Reading God's Word
Recently coming across ‘nine rules’ for bible reading left me feeling discouraged. Scripture is a source of strength, encouragement, joy and refreshment; yet reading it doesn’t always come naturally. Perhaps the word ‘guidelines’ rather than 'rules' might have sounded less condemning. Theologian F. F. Bruce said ‘Doing the will of God is not a matter of conformity to outward rules but of giving expression to inward love, such as the Spirit begets.’ (Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free). If we love our Creator we naturally want to read His word; the challenge lies in making the space to do so.
So, where is the line drawn between duty and joy?
As Christians, it is our duty to read the bible in
the sense that without God’s word we no longer flourish. Jesus says ‘Apart from
me you can do nothing' but that if we remain in Him and keep His words within us, we can 'ask whatever' we wish and it will be done (John 15:5&7).
Yet it is also a source of joy; the greatest story ever told. The bible speaks of God’s word bringing ‘joy to the heart,’ and His commands being ‘radiant, giving light to the eyes’ (Psalm 19:7-8). This is important, for it is the ‘joy of the Lord’ that is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10). So how can we take more joy in scripture, and let it take deeper root in our souls?
Recently, standing in the garden looking at a flower, I realised that often the more attention we pay towards something, the more our appreciation grows. For those who don’t know the rules, watching rugby might be somewhat boring. However, those who have followed the game for years will be completely absorbed – perhaps on the edge of their seats! In a similar way, when we start to focus on scripture, enjoyment begins to flow.
Somebody once told me that rejoicing over bible verses is a brilliant way of deepening our appreciation. For example, we can read ‘The Lord reigns. He is robed in majesty. The Lord is robed in majesty and armed with strength’ (Ps 93:1). Then we can praise God that He reigns over everything - over our financial troubles or sickness, that He is armed with strength, and so on.
The bible has been used as toilet paper in Ugandan prisons; it has also made some, such as Helen, so excited at receiving their own copy that they've stayed awake all night reading it (see Bible Society). Even in difficulty, reading scripture can sustain us: It brings encouragement in hard times (Romans 15:4) helps us to obey God (Psalm 119:11) become fruitful (Psalm 1:2-3) and make wise decisions (Psalm 119:105).
Crucially, scripture sets us free. Through it we gain fresh, life-giving perspective. Paul wanted the Romans to be ‘transformed’ by the ‘renewing’ of their minds (Romans 12:2). As Richard Foster points out, Jesus made it clear that knowing ‘the truth’ will liberate us (Foster, Celebration of Discipline, John 8:32). As humans we might seek freedom through incredible experiences or little responsibility. Yet Jesus suggests that real freedom does not come through sunbathing on a desert island … but by delving into His word.
-As a church, do you think we should emphasize bible reading as a duty (or conversely, as a joy) more than we currently do?
-How do you enjoy reading the bible?
(*Idea: Click HERE to listen to the whole of the New Testament for 28 minutes a day over 40 days.)