Some years ago a man told me that he had never read the Bible cover-to-cover. Normally that wouldn’t have struck me as odd, but this guy had been a church-going Christian for twenty years. Puzzled, I asked for an explanation. I don’t recall his exact words, but what came through was well, like, you know, I’ve read enough of the Bible to know what’s in it.
It was around this time when another Christian asked me if I would pray for her to have enough discipline to stick with a “through-the-Bible-in-a-year” reading schedule she had begun. “I’ve never done this before,” she said, “and I’ve been a Christian twenty years.” There it was again. I commended her for her decision to go steady with the Bible for a year; but doing that for the first time in twenty years? I just didn’t get it. And I couldn’t help but wonder where this gal and guy were at, after twenty years, in their “walk with the Lord,” as we used to call it.
Maybe it’s just me, but their comments seemed odd because during the first few years after becoming Christian I found myself devouring the Bible from cover to cover many times. I use “devouring” deliberately, because in my before-Christ history I had the exact opposite experience. A nonChristian spiritual teacher whom I had been following told me that I “owed it to myself” to read the whole Bible because it had a lot of wisdom. I took his advice and read it. I think it took me several months. But the Book was as dry as shoe leather. Yet as a new Christian, I feasted on the Bible continually, as naturally as if I were enjoying my favorite prime rib dinner.
I can’t prove this, but I suspect that if you haven’t embarked on a relationship with the Author of the Book, you’ll be chewing on some very tough shoe leather. I don’t blame anyone who doesn’t have an appetite for that, for the problems arising from that diet will of course be fatal. But problems also exist for those who have been given a personal relationship with the Author but who also have a now-and-then, here-and-there diet with His Book.
Going steady with Scripture means more than doing intermittent inductive, topical, or word studies; more than learning doctrine; more than playing Bible roulette to land on a verse to direct your path. It means more than discovering nine-foot giants with hands studded with six fingers, or finding “pagans” serving the Lord, or having hopes of becoming God’s end-times prophet.
It means more than treating the Bible like one might read the newspaper on the train to work or play around in the evening on the Web. It means more than engaging in a critical scholarship that reduces the story of Esther to a farce, the life of David to a fictional character, and the resurrection of Jesus to a myth. Even more than using the text to lead people to Christ.
Going steady with Scripture engages us in more than what meets the eye. It means spending regular time with the Author of the Book in His Book. It means a recurring opening of the Book with an unrushed, prayerful, and reflective attitude in hopes of dwelling in the secret place of the Most High. And you never know what will occur when the Presence meets you in that secret place of the Life behind the text, there in an encounter with the living, true, and merciful God. Or how you will be afterward: at peace or afraid, healed or hurt, elated or in tears, confirmed or challenged, with answers or with puzzles, with insight or with questions, with forgiveness or with guilt, in hope or despair, in joy or sorrow. We don’t know what we need. But the Author of the Book does.
Going steady with Scripture means settling in over the course of one’s life with God’s Book open humbly in our laps. There, God’s Spirit graces us to participate in a deepening personal relationship with the Author, in the ongoing rebuilding of our lives, in increasing of love for others, and in absorbing a godly wisdom for our ministry or our work in the world. Who doubts the ongoing, Christlike fruit that this steady process of transformation will produce?
I’m not nearly as steady as I want to be, as I know I should be. I fluff off. I make excuses. I think I know it all. And I fear some rude awakenings in that day when God opens the books of our individual lives before Him, mine too, and points out how much more like Jesus our “walk with the Lord” could have been if we had gone steady with His Book. And I wonder if God might be easier on those who had no Bible than on those of us with a stack of translations we rarely open.
I’m done preaching here, except to report these words from the New Testament of two persons who knew where shoe leather belonged, under foot, as they walked with the Author of the Book: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scripture to us?” Any takers?
©2015 by Charles Strohmer
Art from wikimedia commons and photo by J. Mark Bertrand.
In our Church a few Sunday’s ago during the sermon (about 250 of us meet together on a regular basis each Sunday) our church leader told an antedote about an atheist professor at some University who told his students that he read the bible through once a year because he thought it was great literature.
Our church leader then asked point blank “How many of us, as Christians, read the bible through every year”, and he then asked for a show of hands.
I put up my hand, and then looked around at the rest to see that no one else had put their hands up not even our church leader.
