How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! (Psalm 119:103)
In this continuing series on Scripture I’m writing about why the daily reading of Scripture, accompanied by study, selective memorization, contemplation, and use in prayer is essential in the life of every Christian.
This week I address the importance of reading Scripture. As I wrote in my first post in this series, daily engagement with the Bible trains our ears to recognize what God is saying and doing in our life. If we ascribe to God our own emotions and motivations we will tragically misunderstand him. It’s essential we come to understand God’s way of doing things because his point of view is so foreign to our own.
God loves us with a sacrificial and enduring love, which has no human counterpart. In fact, in Greek, the love attributed to God has its own special name. It is called αγαπη (pronounced ah-gah-pay). Continually reading through the Bible will help us better understand how God thinks and acts and keep it in the forefront of our mind.
In the Book of Common Prayer readings from the Bible are designated for every day of the year and I used this lectionary tool for my daily reading of Scripture while I was in seminary. However, reading programs which assign readings for the day usually leave out portions within each book of the Bible and skip around from book to book. This kind of selective reading does not give readers a sense of how the books of the Bible are connected to one another or even of the flow of events from the beginning of one book to the end. Therefore, because I’ve discovered that many Christians are surprisingly uninformed about what is in the Bible as a whole, and within each book, I recommend only limited use of lectionary tools.
It will take consistent reading, from one end of the Bible to the other, many times over, to become familiar with what is in every part of it. You could spend a lifetime reading this way and still discover something new, as my friend, Joy, pointed out in her comment several weeks ago. Scripture is always fresh and lively. We may miss something in one reading only to find it the next time we come upon it.
I also suggest reading from the Old and New Testament simultaneously. I find reading from both Testaments at the same time helps me to keep in mind they are intricately related to and dependent upon one another. The New Testament makes no sense without the Old Testament history and prophecy pointing the way to the birth of Jesus. And the Old Testament is incomplete without the cross, empty grave and reconstituted community now called, “the church.”
In addition, reading Scripture several times a day is more important than the total amount read. I read a chapter each from the Old and New Testament, and a psalm, twice during the day and one chapter or psalm before going to sleep. However, I offer what I do only as an illustration. Set a pace that works for you; not someone else’s pace. I think it is far better to read more often in the course of a day, covering less ground, than to read a lot at only one sitting.
I refer to the time I set aside throughout the day to read from my Bible as my “speed bump.” Each time I stop and read, I’m slowing down, allowing myself to be refreshed by God’s word and recalling what’s really important in life. If I don’t stop to come in contact with God’s word, I speed through my day, trying to accomplish what I think is important, convincing myself that God must think it’s important, too. I begin to assume what I want is what God wants.
By returning to Scripture, even for just a short period of time, several times throughout the day, I recall that God’s reality is far different from my own and I reaffirm that he is in charge, not me. This form of “attitude adjustment” gives me what I need to see the world and my life, again, through God’s eyes, rather than relying on my perceptions. I’m convinced that reading from Scripture, more than once a day, is vital for our spiritual health. If you don’t have much time mid-day, try just reading a psalm or two. The Psalms offer a way to express prayerfully your feelings and concerns – and they give welcome reassurance that God is always present and ever ready to help.
I recommend you use an annotated or study-Bible so you can look up phrases or concepts that are not clear. But don’t get bogged down with making notes or in doing research; save that for when you study the Bible. Instead, read the Bible in order to become intimately acquainted with each step in God’s plan of salvation in Jesus Christ, from the creation of the world through the creation of the church. This is your family history; so come to know it well.
As you read you’ll find verses, images or stories that speak to you and to your situation in life. Make note of them because you’ll want to go back and refer to them, later, when looking for a passage upon which to contemplate or memorize. As you grow older, you’ll keep finding verses, images and stories which speak to you; those that touched you ten years ago may not be the ones you turn to now. That’s the beauty of Scripture – it speaks to us at every age in our life – another reason why we should never stop reading it.
Don’t be surprised if you find it becomes difficult to set aside time – that you are being interrupted, or that you’re making excuses for not reading. This is completely natural. The human will naturally resists coming under the direction of the Holy Spirit. If you find you’re having trouble getting started, or reading consistently each day, just ask the Holy Spirit to give you a yearning to read and a hunger for God’s word. Ask also for your time to be protected from interruptions. The Holy Spirit is only too happy to answer such a prayer.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to underline or make notes in your Bible. It is God’s word to you and you’ll want to highlight some of the words you find particularly meaningful. So go ahead. It’ll just be something between you and God.
Next week: The study of Scripture.