I realize that referring to the Bible as a place to find God, probably brings an immediate, and perhaps vicarial, set of reactions. On one end of the spectrum there are those who see the Bible as an outdated, highly unreliable book of fiction. On the other end of the spectrum are those who see the Bible as a kind of magic book – where if you quote it, you will get it.
Most of us fall somewhere in-between.
Let me start with my own beliefs. I grew up with the Bible as a source of inspirational reading. My parents believed it to be a place to go to understand how God thinks and works. It was revered in our home. We read it every night at the dinner table. We just accepted it as truth. During my teenage years, I went through a period of rebellion. I abandoned my belief in the Bible and did my own thing. I wasn’t really anti-Christian; I just saw the whole thing as irrelevant. It didn’t matter to me. I didn’t think much about it.
However, when I came back to Christ, the Bible came alive to me. I read it furiously. I found it extremely helpful. By reading it and paying attention to its teaching a whole new world opened to me. Its words changed me. I became an avid student of the Bible. I went to Christian university and studied the original languages. Then I went to graduate school to get a Master’s in New Testament studies. I have spent a lot of time with the Bible. I have preached from it for over 40 years. I have seen many people’s lives changed, because of it.
That said, I don’t worship the Bible.
There are still times where it doesn’t make sense to me. There are still places that I wrestle with it. I even have extended periods of time in my life where I don’t like reading it. So, the way I describe my relationship with it is that I worship God and respect the Bible. I believe the Bible is inspired and authoritative. But my primary allegiance is to God, who regularly uses the Bible to speak to me.
Against that personal backdrop, let me address those who find themselves more skeptical about the Bible. Maybe you have read about certain scientific inaccuracies in the Bible. Maybe you have noticed contradictions that have shaken your trust. Maybe you have even tried reading all the way through it and it just seems too archaic and too complicated. As a result, you don’t have much use for it. Maybe you’d describe yourself as one trying to understand what it means to worship God, but you don’t have much respect for the Bible.
Let me ask you to consider this: Does it have to be all or nothing?
I have watched many people get stuck at a story (maybe especially in the OT). They read about Jonah being swallowed by the fish or the parting of the Red Sea, or donkey that talks, and because the story seems so far-fetched, they say, “I’m out!” They can’t buy the specific event and therefore set the whole Bible down. The one story disqualifies whatever else the Bible has to say. Might you consider suspending judgment on the event in the interest of finding the nuggets of gold that may still be mined from its pages?
No matter what you think about the Bible personally, one thing that cannot be denied, this book has changed millions of lives (for good) through multiple generations. Whatever personal reservations you might have, it is also entirely possible that God wants to speak to you through these words – if you could find yourself open to it. And for what it’s worth, God is not put off by your skepticism. He is not annoyed by your doubts. He is quite willing to work whatever you are willing to give him. He loved from the moment you were born!
For those who are more devote, may I suggest that one of the things we must be cautious about is giving the Bible too much power. I know that may sound strange – especially coming from a pastor. You might even question my orthodoxy. So, let me explain. Over the years, I have watched many people measure Christian maturity principally on the basis of a person’s knowledge of the Bible. We assume that one’s theological position on this book and their ability to quote from it is the most accurate way to asses one’s spiritual maturity. That isn’t true. Jesus never talked about it that way. He actually cautioned against spiritual arrogance, and his harshest critiques were reserved for the “teachers of the law.”
For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
What did Jesus mean by that?
In short, he meant that maturity had to go beyond knowledge of the law (or what we today call the Bible). He was making the point that you can know religious principles very well – enough to teach it – and still miss the kingdom of God. What were they missing? It was knowing and following Jesus in spirit and truth! It was not just about knowing the word. It was about being personally accountable to it – not as a measuring stick to ascertain another’s standing in righteousness, but as a measuring stick of one’s own heart.
Does that mean we shouldn’t study the scriptures? Does that mean I am anti-knowledge? No and no! However, I know for myself that the greatest challenge facing me is not how much of the Bible I know, but how much of the Bible knows me!
Finding the Skinny Place
- Attention – reading the Bible, must be about something more than a ritual or a check mark on our spiritual “to do” list. We want to approach the Bible prayerfully. Every time I start my devotional reading, I offer a short prayer that sounds something like this,
Lord, if there is something you want to say to me through these words, I am listening…
I remind myself that the Bible is a product of something more than human effort. It’s more than stories and teaching from ancient people. In a mysterious, but none-the-less profound way, the Spirit of God inspired what we have. Paul wrote about it this way,
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,
II Timothy 3:16
Therefore, I ask the same Spirit that inspired those original writings to bring them to life in my own reading. I know that might sound like a simple idea, but it has been such a powerful shift for me in the ways I approach these words. God really does end up speaking to me as I listen to what he might have to say through them.
- Application – God is deliberate about what he says. It is meant for our living and not just our knowing. He doesn’t simply want to add to our spiritual knowledge. This is the part the Pharisees of Christ’s day never fully understood. He has a practical personal purpose behind what he inspired. So, when reading the scriptures, I have developed the habit of asking the question, How do these words connect to my life? What am I supposed to be learning about God? What area of my own life is he trying to address? What needs to be changed (in me) as a result of what I am reading?
This is how God uses the Bible to change our lives. God will use these words as a point of affirmation or a point of confrontation. Sometimes I will be reading a passage and I’ll be affirmed in what I have already been thinking, which will lead to a greater confidence about where I am headed. I need this kind of affirmation on a regular basis – don’t you?
However, there are other times where I am confronted about something going on in my life, which leads to a place of conviction. We are all fairly proficient at rationalizing and justifying what we like doing – even if it isn’t all that good for us. We have our preset excuses for sin. But, as we read God’s word, we find ourselves being confronted by things we might otherwise try and avoid. The Spirit of God through the pages of Bible, brings conviction and we can no longer hide behind our excuses – and by God’s grace we begin to change
- Appropriation – for me this is sometimes the hardest part of Bible study. Follow-through is tough.
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says
Confession: I realize it makes sense to not just be a hearer of the word. I know that the more important thing is to do what it says. But, it’s hard for two reasons: (a) I don’t want to do it or (b) I don’t think I can do it. Those are my biggest hurdles. The want to and the ability to. I get stuck there a lot.
Thankfully, God doesn’t expect us to do this in our own strength. The same Spirit that inspired these words can help us live them out. In Romans 7 and 8, Paul talks all about weakness. In fact, he confesses his own struggles with doing what he knows he should do. But, then, he circles back around and says something seemingly simply and yet truly profound.
The Spirit helps us in our weakness.
And what is so beautiful and powerful about this promise is that it helps us on both fronts – stimulating our desire and empowering our discipline. He really is our strength, even when we feel weak.
My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness…
II Corinthians 12:9
Let me close with this: one of the biggest surprises that I had in becoming a Christian is the adventure of it. Looking from the outside in, I thought that being a Christian meant I would have to adopt this boring restrictive life. No fun. No adventure. But it is exactly the opposite. And part of what helped me to be open to that kind of adventure is my journey through the pages of the Bible. Their stories have become my stories, and my prayer is that perhaps you might be more inclined to explore (re-explore?) it as a potential skinny place for you too.
If you would like to join me in one of my weekly Bible Studies, extend me a friend invite on YouVersion and I will invite you to join me in the next study I lead.