Monday, September 28, 2009

Practical Theology for Women - Pt 9

The Bible (chapters 14-15 and 4)

How are you going at reading and studying the Bible? Quite recently, less than a fortnight ago, I had a workable Bible reading plan and was ploughing through great chunks of the Bible. It was exhilarating and I really enjoyed it. Then life changed somewhat for a variety of reasons and my plan has collapsed. I am in the process of building Bible reading back into daily life, and trying to rethink how I can do it, because what worked two weeks ago simply won’t now. That’s happened about five times since our son was born, and each time it has been a shock. But one of the things it has taught me is that I have to read God’s Word. Not because the act of doing it is what makes me a better Christian or to fill out some kind of performance chart. Not because it makes God happy with me. But because if I’m going to be Christ-centred, servant hearted and living by faith at all, I need constant input from God’s Word. I need God to be speaking to me and transforming me by his Word and Spirit.

So, it was refreshing to read Wendy’s chapters on the Bible and be reminded again of how reading God’s Word is a supernatural exercise. The Bible isn’t just neutral or words on a page, or sounds on an audio player. The Bible is God speaking and so acting by his Word through his Spirit. Living, active words that cut to our deepest place and make us new. Living, active words which are all we need for life and salvation. Living, active words that equip us for a life of service to the Lord Jesus.

And it was great to be reminded that encountering difficulty with Scripture is a good thing. Such difficulties reassure us that we aren’t inventing this God, but are learning who he is more and more and understanding how to submit our thinking to his wisdom. Wendy reminds us that God is bigger than we are and that this is a good thing, something we treasure about who God is. And it is also true that in being bigger than us, God is radically different to us. His justice is genuine and beyond our wisdom, and his call to behave well shows us a standard that we would never come up with by ourselves. We might be able to come up with a bunch of rules and follow them, but we would never come up with authentic ‘goodness’ which refreshes and encourages those around us, even as we grow in holiness in Christ’s image. Only God could show us this way to live.

Having been reminded of the good things which flow from engaging with God’s Word, how do we put this into practice? How do we read the Bible? Lots of us have routines, which is great, but I thought it might be a useful exercise to use the 4th chapter as a way of assessing where we are up to and asking ourselves whether we might need to change. Routines are great. It saves us a lot of stress and bother and is an easy way to do things, and we might conclude that they are working fine and don’t need to be changed. But if we’ve fallen out of routine or it simply isn’t working, it might be time to think again.

Thinking ‘Oh, I know I should read my Bible’ isn’t the best place to start, mostly because it results in a stash of usually useless guilt which will often make the problem worse. That is why I think we should use chapter 4 as we reflect on this together. There Wendy uses some short headings and some good questions to apply teaching on faith. The same principles are useful for most of the things that she has covered in this book, including Bible reading and study.

Let’s stop …

And think of what we’re doing and where we’re going. What difference does reading the Bible make to our day? Is it a chore? Is it something you and I think about and use as fuel for our prayer lives? Does it impact on our thinking? What about our study of the Bible? What difference does that make?

If you conclude that it is a chore, there is no point feeling guilty about it. Ask God to help you see it differently and ask yourself some questions about where and how it fits in your day. Sometimes boredom can reflect how something is being done rather than the activity itself.

What are you and I reading? Are you zipping through a reading system but not stopping to ever think about it? One of the particularly useful things that Wendy does in these chapters is show how all Scripture points to Jesus and how we need to struggle to read things well in this way and in context. The great thing about this is that we become Christ-centred readers, but it does take time. We have to stop and think, and chase up cross-references. Sometimes slowing down, ditching a reading system and focusing properly on a part of Scripture can be really useful.

We don’t have to keep doing what we are doing, simply because we are doing it. We can stop and rethink things.

Refocus …

Is my Bible reading all about me? Do I only ever think of the OT promises that are fulfilled in Jesus as applying to me, or do I think about how Jesus fulfilled them? Do I only ever read parts of the Bible that I like, and skip over the hard or uncomfortable passages? Have you read the entire Bible? If not, why not?

Let’s encourage each other to put Jesus at the centre of our Bible reading. Sometimes our lives are especially hard and we seek comfort and reassurance from its pages, and this is a good gift from God. But we must also strive to use the Bible to feed our faith for the long term and not just to get us through the crisis. We need to think about how a passage fits in the whole Bible, how it helps us understand who Jesus is and what he came to do more thoroughly and how it helps us look forward to his final coming glory. And in the process our knowledge of his love for us will feed our love for him, and we will grow in godliness and love for others also. Bible reading that is Jesus-centred and Spirit driven really does change our hopes, our affections and our lives.

Practice …

Let’s do read the Bible. And when we fail, let’s get up and start again.

God doesn’t keep a star chart of our Bible reading. God relates to us by grace through his Son, on the basis of Jesus’ death for us. So our less than fantastic performance in every area of our life (including this one) isn’t a barrier to loving and knowing God. But because we follow Jesus, the tenor of life is repentance. That is, we repent a lot. We struggle by God’s grace to change in line with the Holy Spirit, and so we do things badly or wrongly quite a bit. And then we repent. And try again. We are never, and were never, going to impress God with our performance, so it is best to turn away from a sense of failure and guilt and turn to God in repentance. And try again.

And let’s encourage each other to do what we can with what we have, in whatever situation we are in. Reading the same chapter for a week and really thinking about it is so much better than feeling overwhelmed by a huge reading load or reading boring notes that just don’t work. There is no ‘right’ way to do this: let’s help each other be realistic, guilt-free and Christ-centred as we read the Bible. And let’s read it.

What has worked for you? Chat with your friends and share your thoughts in the comments …

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