Encouragement From The Word

Bible reading: it’s not a race

Among the masters of marketing in the Christian world are Bible publishers.  Name your favourite Bible teacher, theological preference, addiction, colour, binding material, or translation, and there’s a Bible published with that target audience in mind.  For the most part, my thought on this is, Hey, if it gets people in the Word, go for it.  But there is one that can, sometimes, do less good than we think.

It’s the “one year” Bible.

Now, I know that the editors and publishers are of noble intent; their goal is to get people to read the Bible every day for a year, and they’ve created a one year biblerubric to make that happen.  And I’ll gladly admit that I’d rather someone read the whole Bible in a year than not read it at all, or read it only sporadically.

My quarrel with this approach is simple:  reading the Bible isn’t a race.

My contention – not original, by any means – is that the Bible is intended to be a love letter from God.  And the last time I checked, nobody speed-reads a love letter.  When we get a love letter, even a card, we hang on every word, reading it over and over again, so we can take into the depths of our being the intended expression of the writer.

Too often, reading through the Bible in a year seems more like a task to be accomplished and ‘checked off the list’ rather than a delight in which we savour every word.  Don’t get me wrong:  I am glad to see people read through the Bible, and I encourage it.  But I would rather see someone take 5 years to read through the Bible, listening for God to speak through his Word and prayerfully lingering over passages as the Spirit guides, than to rush through it and simply say it’s been done.

By all means, follow a Bible reading guide if that helps you; different options are available from organizations such as the Canadian Bible Society.  But if it takes you longer than a year to get through it, don’t beat yourself up.  It could be that the Lord prompts you to read the same passage every day for a week; if God has a message for you from that passage and it takes a week for you to absorb it and begin to apply it in your life, so be it!  There’s no ‘best before’ date on the Bible – all of it will still be there when God prompts you to leave one passage and move on to another.

Linger over the Word prayerfully.  If God encourages you to spend time meditating even on a phrase, or a word, then do it.  It is time well spent if that’s how the Lord is going to speak to you.  In that intimate time, you might even find yourself memorizing some or all of that passage, and that’s God at work in you, too – if my own experience is any gauge, you’ll probably find that memorizing a passage comes in handy for a situation in which you’ll find yourself later on.

Do read the Bible every day, but don’t feel you need to get through it in a specified period of time.  Savour the Word.  Enjoy the Word.  Let God speak to your heart through it, and your relationship with him will be deepened even more.

I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands.  I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119.10-11, NIV).

Encouragement From The Word

God’s Love Letter

How do you read the Bible?  By that I mean, do you read it to gain information, or do you read it to hear God speak to you?

These two are by no means mutually exclusive; I love it when, in my reading the Bible in preparation to preach, for example, God also takes the passage and speaks to my heart.

Most of the time, we tend to read Scripture to “get something out of it”, like the consumers the world has shaped us to be.  Too often, though, our desire to get something out of it comes with an agenda.

What if we could read the Bible, and let God set the agenda?

Think of the Bible not as a newspaper to be scoured, only to line a bird cage later; think of it as a love letter from God.  We read love letters differently than we read newspapers.  There is more interest; there is deeper engagement.

There is an ancient practice in the Christian tradition that in Latin is called lectio divina; in English we just call it ‘holy reading’.  Once we prepare ourselves with silence and peace, there are five movements in the process of holy reading (thanks to Ruth Haley Barton for the alliteration):

  • Read.  Read the passage you’ve chosen slowly, allowing the words to sink in.  Perhaps a word or phrase may jump out at you; take note of it, and after theimages-1 passage is finished, keep a few minutes’ silence to pray over that word or phrase.
  • Reflect.  Read the passage once again, and keep silence to ask how that word or phrase you identified speaks into your life right now.
  • Respond.  Read the passage yet again, and in silence, respond to your reflection; pray with and over your word or phrase, to let God know your feelings about it.
  • Rest.  Read the passage a final time, and use your time in silence to rest in the Lord.  Soak in his presence, and be open to how God may move.
  • Resolve.  This final step encourages you to live out the experience you have just had, letting that word or phrase stay with you for the day or the week or however long God may want it to stay with you.  Let it live in you as you let the Holy Spirit live God’s life in and through you.

This process can take anywhere from 10 minutes to a couple of hours if you want it to.  Give it a try; read the Bible like a love letter from the One who loves you unlike anyone else can.

“…you are precious to me.  You are honored, and I love you” (Isaiah 43.4b, NLT).