How to read the Bible for all its Worth*
You would think growing up Christian, having consistent times in the Scripture, journals, prayer diaries, attending conferences/lectures/twice weekly sermons and studies would be enough. Or traveling the world and performing plays about the love of God, passing out Bibles, preaching in small and sweaty churches. Or spending years sitting in seats and taking copious notes while learned and honest men lectured on all the truth they had found, getting a degree in Bible and Theology. But in the end, it's not enough to make you want to read the Bible, for the words to swim alive in front of you, for you to walk away a changed person.
I've been thinking a lot lately about the Bible. I love it, I've been reading it since I was literate. There have been some seasons and years where I wasn't so keen on it--it became a textbook, it became a millstone around my neck, it became one more thing I was failing at. But in the past few years, the Bible has slowly wormed its way into my life, a steady presence, something I long for, cling to, read in a state of astonishment and mild desperation. If you are not in a similar place, I totally get it. I've been there too. So I wanted to think about what are some of the practices that I have developed that have caused me to fall back in love with the Bible. Here are a few of them:
1. Read it with people who have never read it before.
This one is a life changer. This means you will have to step outside of the carefully constructed ghettos we build for ourselves--we have to find the unchurched. The ones who would never feel comfortable stepping inside of our houses of worship. We find those people, we read the Bible with them--and we watch. We see the Spirit of God hovering on the page, watch how people are drawn in, sucked into the stories, watch as their lives change. This has been the single greatest miracle of my life. My faith has grown in leaps and bounds, and I have been so blessed by reading it with the new eyes of my friends--a messy, chaotic, book and a very loving God. If you don't know anyone who hasn't read the Bible, it's time to start widening that circle of yours.
2. Read the Jesus Story Book Bible at night to your kids (or yourself).
Life is hard, the days are long, carry on warrior. I count the hours until bedtime, and then miss my daughter terribly as she sleeps deeply and sweetly. Every day I hear stories of sadness and perseverance, every day I have to nod my head and think yeah, that's how it is here. Life is really, really hard. And then I read the pages of this book, the one I pray my daughter will someday love, and I find myself crying. Stories of the unloved and the unheard, the short and the messed-up and the silly and the sad, all being given a chance to be a part of God's dream for the world. Every night we read a story, and we are circling through the book again and again. The truths are getting sunk into my bones, I go to sleep with the stories playing in heart.
3. Play around with it.
A simple story I have heard my whole life, but with the pronoun changed: "And Jesus said to her, "arise, pick up your mat, and walk". For the first time, I considered that Jesus might have been speaking to me. That he wants me to walk. It took my breath away. Read the Message (gasp!). Re-write the stories in your own words. Allow for emotions like confusion, disgust, anger. Be prepared to be surprised.
I recently did an experiment where I re-wrote the Sermon on the Mount in more socially acceptable language. It surprised me, kicked me in the gut a bit, all of the words me and my culture seem to have put into Jesus' mouth (if you want to see it, my re-write is over at A Deeper Story today).
4. Be prepared to obey
Maybe that word has weird connotations for you, so I will say it in another way: be prepared for your life to turn upside-down, as soon as you start asking yourself: "ok, so what do I do with this?" This one follows #1 closely. People who have never read the Bible before don't spend a ton of time arguing over weird and minute theological points. They do tend to apply the Bible in instantaneous and unorthodox ways, able to identify patterns that need to change, asking God for the help to do it. Once you are in a similar place, be prepared for how life will get crazy. What if you actually believed God loves you? That Jesus came to make the world a better place now? What if you actually forgave everybody, even that person who doesn't deserve it? What if there was nothing you could do to make God stop being for you? It would change your life, wouldn't it?
5. Live like you need it.
Be despairing, despondent, mixed up and muddled. Be tired, forlorn, weary and burdened. Be lonely, be sad, be sick with a chronic illness in your body and in your mind. Know all the right answers in your head but have a huge, gaping chasm in your spirit. Be overwhelmed with life. Be messed up, and show up anyways. Open up the book that has changed so many before us and will change so many in the future. And recognize yourself in those pages--those horrible, murderous, ridiculous men and women--and realize that they are the ones bringing God's kingdom here on earth.
And so can you.
*Actual title of a book I was required to read in Bible College. I don't remember a blessed thing in it.
How about you? Do you have any experiences on what has helped the Bible be a living, breathing, cutting-like-a-sword book?