Reading the Bible for All It’s Worth
Long ago, God, over time, disclosed to mankind a living document that was not prepared by human intellect or inspiration. Although written by human hands, every word contained therein was, and still is, God-breathed; – they forever emanate from the depths of the Godhead. These words possess eternal relevance and spiritual power because they literally come forth from God’s own divine essence. Truly, the Bible is like no other book, for its words are actually living words; they are alive with the very Life of God. The writer of Hebrews described God’s Word with astonishing vividness:
For the Word that God speaks is alive and full of power [making it active, operative, energizing, and effective]; it is sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating to the dividing line of the breath of life (soul) and [the immortal] spirit, and of joints and marrow [of the deepest parts of our nature], exposing and sifting and analyzing and judging the very thoughts and purposes of the heart. (Heb 4:12 Amplified)
You might initially conclude that such a book would prove easy to read. After all, it is as alive today as when David wrote his psalms or John his Gospel. Moreover, its inherent truth and power are able to penetrate to the depths of our being, exposing everything within us that is in rebellion to God and yet imparting His Life to our spirits. But this is not the case. Over nearly four decades of reading the Bible, I have experienced many roadblocks along the way. These include "dry times" while reading, the seduction to read for information rather than inspiration, a slowly developed familiarity with Scripture that has led to mindlessly glossing over the words, and the pull of denominational doctrines that have sometimes led to incorrect conclusions about what a passage is actually saying. I have also heard literally hundreds of Christians say that reading the Bible is boring, that they generally do not understand what they read, and that they simply do not have the time to sit down and read the Bible every day. Because there is a frequent disconnect between this supernatural, living document and our full reception of its divine message, is there anything we can do to overcome our resistances and make the connection?
The answer may surprise you. It is true that a good biblical commentary may help you better understand what you read. A reevaluation of your priorities and daily schedule may also motivate you to spend more time in the Word. Developing good study habits may even improve your grasp of the Bible (e.g., understanding context, historical setting, who a book of the Bible was written to, and why it was written). These things, however, are short-term Band-Aids. Something deeper is at issue here that is not addressed by supplemental books, daily planners, or skilled exegesis. There is really only one thing that can prepare our hearts day after day to effectively receive the living Word of God. It is humility. This God-given virtue enables us to encounter spiritual Life in a book that we are to read over and over, day after day, for the rest of our lives. More than any other quality of character, humility helps us discern spiritual revelations embedded in the written words. It is the door that opens in us a passionate desire to meet Jesus Christ in every page of Scripture.
The contemporary Church has pretty much cast this virtue aside when teaching members how to read the Bible. Nonetheless, I have learned that humility best overcomes the inner problems I often confront when reading God’s Word. James, the brother of Jesus, strongly emphasized this point:
In a humble (gentle, modest) spirit receive and welcome the Word which implanted and rooted [in your hearts] contains the power to save your souls. (James 1:21b Amp.)
Note carefully this exhortation. The way to receive Scripture deeply is to approach it humbly. Indeed, the more we humble ourselves before reading God’s Word, the deeper He will impart His Life into our spirits. There are no exceptions to this truth – ever. God emphasizes the gravity and glory of this divine/human connection by revealing – in no uncertain terms – what the consistent, humble reading of Scripture does: it saves our souls! We are not in need of divine help, as though we can find our way through the minefields of life with Jesus’ mere assistance or our casual Bible reading. To the contrary! Although it is extremely difficult to admit it with conviction day after day, we all are desperate. Yes, we can usually get through the day on our own ingenuity and sweat. But spiritually, today, we need God to save us, not help us. This is done by humbly receiving His living Word and allowing it to penetrate our souls. This reality is humbling enough to come to grips with, but Scripture forces us to do so:
For the story and message of the cross is sheer absurdity and folly to those who are perishing and on their way to perdition, but to us who are being saved it is the [manifestation of] the power of God. (I Cor 1:18 Amp., emphasis is mine)
Consider the example of King Josiah of Judah (II Sam 22:1-20; see also II Chr 34:8-33). When the long-lost "Book of the Law" (Genesis-Deuteronomy) was found in the Jerusalem temple, the scribe Shaphan read the document to Josiah. The words were an eye-opening shock; Judah had long ago stopped following God’s Law! Even so, Josiah could have acknowledged the authority and challenge of the words and then gone his way. After all, he was king, life was good, and he was ruling over God’s people. There was no serious need to bow to God’s Levitical requirements. He certainly could learn more about God’s ways through repeated readings from Shaphan, which surely would help him on a personal and royal level. But why humbly allow the words to penetrate his very being and, in so doing, change his course and the course of his nation? This, however, was precisely what happened. He passionately tore his clothes from personal conviction, humbly sought the counsel of Huldah the prophetess, and meticulously set out on a course to reinstall Scripture as the authoritative rule for life and conduct in Judah. His personal humility connected with the living Word and saved a nation! In contrast, Jesus exposed the deceptive, deficient reading of Scripture by the people of His own time:
You search and investigate and pore over the Scriptures diligently, because you suppose and trust that you have eternal life through them. And these [very Scriptures] testify about Me! And still you are not willing [but refuse] to come to Me, so that you might have life. (Jn 5:39-40 Amp.)
Jesus contended that the peoples’ reading of Scripture was simply to substantiate their spiritual positions in God, affirming what God had done and would do for them. The words were not necessarily to convict or break them, but to ratify their spiritual presumptions and religious traditions, validate their ways of life, and assuage their insecurities. In short, it was to help them, but not save them. Whereas they wanted assurances when reading His Word, God wanted broken, contrite hearts that were desperately searching for their Messiah when they read His Word. Only this inner breaking of the soul alone would make it possible for them to connect with His divine presence in Scripture.
Jesus also warned us that life in this world can deaden our ability to receive his Life-giving words if this is not humbly confronted. Again, there are no exceptions:
The cares and anxieties of the world and distractions of the age, and the pleasure and delight and false glamour and deceitfulness of riches, and the craving and passionate desire for other things creep in and choke and suffocate the Word, and it becomes fruitless. (Mk 4:19 Amp.)
Such a statement elicits many personal questions. Do you often read Scripture with little moving in your heart? Do you ever avoid time in the Word, or read it while your mind is a million miles away? Do you avoid sections of Scripture because you have determined that they are uninteresting? Do you tire of passages that you have read numerous times? Do you increasingly study the Bible, yet come away with fewer and fewer spiritual insights? Do you consistently settle for spiritual nourishment when reading the Word rather than inspiration or conviction? Do you ever weep over what you have read, or stop dead in your tracks because the Spirit of God is resting so heavily upon you that you cannot read any further? Are your "dry times" in the Word increasing in length and frequency? Do you find that the concerns of your life consistently squeeze the Life of the Word out of your heart or keep it from touching your soul?
If any of these questions expose the state of your heart, then you might try humbling yourself before God prior to reading His Word and admitting that your heart feels hard and unreceptive. This is no easy task, but it is absolutely necessary if you are to know Jesus Christ through His written revelation of Himself.
We can play around with the Word of God in the outer courts of our hearts for the rest of our lives if we choose or we can press in to the holy of holies by sincerely humbling our hearts as we read Scripture. This connection is not a one-time event that will keep our spirits meek, gentle, and contrite. No, we must make this connection daily. Our knees must bow, our wills must acquiesce, and our hearts must be humbled before the revelation of His authoritative and eternal Word. We must not kid ourselves. There is no other way to have the Word of God so deeply implanted into our hearts that it daily renews and saves us.
Dr. Chuck Metteer