This post came out of a series called BASIX: Practices for Living Out Faith. Week 1 of the series was about community. We looked at the story of Hannah from 1 Samuel (a really old story). Hannah refused to quit living out faith in community although her community was full of trouble. We talked about how when we commit to living out faith in community, God’s redemption comes alive.
But this post is not about week 1. It’s about week 2.
Week 2 was about God’s Word. We talked about how frustrating and troublesome the Bible can be. We talked about how we struggle to “get it.” We looked at Hebrews 4:12, which says, “Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (NRSV). We talked about how God cuts and looks and speaks into our hearts through the Bible. God does that even and especially when we don’t get it. That was a pretty abstract idea, so here’s a list of ten more concrete things to consider with the Bible. (For the record, I’m typically not a list guy.)
- Consider that God gave us these words above all else. It’s easy to get tripped up on words like “infallible” and “inerrant” and “literal” (ring a bell?). What if we simply considered that God entrusted us with these words so that we would wrestle with them and find God through that wrestling.
- Pray. Ask for God’s help. Jesus talks about how he will give us the Holy Spirit to teach us (John 14:25-26). Take Jesus up on that.
- Let go of “getting it.” The Bible is mysterious. Practically speaking, it spans God’s encounters with humans over thousands of years. God can work on our heart disease even when we don’t exactly get what’s going on. So read with openness.
- Get help (of the human variety). Notice this one comes after #2 and #3. Here I’m talking about study Bibles, commentaries and mentors. Study Bibles can be helpful in all sorts of ways, including helping to understand what “leviathan” (and stuff like that) means. I suggest the Common English Study Bible (academic and practical), the Harper Collins NRSV Study Bible (for more academic types), and the Message Study Bible. There are lots more. A good commentary is N.T. Wright’s The Bible for Everyone series.
- Read with people. And try to do it regularly. Is there a group you can form or be a part of? Don’t worry if you know what you’re doing. Nobody does.
- Start small. If you’ve never read a whole lot of the Bible, one person in our congregation suggested starting with Psalms or the Gospel of John (aka John). You might just chew on a verse or two for ten minutes in the morning. Replay it throughout the day. None of us can eat the whole Bible in one sitting. We’re all just trying to acquire a taste for God’s Word, which we get through the Bible.
- Build up to the big picture. This is important. It’s been hip to dissect the Bible, to do a thing called “prooftexting.” The Bible is ultimately a big narrative, an unfolding and unfinished story. You can’t stop with Leviticus (you’ll definitely want some help with that one). You have to see how Jesus speaks to Leviticus. For some of you, you’re wired to start with the big picture and then chew on smaller bits of Scripture. That’s perfectly okay, too.
- Seek structure. I’m a spontaneous guy. Even I find merit in reading the Bible with some structure. My method is to read a book at a time. You can also look up read plans on the YouVersion Bible app. There are tons on there.
- Try different methods. The way I best engage with the Bible may not be the best for you, and vice versa. One ancient method that is spectacular is lectio divina. Pastor Mike Slaughter from Ginghamsburg UMC in Ohio uses what he calls the S.O.N. method (which is a way reminder that all Scripture has to ultimately seen and lived through the eyes of the son, Jesus). “S” is for passage of Scripture, which simply means you jot down the passage in a journal; “O” is for observation, which means you take note of observations in what you’re reading/hearing; “N” is for “name the application.” A method I use often is to pray, read a passage once, read it again out loud and slower and then meditate/pray. These are only a few. There are so many.
- Keep trying. Nothing to add here. Just. Keep. Trying. God will show up.