How (and why) would I read the Bible?

It’s a fair question. It’s a complicated book. Here are my thoughts on why it’s so very worth the effort.

IMG_4301

I love the Bible. It took me quite a while to get a handle on it. And yet when you dive in and ask for God’s help, something supernatural kicks in.  It’s inspiring and exciting, and makes sense in a way that shouldn’t but does.

The picture above? It’s a compilation of my conversations with God over the past nineteen years. The green one on the top has my prayers for the different kids we’ve been close to, particularly Princess Peach when she lived with us. The blue paperback is the one I bought when I was new to this taking Jesus seriously thing. (I bought a paperback instead of a hardback or leather in case it didn’t work out. The Battlefield of the Mind Bible is the one I’m using now. It’s the same Bible, but with commentary from Joyce Meyer on keeping my head in the game and my thoughts lined up with what God says is true instead of the chaos I see all around me. The combination of God’s Word and Joyce’s notes is so helpful. And the Bible on the bottom with the ugly cover? I bought that when I was asked to give a talk to a group of people I was intimidated by; I thought they might take me more seriously if my Bible was dark maroon instead of hot pink & bright green. (Which shows that God can use us even when we’re being ridiculous.)

The Bible is incredible. But it’s also weird and hard to read. How’s that for a sales pitch? But it’s true. It’s not organized by chronology or theme or author. There’s one chunk of time that is discussed twice, at length, over the course of four books. The Bible is filled with sentences that might be intended for back then, or right now, or maybe another thousand years down the line…or all of the above. And yet…The Bible is alive in a way that no other collection of pages is. We are promised that if we open it with a desire to know God, He will use this compilation of stories, advice, warnings, prophecy, prayers & letters to guide and inspire our lives. That’s a big promise. And I’ve seen Him deliver.

A common objection to looking at the Bible wisdom is that it’s so old. How could it possibly speak to the challenges of our fast paced lives? We’re not fans of old things (which is odd, given how hard we’re all working to live as long as we possibly can) and there’s this temptation to dismiss the Bible on the grounds that something written way back then could not possibly be relevant to here right now. You know, because we’re so evolved & sophisticated.  But consider: how many beloved stories begin with a bunch of kids up in an attic who discover an ancient book (or box, or game, or wardrobe), open it up and then follow it into a magical land filled with new information & possibilities they couldn’t have discovered any other way?

Follow THAT prompting, not the cynicism that says anything written before the day you were born is irrelevant. Hope and discovery is always a better story than cynical dismissal.

With that established, let’s get basic: what is the Bible? In no particular order, the  Bible is a way to experience God, a relationship history of God & humankind, a dossier of information about Jesus (written in various different styles and coming from an assortment of perspectives), a strategy book for effective living, and a guide to love.

The Bible is a demanding book. It’s a way God reaches for us and invites us from our limited world into His vast and mysterious World. And like I mentioned above, the Bible is alive in a way that other books are not. I am astonished again and again how I’ll be reading a passage that has nothing to do with my life, and suddenly a line will catch my eye that has everything to do with my life, right in that moment. I can’t explain it, but I can testify that it’s real.

***

I could go on and on about why the Bible is so great. But it makes more sense to just do it: Let’s read the Bible.

This is a talk Jesus gave to thousands of people that was written down by Mark, one of the four writers who gave an account of Jesus’ life known as the Gospels. (You can find the full account here). The brackets are my add-ons that help explain some details. Feel free to ignore them.

I start with a quick prayer asking God, “Open my eyes to see the wonderful truths in your instructions.” (Psalm 119:18) Then I just…start.

***

Once again, Jesus began teaching out by the lakeshore. A very large crowd soon gathered around him, so he got into a boat. Then he sat in the boat while all the people remained on the shore.

[The water helped with the acoustics, and also gave Jesus a bit of space].

He taught them by telling many stories in the form of parables, such as this one:

“Listen! A farmer when out to plant some seed. As he scattered it across his field, some of the seed fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate it. Other seed fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seed sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. But the plant soon wilted under the hot sun, and since it didn’t have deep roots, it died.

