There is a tendency for us to treat devotional Bible Reading (when we’re asking God to speak to us personally through His word) and Bible Study (when we’re looking to gain a better, more cerebral understanding) as if these are completely separate and distinct activities, and I just think that’s a mistake. Why would we not want to invite the Holy Spirit in to guide our in depth exegesis of Ephesians? Why shouldn’t I be allowed stop and do a Greek word study in the middle of my quiet time if I sincerely believe that it is going to help me understand the passage better, and thus live it out more faithfully? To answer my own question: perhaps it’s because we’re allowing an anti-intellectual Fundamentalism to guide our thinking on this because we actually believe that the spiritual and the intellectual are opposing/incompatible pursuits. If that is true, then why did Jesus add “mind” (Mk. 12:30, Lk. 10:27) to the list of ways we should love “the LORD our God” from the Shema of Israel in the Old Testament (Deut. 6:5): ‘with all your heart, soul and might (or strength – NKJV).’ Hopefully you can read more about this soon in my upcoming paper tentatively entitled Toward an Integrated/Unified Hermeneutic for the Transformation of the Human Person , but I digress…
I’d like to start out by focusing on preparing ourselves, our hearts, our minds, our attitudes as we approach God’s written revelation to us. In his book Reading the Bible with Heart & Mind Tremper Longman says this: “If we earnestly read the Bible with an openness to its divine author, it will change our minds, enrich our spirits, and guide us through each day.” When we read the Bible, sometimes the Bible reads us, allowing us to see ourselves as we really are. We must approach the Bible with a receptive heart. This requires faith and submission to it’s authority over us as God’s word (for the record, I’m still pretty much following Longman here). Check out this example prayer that I use as a guide to preparing my heart before I open my Bible each day:
Father, I submit to the authority of Your word.
Jesus, great Rabbi, teach me this morning – class is in session. I am your disciple.
Holy Spirit, illuminate the word of God:
Grant that I might understand with my mind,
enlighten my eyes to see the truth,
open my ears to hear the word of God, spoken to me,
soften my heart to trust & believe what You are saying to me this morning.
Holy Spirit convict my heart,
I bow my will (in submission) to obey the word of God,
empower these hands to do the work of the Kingdom with kindness, compassion and love.
Anoint my lips to speak a word of encouragement to my brothers & sisters, and to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God to those who haven’t heard, and those who need to hear.
Come Lord Jesus.
Come Holy Spirit
Well I think this prayer pretty much speaks for itself: submission, teach-ability and something that has been lost in the teaching of exegetical method in our seminaries for many years: inviting the Holy Spirit into our Bible reading experience; recognition of God’s authority over us in His word; and finally a willingness to be radically transformed by a genuine encounter with the God of scripture, and a heart for mission.
Finally, I recommend some sort of interactive reflection on the text. This is probably best achieved with some form of journaling. I use the Scripture – Observation – Application – Prayer method. You can read more about that here. But truthfully, I don’t want to get hung up on any particular method here. But there are a few common themes in most devotional Bible reading methods. These include first, and of course obviously, reading the text. Usually the process also includes selecting something that you read which particularly stands out to you – so please highlight while you read! Typically there is also identification of some sort of observation, principle, or a truth (and this is where exegetical sensitivity can come in handy). And finally there is asking the question of how do I then live differently because of what I have just read?” And do I really need to argue that prayer might be a good idea here?
So how about starting today? Did you know that you can read a typical chapter of the Bible in about 5 minutes (NOTE: 1 chapter a day will get you through the entire Bible in about 3 years – but more on Reading Plans in part 2)? Then try journaling on what He just spoke to you for another 5 minutes. Can you commit 10 minutes a day, say 4-5 times/week? I think that is pretty do-able!
In our next installment, I’ll talk more about preparing to hear from God with a little technique that Mike Turrigiano likes to call “Dialing Down.”
Until then, blow that dust off your Bible and let the transformation begin!