Confidently I replied, “The creation of the world.”
He responded back, “Right. What’s next?”
With equal confidence to my first answer, I said, “Adam and Eve were created and put into the garden.”
“Ok. Great. Then what?”
“The fall. Sin enters the world and destroys the relationship between humans and God.” At this point I am feeling pre-tty good about myself. Three for three, not bad. In batting averages I’m batting a thousand. Not bad at all.
“Ok. Good.” He said. “Then what?”
Immediately my confidence vanished. I wasn’t expecting we’d go this far. I thought three right answer would have impressed him enough and the whole Q&A thing would be over.
“Hmm…? Uhh…? Umm…?”
I searched every part of brain to find the answer but nothing came.
I could see in his eyes that he believed in me. He knew that somewhere in me I knew what came next. He gave me a few more seconds and then began to lead me to it. “After the fall… then… there was…. No…ah…”
“Right. Right.” I cut in. “Noah builds the ark and God floods the earth.”
“Good. Good.” He said in response, thinking we’re now back on track. “Then what happened?”
“Uhh…?” Inside I’m thinking, “Good grief, I have no flip’n clue.”
This was a conversation I was having with one of the pastors of the church I was attending. I was twenty-one years old at the time and had been raised in the church my entire life. My pastor was discipling and helping me discern a call into the ministry. On this day in particular, with him peppering me with Bible questions, I came to realize that I didn’t know squat about the Bible. How in the world would I ever pastor a church if I couldn’t recall anything beyond the first three chapters of Genesis? I was in big trouble.
At this point in the conversation my pastor had the same realization I did. I could see it from the look on his face. But rather than making me feel stupid or embarrassed, he was generous and decided to help me. He walked over to his bookshelf and pulled down a devotional book that guides you through reading the entire bible in a year. He opened it up and explained how it worked. Then prayed for me and sent me on my way saying we’d talk more next time about what I was reading.
That night, before I went to bed I opened up the book my pastor gave me and my thick-as-a-phone-book study bible and began reading through the scriptures cover to cover. And up until three weeks ago I have been doing it ever since. In the last ten years I have probably read through the bible roughly ten times. In doing this I have found that my love for God and my understanding of the scriptures has greatly increased. Where I once thought that the bible was a bunch of disconnected random stories, I have come to learn and love that it’s actually one big GRAND story with God and his redemptive purpose at the center.
If you have never read through the whole Bible cover to cover, you should. It takes discipline and perseverance, but it has the power to change your life.
However, three weeks ago I was confronted with another startling realization. Although it was different than the realization I had that day sitting in my pastors office, it was equally unsettling. I came to realize that after reading through the bible cover to cover, year after year, it had grown stale. My reading of scripture had become a mechanical discipline that wasn’t encouraging or life-giving. It felt more like and obligation. “I am a pastor. This is part of my job. It’s what I get paid to do, read the bible and teach people about God.”
I am grateful for the accessibility of the scriptures on smartphones and the bible apps that come with reading plans. I have one. I use one. But lately, my bible reading has become a checklist, literally. The app I use actually has a box that you check after you finish reading every chapter. My realization wasn’t just that my bible reading was stale, but it actually felt as though I didn’t know how to read the bible.
So what did I do in response? I actually stopped reading it. Not for very long, just for a week. I stopped reading and started praying. I began to express to God my desire to have fellowship with Him rather than just reading about Him. I started to ask God how should I read the Bible. And His response was simple, “Read less.” He was showing me that my reading of scripture had become an end in and of itself rather than a means to an end. With checklist in hand, I was reading the bible in order to finish it, rather than reading it in order to have fellowship and communion with God.
During that same week I was finishing Dallas Willard’s book Hearing God and I came across this paragraph,
As Madame Guyon wisely counsels, “If you read quickly, it will benefit you little. You will be like a bee that merely skims the surface of a flower. Instead… you must become as the bee who penetrates into the depths of the flower. You plunge deeply within to remove it’s deepest nectar.”
You may be told that it is good to read the Bible through every year and that you can ensure this will happen by reading so many verses per day from the Old and New Testaments… But will you become more like Christ and filled with the life of God? It’s better in one year to have ten good verses transferred into the substance of our lives than to have every word of the Bible flash before our eyes. Remember that the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life (2 Cor. 3:6). We read to open ourselves to the Spirit.
It was as though Dallas Willard was talking directly to me. His question about being “filled with the life of God” struck a chord.
So my next move? I started reading less.
I still follow a plan cause I find the structure helpful. But the plan I am now reading has about one-third of the amount of verses. I am able to take my time and let the words soak in. I am able to take it with me through out the day and meditate on it here and there. Don’t be fooled into thinking that now every time I open my Bible the heavens part and I see Jesus face to face. But now, I see the renewal of the “life of God” that comes through his word.
What challenges have you faced in being faithful with reading the scriptures?
What reading practices and disciplines have renewed the life of God in you?