rejoicing while we wait

I didn’t know it was possible to experience such sweetness in the middle of the story, in the places without resolution or certainty. Yet the Christmas season seems to be the perfect place to wrestle with and settle into contentment in the tension.

In high school, I went on a mission trip to the Czech Republic with my youth group. I loved building relationships with friends from a different culture, and we would often talk about the ways we did things in America vs. Europe. A Czech student told me that one thing he had observed about Americans was how we always wanted happy endings. He referenced our Disney movies and talked about how the traditional fairy tales often had different endings, or at least went about in other ways to reach their conclusion.

His example was the ending of The Little Mermaid, as in the traditional story the Prince marries someone else (not Ursula in disguise–that plot twist was created by Disney) and Ariel becomes a spirit in the sky.

In college, as I was doing research for a lit analysis, I discovered that in the Grimm Brothers’ story of Cinderella, one of the stepsisters cuts off her big toe and the other cuts off part of her heel so that the slipper fits, and the trail of blood is what gives both of them away.

Neither of those examples made the Disney cut. And for good reason–children wouldn’t like it. Honestly, I wouldn’t like it. We typically want to see stories wrap up the way we expect, the way we want our own lives to settle up. There’s a happily-ever-after bow that we expect to be tied onto the end of our stories, and until that bow is there, we find ourselves feeling as if something is not right.

In one sense, this longing can remind us that the story is not over. But in another way, it can keep us from appreciating where we are at right now, as if we can’t be okay in the middle of the story if we don’t know the ending (or if the ending doesn’t look to be happy).

I notice this as people talk to us about our infertility. I am so grateful to have friends who are still praying for us to conceive and become parents. That is still the desire of our hearts. But that can sometimes feel like the only option, the thing we are waiting for in order to be happy, and before that happens, we have to be doing everything we can to get that happy ending.

When we are in a place of contentment despite this unfulfilled desire, I feel I have to defend why we aren’t continuing to take steps to try new things. Why we aren’t moving forward with procedures that can attempt to overcome the obstacles in our bodies. Why we aren’t ready to pursue adoption.

Our friends want that happy ending for us. I want that. But I am learning that it’s not as much about happy endings as it is being present in the story. As Americans–and especially as American Christians–we aren’t always good at this. It’s as if our faith adds a new dimension onto this perceived need to be happy, to be able to say “God is good!” no matter what. And he is. But in the familiarity of this, or in using it as a band-aid to hide our disappointment, we can sometimes miss the beauty of the tension found in our longing.

The traditional Christmas hymn “O Come O Come Emmanuel” captures this tension in a sad yet lovely way.

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel

This hymn is a realistic reminder that we are caught in a not-yet-fulfilled desire for Messiah’s return, just as the Jews in the Old Testament were waiting for the first appearance of the Messiah. This is what Advent is all about, a recognition of our wait and his promised coming.

And yet, in the middle of the wait, before the promise is fulfilled, the command from these lyrics is to rejoice because he is coming. There is hope in the wait, and the ability to rejoice while we the wait is prompted by a recognition of what’s lacking tied to the hope of its fulfillment.

It’s not an ignorance of what’s lacking, or even a forced decision that the lack really doesn’t matter that much so it shouldn’t keep us from rejoicing–both of which are temptations I have felt to help me cope in my own waiting seasons in life.

Instead, we acknowledge our need for Christ and rejoice as we wait for him because it has been promised that he is coming again. And I am experiencing God’s presence in the wait as I ask for even more of it. That’s what I find myself praying as I sing this hymn–“O come, God with us, and be with me as I wait for you.”

All of our lives we will live in some sort of unresolved tension. Happily ever after won’t fully come until Christ’s return. But that doesn’t mean that the rejoicing is on hold–in fact, that anticipation can make rejoicing now even sweeter.

I don’t know what your lack is right now. I don’t know what you find yourself waiting for or longing for. But I do know that all of our desires are met in Him (Psalm 10:17, Psalm 145:16, Isaiah 58:11), and in the middle of the wait, there is joy to be found because God is here and he is coming again.

“Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!” (Psalm 27:14)

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understanding the peace that passes understanding

What does the word “peace” bring to mind when you hear it?

I picture a perfect fall day, leaves at the height of their brilliance and strewn across the walking path as I sit on a bench next to a creek, away from my phone and my to-do lists and the dog hair that always seems to pile up in the corners of my kitchen.

Maybe for you it’s a different place, a beach or a spa or a snow day.

Or maybe it’s less of a place and more of a season of life, having everything “figured out” and no problems to solve. One common association of this word (especially among mothers of young children) is a desire for “peace and quiet.”

But often, peace is not accompanied by the quiet. In fact, peace is most clearly found when everything around it is chaos and confusion and clutter.

I once read (I wish I could remember where) a description of a painting that displayed a great storm rolling in above a waterfall. You could imagine the crashing of the water and the shudder of the thunder, lightning flashing to illuminate the woods surrounding the river banks. In one corner of the painting, a small nest was tucked away among some limbs, and a bird was featured, fast asleep. The illustrator had titled the work, “Peace.”

So often, I find myself praying for peace, and what I am actually praying for is an ease in my circumstances. I am asking for God to make clear everything around that is confusing. I am asking for things to slow down, to be happier – to be, honestly, what I want them to be. I want resolution, and I typically think that peace is found within that resolution.

However, right now, I am learning to see my life as “at peace”–even though many of my struggles and prayers are yet unresolved. Over the past four or five months, I have discovered that the things that once felt painful or difficult, while they have not gone away, are no longer dominating my life. I don’t want to deny that life has more of an element of uncertainty than ever right now, because I think that’s the most beautiful part about this peace from God.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

The verses above provide two commands and a resulting promise. Don’t be anxious; instead, bring everything to God in prayer. If you do these things, you will experience this protective peace that passes understanding, which can only happen as you surrender those concerns to God.

The Message version provides a beautiful commentary on these verses:

“Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.”

God’s peace is not related to a calm in our circumstances. Peace does not occur when life slows down or eases up, but rather when things are hard and nothing about our circumstances are easy. That’s why it surpasses understanding.

Jesus spoke of this. He told his disciples that he was giving them peace but in the same breath warned them of difficulties ahead.

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. –John 16:33

There’s something different about the peace that Jesus offers, something that is unlike what the world might expect.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. –John 14:27

Spurgeon wrote that in this peace, our “faith goes further than understanding, and the peace which the Christian enjoys is one which the worldling can not comprehend, and can not himself attain.” He illustrates the effects of this peace by writing:

When you have once felt it, when you can stand calm amid the bewildering cry, confident of victory, when you can sing in the midst of the storm, when you can smile when surrounded by adversity, and can trust your God, be your way never so rough, never so stormy; when you can always repose confidence in the wisdom and goodness of Jehovah, then it is you will have “the peace of God which passeth all understanding.”

In my life, this peace has transformed the way I am walking through those days, as I approach them with surrender and gratitude. I am finding security as I let go of my concerns, looking not for resolution but instead for the presence of Christ. God’s goodness plays out not in prosperity but in his presence and his plans, which I trust are greater than my own.

I truly believe that the peace that God gives is most beautifully portrayed in our dark or difficult days, and in that sense, I am grateful to live in the tension of unresolved yet secure and guarded by Christ.

marriage letters: the fear of becoming bored

Dear Eric,

I went to bed early last night with a regular headache, and I woke up a little before 1 a.m. with the worst sharp headache that I have ever had. I stumbled into the kitchen to take a couple of Tylenol, and by the time I came back to bed, my head was throbbing.

You woke up and asked if everything was okay, and for the next 30-45 minutes you sat straight up in bed, stroked my hairline, and prayed over me as I tried to fall back asleep. Thankfully, the pain began to come and go, then eventually subsided to a normal headache as I fell back asleep. I don’t remember you laying back down, so I know you were awake longer than I was, praying over me and, I’m sure, trying to not worry.

It was one of the most tender moments in our almost six years of marriage, the way you cared for me and prayed for me. Did you know that, in the midst of miserable middle of the night pain, I fell in love with you a little more?

