the head and the heart of reading the Bible

I’ve been a Christian for the majority of my life. I was the kid who “prayed the prayer” at six, was baptized at seven, participated in every VBS and summer camp, memorized Scripture through Awanas, and devoured her Bible classes at her Christian school.

I love to learn, so studying the Bible comes somewhat easily for me. If I am not careful, though, the academic side of my faith overshadows the personal relationship. I can spend an hour in the morning drawing conclusions as I connect different passages and recognize God’s consistent character throughout Scripture. I can even conclude what these words should look like lived out in real life, and I can communicate that to someone else. However, when it comes to my heart, there is at times a disconnect. My head might be full, but my heart is in pain, and for some reason, knowing the truth has not always brought healing and joy when I know that it should.

I want to be satisfied in the Lord. I want his Word to be my delight, my refuge, my joy–not simply another textbook that I can quote and discuss. I want the perspective that David has in Psalm 119. And trials have been the unorthodox classroom in which I have learned how to change this academic perspective on the Bible into a personal one.

While there have been many moments I have told God that I wouldn’t have chosen to be where he has me, the past few weeks have perhaps been the most difficult, at least in a long time. Nothing particularly new or devastating––it’s simply the weight of everything catching up with me. Yet as I process through what’s in front of me, I keep coming back Scripture as my only sure footing when all else feels shaky.

There are three things I have specifically learned to help me not just know the truth of the Bible in my head, but absorb it into my life and my circumstances, and I have seen that I need these truths not only when I am walking through a trial, but every day as I open this Book.

  1. The Word sustains you when you read it for yourself, not for teaching it to others.

I typically find myself with this ulterior reading motive when I want to have some truth about my current struggle. If someone asks me how I am doing, I want to be able to say something spiritual and profound. While I will encounter truth as I read the Bible, because every word is God-breathed, I don’t necessarily encounter the truth the Spirit is wanting to speak to me, the truth that he knows I need to hear and understand. I shut the book once I find something, anything, and maybe miss out on something deeper and richer.

Apart from trials, this can also be an ongoing challenge when you work in ministry or lead small groups or mentor younger believers. I certainly experience this working in college ministry. I want to be prepared to pour out as well as to share personal stories of what God is teaching me, but sometimes I get caught up in trying to figure out what I can share, and I miss out on the personal relationship and the prayer as I reduce my reading to some sort of spiritual lesson.

You can’t read the Bible simply for what it will allow you to share with someone else. Your perspective when you sit down to read the Word should begin with asking the Holy Spirit to remove distractions and premeditations so that you can come in with a humble and willing heart to hear what he has to say to you.

  1. The Word satisfies you when you aren’t looking for answers or yourself, but when you are looking for God.

We too often look for what Scripture says about us–who we are, how we should live, what decision we should make (or how we should go about making the decision). We open our Bibles almost selfishly: Okay, God, what do you have to teach me now?

This is easily one of the major reasons people stop reading the Word­­–they say that it doesn’t seem to help. As if its purpose is to give us that perfect quote so that all of life makes sense and we can live happily ever after.

The Bible is about God, from start to finish. When he talks about us, he is talking about the people he created to fulfill his purpose of his glory. Yes, we are fearfully and wonderfully made, but he is the Creator who made us fearfully and wonderfully.

I have this tendency to go to the Word looking for a quick fix. I want that perfect verse that makes me feel better or takes away all of my doubts. I open my Bible looking for what it has to offer me, and very rarely is there this magical moment where a verse is leaping off the page telling me that everything is going to be alright.

If we approach Scripture just looking to find ourselves and find what it means for our lives, without spending time to first identify who God is, we are never going to be satisfied. Our satisfaction is found in who he is, his constant character, no matter what is going on in our circumstances. If you can recognize what’s true about his character in the pages of the Bible, you can know who he is in the daily moments of your life.

  1. The Word nourishes you when you allow it to occupy more than just that first little bit of your day.

Eugene Petersen talks about how we should “Eat this book. Not merely Read your Bible but Eat this book.” Think on it, absorb it, meditate, memorize, keep bringing it back to your focus. Many of us are prone to just snack on it in the morning and hope it keeps us going throughout the day.

Petersen goes on to write, “Eating a book takes it all in, assimilating it into the tissues of our lives. Readers become what they read. If Holy Scripture is to be something other than mere gossip about God, it must be internalized.”

I need to be memorizing and meditating. We don’t eat one small meal at the beginning of the day and expect it to last us 24 hours. And when we exercise, we actually need to eat more. Trials are like exercising–we need to take in more fuel than usual.

 

Going back to walking through trials–my heart is beginning to agree along with my head that he is enough. He satisfies me. He is my joy.

As I eat this book, I see this more and more. David found satisfaction in God, even in pain or loneliness or confusion. Paul saw God as worth more than all of the hardship and surrender he was facing. Prophets like Jeremiah and Hosea were willing to face continual rejection as they faithfully followed God’s call. Habakkuk found himself rejoicing even when all else in life was uncertain and falling apart.

The process of accepting and absorbing this is ongoing, but my personal prayers are beginning to align with Psalm 119:28, 37, 50: “My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word! Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways. This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life.” May we find life in God’s words, even when (especially when) our day to day feels like it is draining life from us.

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One thought on “the head and the heart of reading the Bible

  1. Such a good perspective on how the Word of God sanctifies us . . . until we are satisfied with Him alone. This is a good reminder, even for a long-time student of the Word. Thank you for sharing your heart!

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