Other seed fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants so they produced no grain. Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they sprouted, grew, and produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted!” Then Jesus said, “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.”

Later, when Jesus was alone with the twelve disciples and with the others who were gathered around, they asked him what the parables meant. He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secret of the Kingdom of God. But I use parables for everything I say to outsiders, so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled:

‘When they see what I do, they will learn nothing. When they hear what I say, they will not understand. Otherwise they will turn to me and be forgiven.’

[Jesus makes a distinction here – there’s a way to be IN, instead of outside what He’s doing. It’s a choice you make to pursue Him. To hang out after everyone else has gone home. Not many people make that choice.]

Then Jesus said to them, “If you can’t understand the meaning of this parable, how will you understand all the other parables?”

[So He explains to the ones who stuck around…]

The farmer plants seed by taking God’s word to others. The seed that fell on the footpath represents those who hear the message, only to have Satan come at once and take it away. The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing in God’s word. The seed that fell among thorns represents others who hear God’s word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life, the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things, so no fruit is produced. And the seed that fell on good soil represents those who accept God’s word and produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted!”

***

You did it! Reading this may have prompted a clear life application right away, or it may come back to you later in a context you don’t expect. There are many ways God works, and they’re rather mysterious, to be honest. But they’re real, and they’re good.

***

If you want to keep reading the Bible (and I think you should) here are some tips:

My first tip is to get a Bible. You can read online, of course. But as  you can see from the picture above, I’m a fan of physical pages you can write notes on, underline, put question marks in the margins. The first Bible I really read (the blue paperback NIV Study Bible) is filled with notes cross referencing what Jesus said with my various New Age teachings, as I struggled to make sense of all the contrast. It’s a theological HAZMAT site, but it reminds me that God knew exactly where I was and met me right there. He did the heavy lifting to sort me out. I just had to be willing and show up.

I used to recommend a modern translation of the Bible (NIV, NLT) because the language is easier. But really, God can work with any translation. So if you’ve got your grandfather’s old King James Version on a shelf somewhere? Grab it and dive in. And feel free to email me if you have questions or want more specific recommendations.

My second tip for reading the Bible is to choose an attitude. It’s more helpful to read the Bible seeking to connect with God rather than looking for ways to dissect Him.

That said, God can work with either. One of the most unexpected Bible experiences I’ve ever had was in a meeting with the lawyer my publisher hired to vet my first book. He made it clear that he wasn’t a Christian, but told me he’d dug out a Bible the night before our meeting, because he wanted me to take out the scene where I suggest that my first husband had been unfaithful to me, but he knew it was there to appease Christian gatekeepers who would insist on a Biblical justification for my divorce. “So I went over Matthew 19 a few times,” he said. “Then I looked at the surrounding chapters. You know, it made a lot of sense…” We had a whole conversation about his experience reading the Bible and how it applied to his life, there in my publisher’s office. It was pretty cool.

So if you need to bring a less than sunny attitude, that’s fine, too.

Specifics:

You’re already started on the Gospel of Mark, so that’s a great place to dive in.

If you want to pray but aren’t sure how, try the Psalms.

If you’re looking for no-nonsense life advice? Proverbs is direct, blunt, and not at all worried about your tender feelings.

If you like to start at the beginning, Genesis is AMAZING, and Exodus keeps the action coming. But thousands of earnest Bible readers have shipwrecked and lost all hope on the rocky shores of Leviticus, the third book of the Bible. So I’ll give you permission now: SKIP IT. Not forever. You can come back later. But trust me here and keep moving. Imagine that there’s an INTERMISSION NOTE that reads, “God gives Moses the Ten Commandments; later Moses dies” and jump ahead to Joshua. You can circle back to pick up the rest later.

Finally, REFUSE TO BE EMBARRASSED. Remember, everyone feels lost in this book until they’ve spent some time in it. It’s like this by design. You are connecting with God. That is a noble thing. He will meet you there, and bless you.

Let me pray for us…

God, thank you for Your Word. I’m grateful that I can be part of this unique experience of You. Open my eyes and show me Your wonderful truths, and help me apply those truths to my life. Thank you for this opportunity, and for helping me get everything you have for me in these pages. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.