I used to worry that, if infertility lasted too long, we might get bored. Stagnant.

Not that I wouldn’t still love you, or that we wouldn’t be best friends, but that our marriage would not move forward to the next stage. That we would feel stale together. Every other marriage I observed and many of the couples we talked to described how their relationship changed when they had kids. It pushed them to learn so much more about God and themselves, and I guess I began to see that as the only way to learn those things.

In the past 6-8 months, though, I have started to experience the Lord pushing us to grow and changing us, even without the added factor of kids. Not just because we have had a lot going on in our lives, still adjusting to our move last summer and changes in seasons of work, but because I see that God is changing both of us.

If sanctification is a life-long process, I am realizing that means that we will always be changing, if we are individually walking with the Lord and allowing his Spirit to work in our lives. As we both wrestle with sin in our lives, as we continually allow our minds to be renewed and our lives to be transformed, as we take steps of faith and find ourselves in new circumstances–we will each grow. And we are growing even now as we trust God with where he has us today as well as where he will take us tomorrow.

Keeping our marriage healthy takes so much intentionality. It always has–even in the beginning, it required work on our part. But I think the reason it can almost feel harder now is it’s easier to co-exist without thinking about it, since we know each other so well. We aren’t still learning some of those everyday things that we learned our first few years married: what will unconsciously hurt the other person’s feelings, how to handle conflict, the best way to discuss finances, the need to communicate expectations. Not that we perfectly follow those now, but I typically know why what I said upset you or when to wait on bringing up a to-do list.

Yet I know that I don’t know everything about you–or, at least, I know I should never think that I do. I want to be a student of Eric Barnes. I want to see you as someone who is ever-changing and maturing, and it’s my privilege to walk alongside you and affirm you and call out the growth you may not see in yourself.

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The other night, we sat together in front of our fire pit in the backyard watching flames flicker and dance. In the quiet of the night, I prayed that God would help me to know you more deeply, to take the time to ask those intentional questions and to make space for us to engage each others’ hearts.

I’m excited for this season of our marriage as we continue to grow individually and together, no matter what changes (or lack of changes) are prompting that growth.

You’re my favorite.

Love, me.

 

I started writing marriage letters a couple of years ago to participate with a monthly blog series Amber Haines prompted others to join in with her. Writing these letters spoke affirmation into my marriage, and my prayer is that by still writing them and sharing them every so often, I will also encourage others to pursue intentionality and affirmation in their own marriages.

why I stopped asking why

I’ve stopped asking why.

I used to cling to purpose, to reasons, to analysis and determination that I would do all I was supposed to during an unexpected season that I saw as a detour I simply needed to get around. I was strategic and open to hearing from the Lord but also determined to figure out the why on my own.

But life rarely goes the way we expect it to. After a job loss we weren’t prepared for then numerous job changes for both me and Eric, after a planned move to Louisville for seminary that never happened, after support raising and the decision to end support raising and the 3.5 year job that he never wanted to last more than a year and a move to my hometown and house buying attempts that fell through and both of us struggling to find boundaries with work and another deferred seminary enrollment, not to mention 2.5 years of infertility (and continuing)–I’ve learned that there’s not always a clear why, at least not one that I should be building my life upon.

I still want the why. I would love for God to give me a tangible answer: “This is what you are supposed to do since you don’t have kids yet.” I wanted the why throughout all of the unexpected twists and turns in our journey. If I could just know what I need to learn or how I should spend my time, I could perhaps be more content with my detour, right? I could refocus my eyes from where I wanted to be to what I need to do so that I can eventually get where I want to be.

But I can also see how I am looking to a tangible purpose to be an identity or a task to conquer so that I can move forward in my life. I find myself looking for that reason instead of looking for God in the middle of the dark.

I’ve been reading W. Philip Keller’s A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, and through the course of the book my view of God and his care for us has been expanded by recognizing the helplessness and the stupidity of sheep. The humbling descriptions of how sheep act and the attention they require has made me realize the depth of my need for God.