“So that’s only Bill then”. . . . . he said with a smile to the accompaniment of gentle laughter from the rest of the congregation.
Yes…. I read the bible through once a year and have done so for over 40 years now. Woe unto me if I DO NOT spent at least 20 minutes in the Word each day…..as therein lies my sanity and encouragement, my inspiration for living, my intellectual and spiritual challenges for deeper understanding of the Lord and His ways with me and the world.
I am not just going steady with the Word.
I think we must of got married quite a few years ago.
What a great story, Bill. Thx for taking time to share it with us here. Although its sad to know how many people in the church don’t go steady with Scripture, your experience is the point of the post and we should take note. Your story makes me want to ask for a show of hands in other churches. Do I dare?!
My engagement with Scripture is not as disciplined as yours, but though I don’t go through the Bible every year, and haven’t for years, I’m usually pondering something in it most days of the week, either devotionally or as part of my research and writing. Devotionally, I recently finished a few months of regular reflection on the Psalms, using the Jewish Study Bible. That was a huge blessing.
I hope readers of your story will take heart and establish some sort of regular/disciplined pattern of going steady with Scripture themselves. It may entail a set time frame (once a year) or not. E.g., an option that appeals to me is to move through the Book one genre at a time, in any sort of order, sans any particular time frame other than “I’m going to do this on a regular basis.” So one could, say, move through the Psalms, and then the wisdom lit, and then the Gospels or Epistles, and then the history books or the prophetic lit, and the Pentateuch, and so on. But the key in any pattern we establish is the one you have, which I hope my post underlined — an attitude of prayerful, reflective meeting with the Author. We so need that on a regular basis — we are so sinfully clouded in our goings and comings that desperately need the Word as a lamp to our feet and a light to our path.
But I think it is also OK to cheat a bit. If I am totally honest I must admit that the more legal and ritual parts of Leviticus and the genealogical roll call at the beginning of Chronicles gets me skimming the text until the narrative is resumed. I also really love the Wisdom and prophetic books not to mention all of the Gospels and the letters of Paul. The book if Revelation has (in my attempt to understand it better) forced me out of the canon into the extra-biblical Apocalyptic literature like the Book of Enoch, the Sibylline Oracles and the other Old Testament Pseudepigrapha etc …..most of which were quoted by the early Church Fathers before the canon was ‘set’. I am convinced the modernist (mostly American) futurist ‘dispensational’ reading of Revelation is wrong. But that for another time.
Agreed, Bill. But just to remind us about what I was on about in “Going Steady.” It was about meeting God in Scripture and hearing Him speak to us there. This, to me, as I allude to in that post, is quite different than doing a “Bible study.” I am, of course, all for that kind of study, which seeks to understand the text, and which we would not want to be without. And I know that God can meet with us when we are doing a Bible study. And yet we also need that what I think you and I would call that “naive” opening of the Book — as a child discovers life, and then discovers it again and again. And then again.
Hey Charlie! You are very perceptive. I, along with too many of my “church going” friends, have not read the Book cover to cover. I have started with good intentions many times, only to have “real” life interpose itself and detract from the goal I had set. Please understand, I am approaching this from a mere lay person’s perspective, as someone who is always striving to become a better disciple and be more evangelistic in my life journey. There may well be many people like me who try to incorporate these values, repeatedly, into our everyday activities.
Lovely to hear from you here, Marie. Thx for taking time to share your good thoughts. I think what you say about lay “church-goers” is probably right, and probably describes an experience that many have. I wonder if language difficulties with the particular Bible translation one reads (tries to read!) could be part of the problem. There are so many different translations today, which anyone can sample in the Bible section of any decent book store.
But people who are OK with their translation but find it hard to read regularly…, perhaps one way to overcome “real” life interference is like how I learned to love walking long distances as exercise. Ten years ago when I started this “discipline,” many things, including overwork, encroached to put me off of doing it regularly, or else I made excuses. But because my doctor had said I needed to do it, I pressed on, even against my will at times, and I was pleasantly surprised after a while that what at the get-go was “ah, why bother?” became a disciple I really missed whenever a good reason came up. That’s still true today.
SO good, so true, so sad, especially considering how many brothers and sisters in Christ don’t even have a Bible, or pay a high price for owning one and getting caught with it… It must grieve the heart of the Father.
I hadn’t thought of that, Nancy. It is good to be reminded of it. Thank you.