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Bible reading as encounter

In this season of Covid-19 lockdown I'm struggling to read the Bible. And yet I know it's more vital than ever. So here is me re-preaching to myself some stuff I've read and come across over the last few years to get me/us back into the Bible for the right reason.

Why do I read the Bible?

  • Because I know I should
  • Because I want to grow and change
  • Because otherwise I'll feel bad when the guys in small group ask me how my Bible reading is going
  • Because I want to build an impressive reservoir of Bible knowledge
  • For other people - so I can share/preach/minister to them
  • For an experience of God's presence and comfort
  • For guidance in the decisions I need to make today

Some of those are rubbish reasons. Some of them are right or at least half right. But none of them are a good first approach to God's Word.
Turning to the Lord's Word for guidance is a good instinct. We do need his wisdom, a right fear of him, a right perspective, a right valuing of things. But often it's simply a pragmatic 'Please God sort out this difficult decision for me!'
Even the approach of seeking an experience of God's presence is a dangerous one. I was reminded recently that it easily becomes seeking the experience rather than seeking the person. It's the difference between 'I love you' and 'I love the feeling I get from you (and if I'm not getting that feeling then I'm not satisfied even if you're here with me).'
The ambition to grow and change is a good one. We don't want to be reading the Bible just for 'right answers' - it must change us. These things are revealed that we actually do and obey them (Deut 29:29; Matt 28:19). But still there's something missing.

How should I approach the Bible?

John Hindley:
"When my wife Flick and I were dating, we wrote each other letters. I read Flick’s letters for information about what she had been doing, I read them to know how to behave as her boyfriend, and I certainly read them for the feelings they gave me. But if this was all, I would have entirely missed the point, and broken her heart. I read those letters because I loved her. I wanted to hear from Flick because of my love for her and her love for me. And as I heard from her on those pages, I grew in my love for her. 
I read them because I couldn’t not—because I loved her.
It will change so much, and help you grow so much, if you sit down with your Bible, ask the Spirit for help, and think: I am about to hear from Jesus, about Jesus. I am opening up his love letter. He is true, he is beautiful, and he is speaking to me."

George Müller:
“I saw more clearly than ever that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was, to have my soul happy in the Lord. The first thing to be concerned about was not how much I might serve the Lord, how I might glorify the Lord; but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man might be nourished.”

Glen Scrivener:
"The Scriptures are where we meet the risen Christ. We read the Bible, not as a spiritual offering but as a desperate receiving. We open the Bible not to impress God, but that He might impress us again with His gospel. We approach our daily devotions as beggars asking our gracious Father to please feed us again with the Bread of life.
In the history of the church there has been no better description of the Bible than: ‘The Spirit’s testimony to the Son.’ It is not a road map or an instruction manual for life. It is a biography of Jesus: commissioned by the Father, authored by the Spirit and addressed to the church.

The big point here is that our time in the Word at the beginning of the day is supposed to be an encounter with God himself. We open our Bibles each morning to meet with the living God, a personal God, to relate to Him.
What does that actually mean in practice? Well one way to push into the detail of this is to consider how we meet God in different ways as we encounter different facets of his glory shining forth from different passages of Scripture. As I open the Bible, a particular passage will present the Lord as Judge, while another passage as Shepherd, another as Fountain, another as Bridegroom, another as Warrior. There may well be a blend of different imagery but often there will be one foregrounded way in which the Lord is presenting himself to us. And that makes my encounter with him very specific. And that in turn should have a specific effect on the way I go into the rest of my day. So for example:

  • Sometime I open my Bible and I meet the Lord primarily as Creator – e.g. at the end of the book of Job – and then I’m on my face in the dust acknowledging that he is God and I am not, I am a mist, my plans are of a totally different order to His plans, I am a weak creature, totally dependent for my every breath on Him. And I'm led to remember that everyone I encounter today (in person or on a screen) is another creature, infinitely precious but not to be feared. I fear the Creator God not man.
  • Sometimes I open my Bible and I encounter the Lord primarily as King – e.g reading Isaiah 6 or Zechariah 9 – and I’m trembling before a glorious, Holy One on his throne. And I start to realise that no only am I under his wise, powerful, humble rule but also I have the immense privilege of being his ambassador - I walk out of his palace into my day with a sense of the weightiness of his royal charge.
  • Sometimes I open my Bible and I meet the Lord as Master – e.g. in Jesus’ parables. He's the master not me. And he's a good master (not a harsh man). The happy master. He owns me and everything around me. And he’s entrusting me with resources, I am his steward, I need to give the other servants their food at the proper time, I can’t mess around, I need to please him and him alone.
  • Sometimes I meet the Friend who sticks closer than a brother – The one who is completely for me. Who totally understands. With whom we can let down all our guards and unburden our souls. You know how when you speak with a really good friend early in the morning and it totally changes the way you go into the day? 
  • Sometimes I meet the one who is Wisdom, the perfectly Wise One – e.g. in Proverbs. How amazing would it be to have 1-to-1 time tomorrow morning with Tim Keller or Warren Buffet giving you their undivided attention and sharing with you wisdom that is gold dust. Well we can meet tomorrow morning with the perfectly wise one, the greatest strategist, the true expert on life, and we don’t need to filter what we're hearing because it’s all pure gold, perfect divine wisdom.
  • And every time, by the Spirit, I'm meeting the glorious Son who brings me into the presence of the Father - that's especially clear in places like Romans 8 and Galatians 4 but it's under-girding every encounter - and there’s a seriousness about that encounter, a right fear, but also a wonderfully intimate and secure love. And I go out into the day with words of fatherly love in my ears, knowing that I am not an orphan and my Father wants me to keep asking him for things through the day and not be foolishly arrogantly self-dependent.

It's a personal relational encounter with the living God. That should change the way I approach the Bible and that should then change the way I approach the day.


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