As Keller comments on each part of Psalm 23 and how it relates to his past experience with sheep-herding, I was struck by his description of “He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” He discusses the need for a shepherd to keep his sheep on the move, preventing their wearing out the same paths, both for the sake of the land and the sake of the sheep’s health. Keller then discusses how followers of Christ, instead of trying to make their own paths and go their own way, can move forward onto new ground with God.

Instead of finding fault with life and always asking “Why?” I am willing to accept every circumstance of life in an attitude of gratitude.

Human beings, being what they are, somehow feel entitled to question the reasons for everything that happens to them. In many instances life itself becomes a continuous criticism and dissection of one’s circumstances and acquaintances.

I’ve been pondering how that attitude of gratitude would change my daily life, how I might be able to rest in that perspective instead of the exhausting pursuit of a knowable reason for everything. While I do believe that God has a purpose for each part of our lives, a tapestry woven together to make us more like him and to bring glory to his name, I no longer think it’s my objective to discover the why for every single thing.

In fact, His Word tells us that his ways are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9). We won’t always understand what He is doing, at least not in the moment or perhaps even in our lifetime. When Job asked God what fault he found with him (Job 31), God’s response was not to give an explanation, but to give Job a bigger view of Himself (Job 38-41). Job’s then admits, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (Job 42:2-3).

We are but sheep. Our job is not to be the shepherd, or even the Shepherd’s assistant, but to follow the Shepherd where He leads us, trusting His knowledge and His plotted out paths for our nourishment.

But if one really believes his affairs are in God’s hands, every event, no matter whether joyous or tragic, will be taken as part of God’s plan. To know beyond doubt that He does all for our welfare is to be led into a wide area of peace and quietness and strength for every situation. –Keller

He might choose to give us a clear purpose, calling us to something specific or creating circumstances that allow for focused growth. But even if He doesn’t, He is a good shepherd (John 10). As I find rest in who He is, I am less dependent on knowing a reason why and instead seeking to know Him. I am building my life upon Him, as He is the greatest purpose in any season I encounter.

How to Really Rejoice with Those Who Rejoice

I was in a bad mood. I knew it, and I knew why. But instead of dealing with it the way I knew I should (probably going on a walk and listening to a podcast, or journaling and praying to process my feelings), I grouchily laid on the couch, sighed, and pulled out my phone.

I knew better.

We’ve probably almost all been there–scrolling through social media feeds, feeling more discouraged and left out with each swipe, knowing that this addiction to see the next entry is harmful to our hearts yet being unable to put the device down.

And of course, the source of my pain, the thing I was trying to forget, was everywhere my fingers were tapping.

((Click to continue reading over at Upwrite Magazine))

discovering the beauty of zion

I still remember the chill of the morning air, my fleece zipped up tightly as I walked through campus toward Old Main Lawn. I prayed as I walked, pretending that Jesus was walking alongside me and I was in conversation with him. When I arrived at the bench that faced my favorite climbing tree, I set down my backpack and pulled out my Bible, my breaths deep due to cold air in my lungs and in wonder of the low fog that settled over the lawn.

I loved having a “date” with the Lord before the hustle of the day began. Campus was silent at 7 a.m., and in the stillness my heart was able to rest in his presence.

I experienced a similar feeling on my weekends “off” while I worked at summer camp in high school and college. Sunday afternoons were a time most of my friends would nap, resting before the next week of swimming and fishing and dancing and aggie-mo softball. I’ve never been very good at napping unless I am sick, so I would use that time to find shade at the Big Lake boat dock or on the Vespers benches overlooking the ranch. An enchanting quiet settled over the camp on the weekends, and my journal pages turned as I processed all that the Lord was teaching me through my ministry with these kids. While sitting on the dock, hands resting behind me on the well-worn wood, toes in the water, crickets humming in the tall grass, I met with God.

Some of my favorite afternoons during the week were when ranch activity was forced to a stop by summer rain. The coziest place was in my cabin perching on my bed, tarps rolled up to let in sounds through screen windows. There was nothing quite like extended rest time due to rain delays, my campers all napping or quietly reading in their bunks, and my heart basking in the presence of God that met me right on that squeaky spring bed frame.

