Years ago, Readers Digest interviewed the top cellist of the time and asked why at the age of 83, he still practiced 5 hours a day. He replied, "Because I think I'm making progress." It takes a lot of practice to master anything and takes a lot of discipline and perseverance.
I play the violin and have for many years but it took a long time for the instrument to sound at all musical. I get by but know that if I put a lot more effort into it, I could be much more accomplished. I suppose what I lack is the amount of passion it takes to put that much time in, which apparently I don't have.
I do, however, have the passion to learn more about God and His Word because unlike my musical ability, which is admirable but not critical, the stakes of knowing how to obey and glorify the Lord are incredibly high. Not only are we risking glorifying God, which is our ultimate purpose and results in cultivating the joy we long for, we will end up in situations with no weapons to defend ourselves with.
Because of that, I've been challenging myself to develop better practices and processes in becoming more of a student of the book which reveals everything about God that we need to know in order to allow the Holy Spirit to shape us into His image, and the image of His Son.
One of the best books I've read yet is "Women of the Word" by Jen Wilkin. It's a small book that is easy to read, yet it's chocked full of practical teaching on "How to study the Bible with both our hearts and our minds".
She starts out helping us to "turn around" some of our mistaken ideas about the Bible. The first one is to remind us that the Bible is a book about God. She confesses, "I believed that I should read the Bible to teach me how to live and to assure me that I was loved and forgiven. I believed it was a roadmap for life, and that in any given circumstance, someone who truly knew how to read and interpret it could find a passage to give comfort or guidance. I believed the purpose of the Bible was to help me."
"It does, of course, tell us who we are and what we should do, but it does so through the lens of who God is", says Wilkin. We are able to learn about who we are and who we should become by knowing the "I Am". The Bible does give us encouragement, helps us feel loved, takes away our insecurities, fears, and doubts, but its main purpose is to renew our minds. We need to focus both on how the Bible is meant to change our hearts and the minds. The heart-change is often seen as being easier, but the mind-change takes a lot of work. Wilkin points out that "the heart cannot love what the mind does not know."
Jen explains that "The scientific community has noted this mind-before heart connection. Paul Bloom, a Yale professor with a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology, specializes in pleasure research-the study of how we as humans develop the ability to derive pleasure from people, experiences and things He has discovered through his research that pleasure does not simply occur, it develops. And how it develops is a point worth noting: 'People ask me "How do you get more pleasure out of life?' And my answer is extremely pedantic: Study more...The key to enjoying wine isn't just to guzzle a lot of expensive wine, it's to learn about wine.' Bloom has found that pleasure results from gaining knowledge about the object of our pleasure, not as we might assume, from merely experiencing it over and over. Specifically, our pleasure increases in something when we learn its history, origin and deeper nature."
Hopefully, that encourages us all to know more about God's Word, yet recent studies have proven that Bible illiteracy is an ever growing problem. Wilkin points out that even those who do spend time in the Word, not all contact with Scripture builds Bible literacy.
In this post, I am going to describe several common unhelpful habits of spending time in the Word from the book, which we have all been guilty of at one time or another. Then, in the next post, I will share some practical ways to truly study the Bible that I have learned from both Jen Wilkin and Matt Chandler, both from the Village Church.
Ways we have approached Scripture in harmful ways:
1. The Zanex Approach--With this approach, we use verses as pills to help us to feel better. It's great to use the Bible to encourage each other but this often makes the words all about us and most often takes verses out of context to twist its meaning in order to serve our situation. These often tend to be verses that bring emotional satisfaction and can tend to turn the sacred Word of God into fluff pieces for heart rendering social media posts.
2. The Pin-Ball Approach--With this approach, we ricochet around to various passages on various days and don't read the Bible as we would a textbook to learn about a subject. Imagine reading an Algebra book this way with any hope to pass the final exam. As with an Algebra book, the Bible also builds precept upon precept in each of its individual books, as well as fits into the overall theme of creation, fall, redemption, reconciliation, and restoration when studied correctly.
3. The Magic 8 Ball Approach--We've all been guilty of this, especially when we have faced life decisions. We need to remember that the Bible is not magical and is not meant to tell us what to do. It actually tells us who we are meant to become. Over time, it trains us how to make good decisions and helps us to become mature enough to apply what we have learned about God to our everyday life.
4. The Personal Shopper Approach--This approach is common when we use topical studies that are written by someone else who has done all of the work for us. Not all topical studies are bad, but we need to use them sparingly since they don't help us develop our own ownership of the Bible. Getting fragmentary knowledge can prevent us from a deep understanding of the whole thing. We need to have a good balance between using topical studies and reading and studying Scripture line by line, book by book. Too much focus on topics can also keep us in the books of the Bible we feel most comfortable with, which doesn't help us to struggle to gain an understanding of a very complex God.
5. The "Phone Game" Approach--We all remember playing this game when we were kids; we would whisper something in the next person's ear and they would do the same until it reached the end of the line, only to find out the original message had been distorted. Simply relying on blogs, podcasts, commentaries, and others' opinions about Scripture can take us down the path of distortion and following after false doctrines. We need to be in the Word ourselves. Matt Chandler points out that "There are a lot of people who will never read the Word of God, but just trust who's in front of them and believe whatever they are saying." Needless to say, this is extremely dangerous.
We need to remember that we are being shaped, influenced and "discipled" by everything that we take in. We either conform to the pattern of this world that at the very least doesn't satisfy, or we can be conformed to the image of God by studying it. Jen says that "We cannot imitate a God whose features and habits we have never learned."
If we truly believe that "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16-17), why wouldn't we want to devote our time to pursue understanding it? That's a good question and one I have been asking myself. I know that often my pursuit of busyness, fun, and Netflix can get in my way.
In my next post, I will give you some great tips for practically studying the Bible and then I'm going to dive into applying all that I'm learning to an online study of the book of Colossians. Think about joining me as I stumble my way through!
Blessings until next time...