In the first part of Reading as Conversation, we talked about the two pivotal events that propelled me into changing the way I read the Bible. I also talked about how the Bible is a game-changer. What that means is if we want to see the Bible do what God intended for it to do in our lives we have to stop “telling” the Bible what it is. We have to allow God’s word to work as God designed it to work in our lives. Too often we come to the Bible with all kinds of preconceptions and then are pleasantly surprised when we find what we were “looking for.”
Let’s take a moment and review the six basic realities we must understand and believe regarding the Bible. There may be more, however, I believe that if we are going to learn to read the Bible better we have to start with some ground rules about what we are dealing with.
- The Bible was written by God.
- The Bible’s author is not dead.
- The Bible is designed to point to who God is and not just tell me what to do.
- The Bible reveals God’s character.
- The Bible defines what sin is.
- The Bible proclaims the good news that Jesus has reconciled sinners to a holy God.
Do you believe these things to be true of God’s word? If you do not, you will have a difficult time hearing from God and discerning what he is trying to do in the world and, more importantly, in your life.
We will now discuss three principles that govern how I read the Bible. These principles are what transform the Bible from a reading exercise or a chore into a pleasure. If we can wrap our minds around these simple ideas, I believe, everyone’s reading of the Bible will be radically changed.
1. Engage as many of the senses as possible as you read
When we read books we generally engage several of our senses in the process. The reason for this is it enhances our reading and actually increases our investment in what we are reading. Books that leave an impression are those books that “get under our skin.” There is something about the characters or the setting; the twists and turns of the plot that causes us to want to keep reading. To get to the end and find out how the puzzle gets solved.
The Bible is no different. There are all kinds of characters, plot twists, settings and more to keep us engrossed. I find that what has happened is that we have characterized the Bible as a manual rather than what it is–God’s story played out through the human drama. I could have said along-side the human drama, but this is not correct. The Bible is the only religious text that reveals the main character through the lives, events, and circumstances of the other minor characters. We see God for who he is because we see how the other players respond and interact with God.
If we are going to maximize the impact of the Bible in our reading we have to do a better job of becoming engrossed in the reading of the Bible. We must allow our imagination to pull us into the stories and characters we encounter. We should be able to feel the dirt or road or grass beneath our feet. To smell the aromas wafting in around us, whether they be intoxicating or revolting. The sensation of a rock in our hands, the sling on our fingertips, the water over our heads. This and so much more must be experienced, not merely known as bits of data.
When you read about Lazarus dying, can you hear the wailing of his sisters and friends? When Peter faltered after walking on the water could you feel the weight of your body sinking into the sea? When Jesus fed the five thousand did you wonder how the fish would taste?
God has given to us the ability to imagine, not so we can conjure up any whim or fancy as we read the Bible. It is not a time to ask the “what if” questions that draw us away from the story rather than draw us in. Our holy imagination should help us to step into the world of the Bible. It should help us to better sense the human element of the story. We have to understand that the human element is what bridges us to the God of the Bible.
We must engage as many of our senses as possible when we read. This will get us closer to understanding what was truly taking place as we flip the pages from one chapter to the next.
2. Conversations last longer than lectures
The second principle for reading the Bible is thinking of the time we spend reading as a conversation with God. Many people have suggested this before, but I do not think we know how to follow through with this idea. So, let me explain what I mean. I get the feeling that we just don’t know how to do it anymore. We have become so inundated with tweets and soundbites that we no longer know how to sustain a conversation for more than a few minutes.
Conversations typically have at least two participants. However, how many times do we read with the idea that there is only one person involved in the process? When we do not enter into the reading event with the idea of God being present as we read, then there is no conversation. We have to change how we think about reading and who we think is present. When I read the Bible God is right there with me. He is there waiting for me to engage Him as I investigate, ponder, and meditate on what I find on each page.
The reality of this idea is that conversations are more stimulating and have longer lasting effects than we give them credit. How many times have we had a conversation with someone and could not stop thinking about the subject? How many times have we found ourselves without a response in the heat of the moment only to come with a comeback we promise ourselves we will use the next time? This is what we want to create when we read the Bible. We want to interact with God’s word as if God were right there speaking to us because He is.
Here is the most shocking realization I had about reading the Bible, the part of the conversation that is missing is my part. God’s part has already been put down on paper. God has already given us His half of the conversation. Our job is to come to the scriptures ready to ask questions, interact with the ideas, and to engage in the challenges that are issued to us. As we do this we will begin to see that what we are looking for will happen with far less effort.
You may be asking yourself, “What are we looking for?” That is the topic of our next principle.
3. Reading the Bible is Not about Information or Transformation
What needs to take place is a shift in our expectations when reading the Bible. What does this mean? Too often we read the Bible and we are looking for a windfall of revelation. We are hoping to find the one truth/idea/concept that will change our lives in an instant. The problem with coming to the Bible with this expectation is that that is not the way the Bible works.
Let me make this simple. When we read the bible for information we miss the author. When we read the Bible for transformation we miss the relationship. But when we read the Bible for conversation we get both.
The easiest way to describe what I am saying is this: spend more time looking for what God is saying to you than what he is said to them (the original hearers). Yes, the Bible needs to be understood within its original context. Yes, we have to know what the Bible meant to the original recipients. I do not deny any of these things. What I would like to encourage you to do is to do these things while consciously and intentionally thinking about what would it mean if I was an original hearer of the words I am reading.
This concept is so important to me I have written a short booklet that will help you read the Bible better. It’s short and is how I teach people to read the Bible as I disciple them.
Changing the way you read changes what you hear
The Bible is vitally important for the faith and life of every follower of Christ. We will not become who God has purposed if we jettison the Bible from our lives. The better we get at engaging with God in Scripture-centered conversation, the better prepared we will be to receive what God expects for us to do in our daily lives.
Start reading the Bible and thinking about the Bible as a way of having a conversation with God. If you don’t know where to start get my book. You will spend more on a cup a coffee but, reading the Bible in a new way will give you a longer lasting jolt!
(UPDATE: This post has been edited for spelling, grammar, and ease of reading.)