For Israel, the place that stirred to mind their covenant relationship with God was Zion. This word is used frequently in Scripture to denote Jerusalem broadly, but specifically the “city of David,” a stronghold David first captured from the Jebusites at the start of his reign. It’s also where David brought the Ark of the Covenant until his son Solomon built the temple. It can refer to “the place, the forms, and the assemblies of Israelite worship” (Nave’s Topical Bible Concordance). Then, in the New Testament, Zion refers to the heavenly Jerusalem we as believers are anticipating.

Psalm 48 is a praise psalm which is prompted by a reflection on Zion. Willem A. VanGemeren comments, “The godly had a special feeling about Jerusalem that is beautifully and sensitively expressed in this psalm. They looked on the city, mountain, and temple as symbols of God’s presence with his people.” From describing the beauty of this place to its fearful effect on enemies, Zion produces praise from God’s people. Verse 8 states, “Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love.”

I love VanGemeren’s thoughts on this verse:

The godly “meditate” on God’s mighty acts (v.9). Their meditation was more than a devotional reading. They took comfort in, rejoiced in, and made offerings in gratitude to the revelation of God’s perfections. It was a God-given visual aid, encouraging them to imagine and to reflect on the long history of God’s involvement with Israel and of the evidences of his “unfailing love” (hesed).

However, we don’t always remember this or feel in awe of it. We feel alone or lacking in God’s touch. We don’t necessarily have the temple as a “visual aid” to direct our thoughts to God. How do we cultivate that praise daily, in our own lives? The Israelites lived with a constant visible reminder of God’s presence, but how can we remember his presence dwelling with us?

Psalm 48:12-14 commands the people, “Walk about Zion, go around her, count her towers, consider well her ramparts, view her citadels, that you may tell of them to the next generation. For this God is our God for ever and ever; he will be our guide even to the end.” I have been considering what I can do to actively remind myself of God’s glory in the way that the Israelites could walk around the city and the temple.

Dr. Thomas Constable notes that “[a]ncient peoples connected the glory of a god with the place where he dwelt.” How incredible, then, to know that God’s presence is with us always! As believers on this side of the cross, his Holy Spirit dwells with us, empowering us and changing us (Romans 8:9-11).

You may not find me on the Big Lake dock these days (though I would love to return!), but I have new places in my grown up life, simple spots like my back porch, that help me focus on meeting God and meditating on his beauty. Sometimes that desire is triggered by a cup of coffee in my favorite mug or a new journal instead of a specific place. Sometimes it’s the worship song I have had on repeat because it so perfectly describes the state of my heart. I am learning to fill my days with little things that remind me of God’s presence dwelling with me and my surrender to his guidance and his rule, my version of walking around the citadels and admiring the ramparts.

The glory of Zion is nothing less than the adoration of God-with-us (Immanuel). The wonder of the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ is anticipated in the wonder of God’s presence among his people in the OT. The Incarnation is a mystery, but the revelation of God in human form should never take away from the mystery of God’s presence and beneficent rule (48:1-3) in the OT. –VanGemeren

Psalm 48 prompts us to meditate on God’s praise and glory even as tangible things of this world remind us of his presence dwelling with us. Walk around a local park, listen to worship music while running errands, find a place that draws your heart to rest in him. “As your name, O God, so your praise reaches to the ends of the earth. Your right hand is filled with righteousness” (Psalm 48:10).

Study the Word (part two): Meet My New Teacher, Sherlock Holmes

This is part two in a series on what I have learned to help me study the Word more effectively. You can read part one here

Growing up at a Christian school, I had a Bible class built into my schedule each year, and many of my teachers were significant influences in my understanding of Scripture and my personal walk with the Lord. Other influences, such as pastors and mentors, have also been a blessing as I have learned how to move my knowledge of Scripture out of the classroom and into real life. And, as of late, Sherlock Holmes has been the newest addition to the list of Bible teachers who have impacted my spiritual life.

