Where does the desire to read the Bible come from, and how can we cultivate it?
The Bible is a complex book. Lots of authors wrote it, writing in many diverse genres. There’s history, poetry, prophesy, law, wisdom, romance, letters, and more. The different authors rarely knew each other, writing their works across hundreds of years. There are unique cultural contexts for each of the sixty-six books that make up the Bible. The idea that understanding all this is simple doesn’t add up.
This complexity means that we can’t grab the Bible at random and assume we’ll be able to understand it all. That’s not to suggest the stories of people picking up a Gideon Bible and finding God when in a hotel room aren’t real. God can use the Bible like this to reach out to people. There’s a difference, though, between a moment of encounter and a lifetime of reading the Bible day-by-day.
Reading the Bible takes hard work
If we want to mine the Bible for all its riches, it will take hard work. It won’t just happen. We need to develop the skills and build the resources to help us understand it. Without these skills and resources, we will become frustrated. This might cause us to give up on the Bible completely. Or it might make us try and over-simplify it. And when we struggle to understand the Bible, it’s easy to resort to verse bingo. We grab random isolated verses we do understand, and ignore the (many) parts we don’t. This leads to a distorted understanding of both God and the Bible.
But if it requires this much work to enjoy all the Bible has to offer, why bother? This is why, as we saw last time, it starts with desire. And desire stems from what we value. If we don’t see the value in something, we won’t make the time for it. We need to discover the value of the Bible if we’re going to make the time to engage with God through it. Many of us will no doubt think we do value it. But this is often a theoretical knowing we should value it. It’t not an on-the-ground, every-day, living, breathing, active appreciation of its rich value. If it was, we’d be reading and studying it more. We reflect our true values through what we do—not what we think.
Reading the Bible in community
When I think about what, at different points in my life, has stirred my desire to read and study the Bible, lots of things come to mind. It’s clear to me, though, that whatever desire I have for the Bible has come through and with others. It is something that has developed in community, not in isolation. It started at home, growing up in a family that often read the Bible together. And it then grew further through some great teachers and pastors I had the privilege of learning under. Being part of dynamic small groups played a key role at times too. And then they’re are the books others have written; these too have informed and shaped me perhaps more than I’ll ever fully realise.
In other words, there is no one thing. It’s is many things. But the common thread to all these aspects that have stirred my desire for the Bible is community. Reading and studying the Bible is not an individualistic activity. That’s not to say we don’t read it on our own. In truth, we’re likely to do most of our reading on our own. But if we are going to grow in our appreciation of and desire for the Scriptures, it’ll be because we recognise that we need the help of others to get everything out of its pages. We need the insights of scholars and friends alike. We need the reflections of both our pastors and our families. We need conversations over coffees (or beer), as well as insights from learned authors. We need each other.
Teaching the Bible is for everyone
When I was thirteen, I went with my Dad to Ghana. I was there to tag along and enjoy the experience as Dad preached at a conference about an hour north of the capital, Accra. When I arrived though, the Pastor told me he wanted me to lead some of the youth sessions. Never having done anything like that, it freaked me out. In true African style, this wasn’t a question though; I was leading the youth sessions—no discussion! Sheer panic threw me to my knees in prayer. And through a combination of a forgiving audience and the help, no doubt, of God’s Spirit, I made it through. I learnt a valuable lesson though: there’s a level of understanding of Scripture that only comes when we have to help others understand it.
This is why although pastors and teachers have a vital role to play, we mustn’t leave the teaching of Scripture solely to them. We all must embrace the responsibility to teach others and help them understand the Scriptures. Finding ourselves in situations where we have to go deeper in our studying of Scripture so that we can help others is such a powerful way of growing our own desire for the Bible. It moves us away from reading something only for ourselves and sets us up to be people who serve others. And this can help bring the Bible alive before our own eyes in a whole new way.
The big picture
There is one other ingredient that has been critical for me in laying a foundation for desire to read, study, and live the Scriptures. And that has been getting to grips with the overarching narrative of the Bible. As we’ve seen, the Bible is a collection of books written over hundreds of years by many authors. If we’re going to be able to even start to make sense of them all, we need a basic understanding of how—and why—they all fit together.
Is there a thread that runs through the whole Bible? What is it? And how can that help us in reading the individual sections that make up the Scriptures? That’s what we’ll delve into next time.
SUMMARY: Find other people—friends, family, pastors, teachers, authors—to learn from and grow with. Don’t let your Bible reading be an isolated activity. Seize opportunities to teach others, forcing yourself to study passages of Scripture to the point you can explain them to others.