Thursday, February 13, 2020

Reading Without Seeing: How Not to Study the Bible

Reading Without Seeing

We can drift from God with our Bibles open in front of us.

We are so prone to wander that any activity can be an opportunity for sin, even reading God’s word. Although we may assume activities intended for growth in godliness — prayer, fellowship, Bible reading — are immune to such temptation, we can still fail to bring God glory even as we engage the Scriptures.

The Pharisees had this problem in their Bible reading. Jesus shot straight to the heart of the issue: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:39–40).

The Pharisees searched the Scriptures diligently. They devoted their entire lives to memorizing and obeying the Law of Moses. But what does Jesus call them out for? He says they missed the bright neon sign flashing “Messiah.” The Pharisees knew God’s word, but they didn’t recognize Jesus. They never allowed God’s word to penetrate their hearts so that they would desire the Messiah and welcome him when he came.

Imagine taking an interest in your ancestry, creating a family tree, and learning all about your great-grandparents. You know their birthplace, their history, where they worked, how they met, and so on. Now imagine that they walk into your kitchen as you sit down to eat dinner, but you don’t recognize them. You don’t hop off your seat with excitement to hug them. This only begins to capture how crazy it is for us to read the Scriptures and miss Christ.

How Not to Read the Bible

We marvel at the blindness of the Pharisees, yet some of us have the same problem.

We have the same problem when, in Bible study, we find ourselves amazed at Hebrews 4:15, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,” but we don’t approach his throne in confidence to pray. We do not glorify God in our Bible reading when we study diligently, but our study never sparks a fire inside us for prayer.

We have the same problem when we arrive at Revelation 5:13, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever,” but this sight of heavenly worship does not move our hearts to respond the same way. We do not glorify God in our Bible reading when we plug through our Bible reading plan, but our study never stops us in our tracks to worship God.

We have the same problem when we memorize Psalm 121:1–2, “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth,” but we fail to turn to God in times of need. We do not glorify God in our Bible reading when we stack up flash cards of memorized verses, but our memorization never helps us run to God for refuge when trials come.

We do not read the Bible to the glory of God when we seek knowledge about God, but we never meet God — when the knowledge we search for never gets into our hearts.

What We Long to See

Instead, we read the Bible to the glory of God when we see Jesus in it and find joy.

Now, we must not overcorrect and crash into a ditch on the other side. This does not mean we forsake knowledge for some mystical encounter as we open to a random page of the Bible each morning. No, we eagerly pursue truths about Jesus. But we use this pursuit of facts to help our hearts feel rightly.

When was the last time you felt like all you wanted to do was keep reading and praying even as your watch told you to leave for work? When was the last time you felt like you just had to share what you read with someone else? When was the last time you ran across a passage that drove you immediately to your knees in prayer for yourself or a friend (or maybe even an enemy)? When was the last time your heart leapt for joy when God opened your eyes to see wondrous things in his word? We do the hard work of thinking over God’s word to see Jesus clearly and enjoy him rightly.

We read our Bibles to the glory of God when “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). We gaze into the face of Jesus as we open God’s word, and he transforms us. We get the growth, and he gets the glory.

Present Help

We need help to read the way God intends us to read. Left to our own devices, we inevitably fall into the trap of reading with our heads and without our hearts. We need help, but we have a Helper. Jesus comforted his followers, “When the Helper comes, whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me” (John 15:26).

Paul describes the process by saying, “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Timothy 2:7). We work to understand God’s word, and he gives us the understanding. The Holy Spirit guides us in our reading so that we will not stop with knowledge, but instead we will truly understand, seeing Jesus and continuing on to heart change and action.

So we pray, “Holy Spirit, guide me into the truth (John 16:13). Help me to see Jesus as I open up my Bible this morning.” We pray along with David, “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1).

We pray, “God, help me meet you as I read this morning. Help me behold the glory of your Son. Move me beyond knowing the words and help me to see you. Make me feel rightly about the words I read, and then would you transform the way I parent, work, and interact with others through seeing your goodness to me in this word?”

We need help, but we have a Helper. God loves to meet us as we pray to meet him in his word.

from Desiring God
via DG