I started reading Great Cases of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle because I was looking for something fun to read this summer along with some denser books that are on my coffee table. Each case that Sherlock solves is its own short story, so I can easily sit down and read a little bit, then not pick it up again for a week and not be out of the storyline. Plus, I somehow acquired this really pretty copy, and books are especially fun to read when they look and feel classic, like I should be sitting on a picnic blanket alongside the river with a parasol, or perhaps in Belle’s library in Beast’s castle. (I mean, it’s the dream library, am I right?)

This summer, I want to focus on learning how to study the Bible correctly and effectively, both for growth in my personal walk with the Lord as well as growth in how to equip the students I am ministering to. I am watching a short video series from Dallas Theological Seminary and reading a couple different books to help me gain an understanding and appreciation of studying the Bible methodically: Living by the Book by Howard Hendricks, How to Read the Bible Like a Seminary Professor by Mark Yarbrough–and what was my for-fun book is now added to this list as well.

Of all of the different ways people have put together to help you study a Bible passage, Inductive Bible Study is perhaps the most commonly taught. This method teaches observation (what do you see?), interpretation (what does it mean?), and application (how does it work?).

I’m going to be honest, I learned this method in junior high or high school, and it has continually come up in other contexts, but I have always been resistant to it because the first step, observation, feels so tedious.

Observation is simply looking at what the words on paper say, but there are so many factors to consider when you observe. You want to consider the type of writing, the time period of the author, the grammatical significance of the words on their own, and the significance of the sentence in light of the paragraph, in light of the chapter, in light of the book. You should look for comparisons, contrasts, commands, promises, cause and effect statements, conclusive statements, etc. And when this method is taught, you are instructed to write all of this out.

My pride always convinced me that I have excellent reading comprehension–I mean, I scored pretty dang high for that section on the ACT­–so I was probably above spending much time on the observation part. That was just for people who weren’t good readers or who were baby Christians still unfamiliar with the Bible.

But I am learning that, when I skip observation, my ability to correctly interpret and apply the passage is hindered. I am not getting the full depth of the God-breathed words when I decide to just read it once then immediately determine what I think it means.

The Sir Arthur Conan Doyle connection: the more Sherlock stories I read, the more I recognized that Sherlock Holmes follows the same method of observation, interpretation, and application. His ability to make keen observations then interpret what those mean is what has made him famous! It’s the key to solving each mystery.

There are a few (convicting) lessons I have learned from Sherlock Holmes about how to more effectively read and study my Bible.

  1. Don’t go into observation having already determined your supposed application.

It can be easy to open your Bible looking at a specific passage to prove a certain point, but all too often that results in our unconsciously trying to make Scripture say what we want it to say. Observation has to come before interpretation and application in order to correctly understand the Word.

In “A Scandal in Bohemia,” Holmes receives a letter requesting an audience with him, and Watson asks, “What do you imagine that it means?” Holmes responds, “I have no data yet. It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.”

There are several ways I think this concept applies to our interpretation of Scripture. Don’t go to the Bible looking for Scripture to prove your own points. Be cautious that you don’t make up an application just to have something to say about a passage. And don’t assume you know what a passage is talking about just because of how you have heard it talked about in the past.

There’s a method and an order to most things in our world, from building a house to cooking a meal to solving a math problem, and reading the Bible is no exception.

  1. Nothing is insignificant.

In “A Case of Identity,” a Miss Mary Sutherland had entered Holmes’s house upset, and after asking her a couple of questions, he allows her to just talk, explaining her background and her family history and her relationship with her stepfather before she even begins to discuss the actual reason she was there. Watson observes: “I had expected to see Sherlock Holmes impatient under this rambling and inconsequential narrative, but, on the contrary, he had listened with the greatest concentration of attention.”

It turns out that these seemingly “inconsequential” details are a key in Holmes being able to understand what motives might have prompted her parents to be the conspirators behind Miss Sutherland’s mysteriously-disappeared fiancé.

When it comes to reading the Bible, there is a lot that is easy to overlook or skip. Genealogies, references to cities we don’t recognize, quotes from other parts of Scripture, metaphors that don’t make sense–these are all commonly skimmed over. In the past, if I was reading something that felt tedious or like background information, I had a habit of continuing to read ahead for the treasure instead of stopping to look for treasure in those verses, doing research to figure out why this would be in the Bible and even in this specific passage.

