scheduled daily meetings: if the spouses came together to talk for ten minutes each day, and then stepped apart to journal privately about how to apply that conversation?
It doesn’t suggest a great relationship. In fact it actually tells me they aren’t very engaged with each other!
For another, I don’t promote daily Bible study. The key word here is “daily.” I do study the Bible rather often when I’m preparing to preach or teach on a given text. But I do it separately from my Bible reading: it plays a different role in approaching God and offers a very different benefit.
But why not daily study? Because it’s not particularly relational! And worse than that, it actually reduces the prospect of enjoying God. In a study he’s more of an object to be inspected than a person to be enjoyed.
Let me go back to the marriage analogy as a relational touchstone here. Would a marriage prosper if two partners gave each other a paragraph-for-the-day to study? Especially if that was the total substance of the marriage? What nonsense!
Instead we get to know another in the flow of life. So in the Bible God’s word comes to us mainly as a set of extended narratives or units of thought—as faith stories that stir and invite our own growth in faith. The more we read, the more we see parallels: how God has engaged others. The Spirit then uses these to say, “This fits you, too!”
This morning, for instance, I read Amos, Obadiah, and Jonah in one go. And through these books God raised lots of conversation points with me!
What I do promote is what Jesus called for: “Abide in my word.”
What does that mean? I certainly don’t know all the elements but in the context of John 8—where Jesus gave this invitation—he spoke of the contrast between those who listen to him because they hear God’s heart in his words: “If God were your Father you would love me.”
But for those for whom his words find “no place” and who “cannot bear to hear” what Jesus offers there is another explanation: “your will is to do your father’s desires” and “you are not of God.” And, by the way, Jesus was speaking to men from among the “many [who] believed in him.” Staggering stuff!
So let’s try abiding—engaging Jesus as in a delightful marriage. It’s a transforming opportunity!