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.