If every word of Scripture is God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16), that includes endless lists of names of who begat whom. That includes the choice to mention a specific city, or closing greetings, or metaphors of animals and plants.

An example to study: the genealogy of Jesus as recorded in Matthew 1 versus Luke 3. Matthew’s record starts at Abraham and works forward in time, while Luke’s starts at Jesus and works backwards in time all the way to Adam. Matthew mentions key women in his, while Luke’s only mentions men. Matthew and Luke both had different purposes in writing their Gospel accounts, and these purposes are made clear in their selection of how to present the genealogy.

  1. Connect the passage you are reading to other parts of the Bible.

Look for commonalities in Scripture–how does it all connect? Though the Bible was written by over 40 different authors on three continents over 2000 years, because those authors were actually writing the words of God, it’s one cohesive book.

The ability to consider other situations is what led Sherlock Holmes to solve “The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor.” When Holmes amazes his client by stating that he already had a conclusion, he tells him, “I have notes of several similar cases, though none, as I remarked before, which were quite as prompt. My whole examination served to turn my conjecture into a certainty.”

Sherlock Holmes considers other similar cases to aid in his present one; in the same way, consider what you know from other parts of the Word.

The ability to do this just takes practice. The more you read and study the Bible, the easier this becomes. The more I dig in to the different parts of the Bible (especially the Old Testament), the more I can connect various parts of the Bible as one whole book.

I taught through 1 and 2 Kings and 1 and 2 Chronicles this past semester while at the same time studying Jeremiah on my own. The Kings and Chronicles books provided me with an overview of the history of the divided kingdom, the generations of corrupt kings and disobedient people, and the development of what led God to the decision to punish his people through exile. Reading Jeremiah, I am thus able to understand the circumstances surrounding Jeremiah’s ministry and the examples of injustice he is referring to.

Another great example is the book of Hebrews. This powerful letter gains much more significance and depth when you have an understanding of the Old Testament, specifically the first five books of The Law. Being told that Jesus is your great high priest may not mean much until you know what a high priest was, just as learning that Jesus’ sacrifice once for all would have been an incredible relief to a people who were accustomed to the ongoing sacrificial system.

  1. Everything you need is there in the text, but observation is a learned skill over time.

In “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle,” Holmes and Watson are trying to solve a mystery concerning an abandoned turkey with a valuable blue gem found inside, and their first major clue is finding the black felt hat alongside the turkey that was dropped. Holmes handed the hat to Watson and asked what he could gather about the owner. “I see nothing,” said I, handing it back to my friend. “On the contrary, Watson, you can see everything. You fail, however, to reason from what you see. You are too timid in drawing your inferences.”

You can see everything (although, perhaps, there’s more to see if you know the original languages it was written in), yet you must learn know how to look at it, what questions to ask, and how to connect what you see to what it means.

Howard Hendricks wrote, “What makes one person a better Bible student than another? He can see more. That’s all. The same truth is available to both of them in the text. The only difference between them is what either one can see in a cubic foot of space.”

I am still learning how to slow down and spend time observing before I jump into deciding what a passage means, but my heart has been convicted that it is worth it to analyze and savor each inspired word. The following statement from Living by the Book really convicted me as I considered my perspective towards the Bible:

Too many “readers” are nothing but browsers. They turn pages the way they flip through channels on a TV set, looking for something to catch their interest. The Word doesn’t lend itself to that sort of approach. It requires conscious, concentrated effort. So read portions of the Bible over and over. The more you read them, the more clear they will become.

If you are looking for a good resource to teach you what to look for in observation, Dr. Hendricks’s book that I mentioned above is very thorough, almost to the point of being overwhelming, until you remember that the skill of observation will become more natural the longer you do it. While he is a fictional character, Sherlock Holmes’s own skills came through years of study and continuous involvement in cases that sharpened his abilities even more.

I want to dig in to everything God has revealed to us on the pages of Scripture, and I want to savor each word that he intentionally wrote to help us know him more and more.