Monthly Archives: May 2013

Reading the Word, Meeting the Word

Last week I wrote about how I can often focus more on what I’ve heard said about the Bible, rather than what the Bible is actually saying.  I set myself a challenge to try to see one of my favourite passages in a new light.

I choose the account of The Rich and the Kingdom of God, taken from Luke 18:18–30.  I’m very familiar with the passage, and even wrote an essay on it at Bible college, but I know that there’s always something more to learn. I wanted to avoid complacency in reading the Bible and really press into the word to discover something new.

As I reflected on this passage over this past week I realized that I didn’t need to learn something new from the word, but that I really needed to meet with God through the word.  I was challenged on Friday hearing Ash Barker speak at the Proximity 2013 conference.  Ash spoke of the need to be filled with God’s compassion in order to show the same compassion to those around us.  Godly compassion comes not from knowing about God, but from being in His presence and being ministered to by His Spirit.

I realized that I’m very quick to learn about God, but that I don’t often take the time to let Him fill me in the way Ash described.  Reading the scriptures should be about developing an intimacy with God, and being prepared for joining in with God’s mission.  To paraphrase Philippians 3, any Bible studies, commentaries, scholarly studies, expositions and homilies, no matter how good in themselves, can be considered as filth when compared to the surpassing value of knowing Jesus as my Lord.

It’s dangerous to talk about ways to meet with God through the scriptures.  Methods and techniques so easily become mechanical and legalistic.  But there are definitely things we can learn from others who have sought to know God.  Lectio Divina is something I learned about at Bible college.  It’s an old spiritual practice, intended not for studying the Bible, but to help the readers encounter God through His word.  I highly recommend watching the YouTube video of Archbishop Collins on the linked page.

So I decided to re-read the account of Jesus and the rich young ruler, not seeking to learn from it, but seeking to know God.  It wasn’t a grand religious experience where the heavens opened and God came down announced by trumpeting angels, but it was spiritually nourishing, something which gave me one more tiny taste of God’s character, and a time of meeting with God.

I definitely didn’t expect when I blogged last week that the lesson I would learn from this exercise would be so major, challenging me on such a deep level about how I approach reading the scriptures. I know that it won’t be easy to change my learning mindset, but I believe it’s an important step for me to deepen my relationship with God and join Him on His mission.  And I’m humbled by how God has set me on this journey by asking me to consider just a few words spoken by a child!

Seeing the Bible Through the Eyes of a Child

A few weeks ago I led a session in kids church on “What is the Bible?”  I put on the table all the different Bibles I could find in our church, and taught a bit about the Bible, how to look up passages. Then I turned the session over and let the kids ask questions.

One of the kids, who had been leafing through a kid’s Bible when most of the others were looking NIV translations, asked the question “Why does my Bible have different words to everyone else’s?”

I started to explain how the Bible wasn’t first written in English, and needed to be translated so we could understand it, at which point her eyes lit up in comprehension as she said “Oh, is it that their Bibles were written by adults, and mine was written by kids?”

It was a moment in kids church which tested me to the limits of my “don’t laugh at any questions they ask” rule, and it was a funny story to share with the other church staff during the week.  But this child’s question really got me thinking (as seemingly random comments by kids are often wont to do) about how we view the Bible.

If you grew up in church like I did, then you’ve probably sat through years and years of sermons, been to countless Bible studies and read many books and devotionals on the Bible.  Maybe you’ve even been to Bible college, and devoted a significant proportion of your life to formally studying the Bible.  For me this means that as soon as a passage is mentioned, even before it’s read out, my mind is already racing: considering the context of the passage, thinking about the theological significance of what it says, and sometimes even recalling sermons on how it might be applied to my life today.

Even if that’s not you, the Bible has had such a wide influence on our culture that our culture now has even more of an influence on how we understand the Bible.  So much of our language has been shaped by the Bible; books, music and film all give us their own interpretations on biblical themes (think: how does the writing of Douglas Adams, or a film like Bruce Almighty shape our understanding of God?).  It’s impossible to approach the Bible without preconceptions or some kind of agenda.

Children, on the other hand, are still in the process of shaping their worldview, and have much less cultural baggage or Biblical knowledge to draw from.  If you work with kids or have your own kids, you’ll know that they often ask those really basic questions that betray how new the Bible is to them, and often see things from a completely different perspective.

I was struck by how often I read a passage and immediately jump to a conclusion about the meaning, rather than letting the Bible speak into my life at the moment.  So I came up with some ideas on how to give the Bible itself, rather than our own thoughts about it, the louder voice:

  • Read the passage in a translation you’re not familiar with
  • Try practicing lectio divina—reading a passage multiple times pausing each time to meditate
  • Listen to the passage read aloud, or watch a visual adaptation
  • Read the Bible with others, and especially with others with very different life-stories to yours
  • Read the Bible with a child, asking them what they think it says!
  • Take time to consider the passage from the perspective of each character, and imagine what they might have felt like in their situation

Ultimately I believe that there’s always something more we can learn from the Bible.  So I’ve challenged myself to take one of my favorite passages (the rich young man in Luke 18:18–30), which I know really well, and spend the week studying it and seeking to learn something new.

What do you do to keep Bible readings fresh?  Will you join me in re-reading your favorite passage?