This post is a continuation of a series entitled “How I (Try To) Read My Bible”. For the first entry in the series, click here.
2) Our God is AWEsome
If you’re anything like me, regular Bible reading can easily become a mundane chore. Reading the text day to day, week to week, we soon forget the very reason we’re reading the text in the first place. Of course this doesn’t stop us from continuing in our daily readings, hoping to at least gather something from the text and to appear Christian-esque to our church going friends.
This is external religiosity at its peak, and something I’m constantly guilty of. I know I’m supposed to be reading the Word constantly, but what happens when I don’t feel anything from it? What happens when I catch myself having read through two or three chapters and not being able to recall anything I just read?
Paul Tripp, a pastor and author, calls this the danger of familiarity. The more we spend time with God’s Text, the less we tend to revere it. We forget exactly what we’re dealing with. As we try to become better students of the Bible, we lose our focus and it turns into a daily routine.
If you believe in any capacity that the Bible is holy text, and is inspired by God, then the words on the page should fill you with awe. The Bible is meant to tell us about the nature, character and power of God – and he is worthy to be praised. Regular Bible reading should never become a mundane exercise.
In Psalm 145, David writes “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.” God’s greatness is beyond our human understanding, and yet he chooses to reveal himself to us through His Word and the guiding of His Holy Spirit. Christian, how can we ever let our Bible reading become dull and dreary? On the contrary, our regular reading should be cause for praise and worship as we draw closer to the One God. Oh, how great he is that such a great and loving Father would choose to commune with us through His text!
The Bible is absolutely saturated with passages speaking of God’s greatness and glory. Shouldn’t this tell us something? Ought this to inform our consistent Scripture reading? The prophet Isaiah writes this, “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable” (Isaiah 40:28). If we truly believe what we say we believe, that the Creator of the universe would choose to commune with us through a book, how magnifying of His glory should our time with the Bible be!
Of the points I will write about in this series, this is probably the one I struggle with the most. I quickly forget the reason why I have the Bible at my disposal, and indeed its regular reading and study loses focus for me. I am grateful of the times I catch myself in the act of this, and it is in these times I have to pause and confess my sinful lack of awe towards my Creator.
If this is you too, I’d encourage you to also confess and pray the next time you catch yourself losing your awe of God during your Scripture reading. Continue to pray daily that God would fill you with a new sense of awe and reverence for His Word, allowing it to lead you to magnify Him. He is worthy of our praise.
All but left with no breath and awestruck. That’s wonderful.
This is cause to pause to give thought to it. Selah!
Say ya’ll ever thought about that there’s never been an identical sun rise?
Wrapped in jackets of amber and stands with universe
in hand and our tears in bottles. He collects them.
Lined in perfect symmetry across the shelves of the throne
room. Next to the full and accurate accurate count of every electron
everywhere and every follicle of hair on our head.
Modern psychology would call it obsessive compulsive.
But that’s only if he ain’t had the bandwidth, I call it love and it’s wonderful.
Would we with ink the ocean fill and the expand of the sky be stretched in parchment. Would we line with canvasses the walls of our hearts apartments?
Any attempts to capture his image would fall short
and everything that he do to me is such a beautiful eulogy.
Bible reading is both an art and a science. The Holy Scriptures are meant to pierce all of our heart and all of our mind. We cannot neglect the expressive, emotional aspect the Bible carries into our lives. These things are important as we draw nearer in our relationship to Christ. However, we cannot neglect the intellectual and rational minds our God has given us; Christianity is a thinking-man’s religion.
I’m not sure if there isn’t one person who doesn’t struggle with giving either their heart or their mind more weight than it is due. I know this is something I regularly struggle with. On the one hand, we can turn Christianity into a feel-good self-improvement program that is all about positive feelings. With no backbone and having never been encouraged to actually think about the text, people misrepresent or leave the faith in countless numbers.
On the other hand, it is entirely possible to academize and intellectualize the faith. Pursuing only knowledge, people lord their education over others while failing to magnify our great God and apply it to their lives. These are two extremes that we must take care to avoid at all costs.
It is my intention in this post to provide some insight as to how I attempt to avoid either extreme. The things I list in these posts will inform future articles and I will likely reference them often.
1) Everything Must Point to the Gospel
I am so thankful for gospel-centered preaching. It is the food that nourishes, supplies and helps further Christ’s church today. Living in a time post-Christ, we have been gifted and blessed with God’s full revelation in Jesus. Because of this, when we read the Biblical text it is essential we read it in light of the life, death and resurrection of Christ. There is no aspect of the Scriptures that shouldn’t inform our view of Christ in some way.
This is easy for most of the New Testament. The gospels all tell of the life and redemptive work of Christ, and the remaining epistles all continually point back to Christ. The area we struggle with this the most is in the Old Testament. Since this is pre-Christ and often appears to be a series of unrelated stories, we so easily fall into the trap of forgetting the text is all about God-man.
A helpful text for this is Luke 24:27, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” The key words here are all the Scriptures. There isn’t one text in the Old Testament that doesn’t inform us to Christ’s work on the cross, and we must therefore engage all of our faculties in understanding the Old Testament in light of the gospel.
Instead of figuring out what the Old Testament stories tell us about Jesus, our first inclination is to instead read ourselves into the story. So we ask questions like “What does this mean to me today?”or “What does this tell me about God working in my life?” These are healthy questions to ask, and can bear good fruit in our lives. These questions however should not be our starting point.
