For the longest time, I’ve read the Bible like a math lesson. Similar to a mathematical problem, I’ve tried to find different Bible reading formulas that match whatever problem I’m dealing with. In other words, I’ve been trying to make the Bible work for me. If I combine the right chapter or verse with whatever I’m dealing with then maybe, just maybe, God will fix the problem.
That might sound like a logical way to read the Bible, and sometimes it is. If I’m anxious, it helps to go to Jesus’ words in Matthew 11 and hear about rest and an easy yoke (v. 28). If I’m struggling with anger, James’ encouragement to be “quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger” is extremely beneficial (1:19).
Yet, that type of reading doesn’t necessarily work all of the time.
So, how are we to read the Bible in those early morning moments when we have some quiet time to sit with Jesus? Because if we are not meeting Jesus when we read Scripture, we’re probably missing the point. More bluntly, how can we read it well on a daily basis?
I want to suggest that AN answer (not “the” answer) might be found when we stop trying so hard when reading the Bible.
To sit down with the Bible and try to work up a spiritual experience that blows our minds is exhausting. I say this from personal experience. I’ve lit the candle, turned on the soft music, and tried to work up some feeling or emotional response to John 10 or Romans 8. But often, I walk away feeling disappointed. The Spirit didn’t seem to move the way I expected.
But what if that’s just it? What if I’m trying to take over the role of the Spirit? It’s kind of like trying to say the wind, “please blow through the trees,” only to have it blow dirt up in my face (although, sometimes it might actually blow through the trees). We can’t control the Spirit. It blows where it wants, just like the wind (John 3:8).
So, what if we stopped trying so hard?
Instead of trying to squeeze some personal meaning out of a text every time we read the Bible, what if we just sat for a moment and read (like we do with Facebook and Twitter and novels and articles)?
I’ve been trying to let go of my own efforts when it comes to reading the Bible. Turns out, I’ve actually been reading it more consistently. I don’t say that to add righteous points on my soul’s scoreboard (as if I could). I’m just trying to be real and trust that God’s grace is really grace, a gift given freely and undeservedly. Something I can’t work up. Something that just happens.
Yes, it takes effort to actually sit down and read. That’s not going to go away. The part I’m trying to let go of is the effort that I’ve been trying to put into the actual reading experience. And it comes from that nagging feeling that something has to speak somehow to my present experience. If it doesn’t, then God must not be working. But. . .
THAT’S A LIE.
God is always at work (John 5:16). Fruit just takes time to grow. Trying to grow a spiritual fruit (love, patience, gentleness, self-control, etc) in a 5-minute morning devotional is not going to work. It might even do some harm. Growth takes time and patience.
Sit, Pray, Read.
Then, let’s get up and go about our day. We need not worry if nothing seems to jump out at us when we’re reading. Over time, I think we’ll actually start to notice that what we read in the morning comes and bear witness to us during our day.
For example, Jesus’ words about praying for our enemy may not seem like much during our reading time. We may think, “Ok, well that’s a good sentiment,” and then close the Good Book. But it’s actually when we go about our day-to-day lives that Jesus might call to remembrance His words in our hearts. It’s when we run across someone who is hurtful towards us that the words will be remembered, and hopefully experienced. “Love them. Be patient. Pray for them.”
You can let go of your efforts in working up experiences. Just let the Word soak in your heart; the Spirit will do the rest.
The Word of the Risen Lord is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing the division between soul and spirit. So, let’s read and let it do the piercing. If it’s really living and active (I am of the suspicion that it is), then it’ll do the heart-changing, formative work by Itself. The Word will put on flesh.
Grace and Peace,