It is instead necessary for us to first ask Christ-centered questions such as “What does this passage tell me about Christ?” or “Where is Christ in this Old Testament account?” Starting with such questions will diminish our desires to read ourselves into the text, and will instead elevate Christ’s position to its proper place.
There are two examples of this that will be helpful for this discussion. The first of these is the story of Joseph and his brothers. Having been completely abandoned and betrayed by his brothers, Joseph is sold into slavery. The great climax of this story is when Joseph says “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…” (Genesis 50:20). We like this text, and we use it in hard times as reassurance that God will bring us out of whatever hole we are in (pun intended). But is this really the meaning of the text? Is this text about how God will be faithful to us and do good things for us?
On the contrary, this text is centrally and entirely about Christ. It is a shadow of the life and sufferings Jesus will endure on our behalf. Like Joseph, Christ would also come and declare his rightful place among the nations – and be rejected for it. Like Joseph, Christ would be betrayed and abandoned by those closest to him – Judas and the other disciples. Like Joseph, Christ would be restored and elevated amongst the people.
Another common example in the Old Testament would be the account of David and Goliath. We all know how the story goes, the little shepherd boy kills the great Goliath with nothing but a slingshot and a sword (after Goliath is knocked unconscious, of course). Today the temptation is to understand this story as allegory. We read ourselves as David and Goliath as all of our life’s problems! If we are as faithful as David, God will help us overcome our difficulties.
Again, this is not the meaning of the text. Arriving at this conclusion is the result of asking the wrong questions. What does this text tell us about Christ? Where is Christ in this story? Similar to Joseph, David is a shadow of Christ in the Old Testament. We are not David – Christ is. Like David, Christ is the unlikely hero who will fight the battle that we could not fight. Christ takes our place, as did David for the Israelite army. It is crucial that this is our starting point for this story. We no longer read it as what God will do for us, but instead we read it as what God has already done for us through Christ.
Before I wrap this thing up, I must briefly mention our understanding of the New Testament. While it is easier for us to see Christ in the New Testament – especially the gospels – we still often start with me-centered questions. The same Christ-centered and gospel-centered approach must apply to the New Testament.
Helpful for our understanding is a passage again from the book of Luke. Luke records the following comment in his gospel from early on in Jesus’ ministry, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9: 51). In the Gospel of Luke, this is only 9 of 24 chapters into the gospel letter. From the beginning Jesus had a mission, and his mission was to come to this earth to take our place and pay a punishment we deserved in our place. Known as the Fathers “Great Commission” to the Son, the prophet Isaiah records a similar idea centuries before Christ walked the earth: “I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6). When we read the New Testament, even in the accounts in the gospel letters prior to the crucifixion, we must read and understand the text in light of the gospel.
That’s all for today. I quickly realized while writing this that what I intended to be one post must be broken up into four or five posts. Come back tomorrow for more thoughts on how I (try to) read my Bible.
The paper writing is coming to an end, the books are closing and exams are being graded. Seminary: Year One is officially coming to a close. As I look back on my experience over the past 9 months, I can’t help but reflect on the things I’ve learned and grown from in my time so far. Some of these things were expected, many were not.
I’ve taken some time to list out a quick list of my reflections. In no particular order, here are the things I’ve learned in my first year of seminary:
- Completing classwork with excellence is very time-consuming and requires an incredible amount of sacrifice.
- Knowing that you’ve put your best effort into what you’re called to is genuinely rewarding.
- I am eternally grateful for the support and encouragement of friends and family.
- The local church is a beautiful thing.
- Prayer for the global, visible Church of Christ is necessary.
- I did not know everything because I owned an ESV Study Bible.
- Pride is a snare and trap that leads to destruction.
- Some of my most memorable experiences have been when I was able to witness my professors shed tears over real life circumstances – ministry, loss, and pain (I am grateful for humble professors who lead by example).
- More rewarding and fruitful than dropping theology on others is encouraging them and spurring them on in their sanctification.
- The less theology I knew, the more I tried to prove my worth to others. The more I know, the more I realize I don’t know.
- I used to hate tangents from professors in my undergrad degree, as it often felt like a waste of time. Hearing tangents and soap-boxes now are very rewarding, as it comes in the form of passionate preaching over something that breaks the heart.
- Working on what you are passionate about isn’t work at all.
- I’ve realized that the sacrifices of my time to devote to my studies also requires the sacrifice of those closest to me.
- Balancing full-time work, school, church involvement and relationships isn’t any easier nor does it make any more sense than when I first started.
- I am more often wrong than I am right.
- Seminary education has led directly to fear of judgement of man.
- Seminary is the perfect environment to breed hard-heartedness if you allow it to be.
- I could not have finished with excellence without the support of my beautiful fiance.
- No matter how much knowledge and ability to explain things is acquired, it is still the grace and mercy of God that illuminates the heart.
- Theology word vomit must be refined into concise speech.
- I am continually challenged by my peers.
- Opposition means nothing to me.
- Glorious truths, twisted by wolves, is both angering and profoundly saddening.
- Dead languages are fascinating.
- The Scriptures are far more intricately connected and tied together than I can possibly comprehend.
- There is always another point to consider.
- The urban seminary classroom is packed with incredibly bright people far more intelligent than I – surgeons, doctors, engineers, etc.
- God’s grace and provision are too great for words.
- I desperately need said grace.
- Balancing what I want to read with what my professors want me to read is difficult.
- Study without prayer is rarely fruitful.
- Theology is nothing if not applied.
- This is definitely where I am supposed to be.