The ‘Why’ before the ‘How’ of Better Bible Reading


If you decided to grace Newmills Presbyterian Church with your presence and it was myself on duty, as we would come to read God’s Word you would find that I generally do one of two things.

  The first is a simple but profound statement as we turn open the pages of the Bible,

  “Let’s remember as we come to these words, that they aren’t our words, they are God’s words, so let’s treat them as such.”

  A statement which sometimes would be followed by other words to describe the nature of the Bible, giving the words their place as holy, inerrant, and inspired.

  The other thing that I may do is similar, only done in a more interactive way. I would ask the question to the congregation, “Whose words are these?” to which they would reply, “God’s Words.”

  Most of us are familiar with that pattern or similar; our pastor flicking through the pages of their Bible to the passage they are going to preach on and before reading the words of that passage reminding us whose words these are.

  And what if we were to pause our church service there and let that sink in. Most of our services are so time constrained and on a sprint to get to the sermon (and through the sermon) and we are so familiar with the way that we do things, that the purpose of those things can brush past us, it’s the old adage of familiarity breeding contempt. But what if in these days of watching services on Youtube, we pressed the pause button for a minute and thought about the gravity of what was just said and what we are about to do.

  That as I lift my bible and you lift yours, whether is cloth bound or leather, tattered and torn or pristine, and as our fingers turn over the delicately thin Indian paper and leave those little immovable creases, we realise that it is pure gold that we have in our hands, the words of God himself. We are opening God’s Word, the words of the one who made Heaven and Earth, the God of creation and redemption, this is His story. This is the story of His rescue and restoration, these pages map out what God has been doing through the centuries, through the millenniums, as step by step He has been driving and directing history towards the cross and how step by step He is driving and directing time towards the city in which He will dwell with his people fully and finally, and you and I,  are not confined to stand on the sidelines watch it all go by but to part of it. So, as we press pause before God’s Word is read, we are in this privilege position of being poised on the edges of our seats ready to hear what God has said to us. Or are we? Would it be fairer to say that most of us are slouched back in our sofas, mentally asleep to what is going on, slumbering off as we can as prone to do in the pews?

  That is the reason we have paused here in the ‘why’ before we dive into the ‘how’ of better Bible reading and I want us to try to grasp two things:

These are God’s Words

and

we need them.

  The first, that these are God’s words, we have already touched on, but we have a need to grasp that fully as we come to open our Bibles. We need to see and realise that these are God’s words and often I don’t think the gravity of that resonates with us as much as it should. The words that I speak before I read the Bible in a service or even the prayers I pray at home as I study myself are acknowledgements from my head that these are God’s words, but they can so often come from my mouth like an incantational mantra that I’m so used to saying that I don’t think about what I’m doing and it doesn’t hit my heart. I need to stop and think about the One who is behind these words, whose words these are; I need to think about the author and His worth, because unless the gravity of these words as God’s words comes down on me, the words will wash over me.

  Paul is helping Timothy and us recognise the reality of Scripture being God’s words when as he says:

All Scripture is breathed out by God/God-breathed and profitable/useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,that the man of God (messenger of God/servant of God) may be competent, equipped for every good work.  
2nd Timothy 3:16-17, ESV

  Paul takes Timothy and us to the irrevocable and unbreakable connection between God and His Word by aligning it physically with God. The image Paul uses has allusions back to Genesis when God breathed life into Adam (Genesis 2:7) and this is meant to remind us of the life-giving power of God’s breath, the life-giving power which now resides in these words.

 Paul is also reminding us that we cannot distance God from His words, a thing that happens easily in our functional theology. Our distance from the Bible as God’s life-giving words grows in the soil where we let the same seed of doubt be planted in our lives as the serpent planted for our first parents as he would ask them, “Did God really say?” (Genesis 3:1) That question that rippled down through history and it still slithers into our heads and hearts and allows us to create a distance between God and His words.  If we take God’s authorship out of the equation, if we deny that He has said what He has spoken, it allows us to absolve ourselves of the responsibilities that His Word places on us. It means that we don’t have to treat it as authoritative, which when lived out allows us to not only absolve ourselves of responsibilities but also to justify sin. When we take God out of His word, it becomes a simple step for us to slither out from under the weight that God’s word should press on us. To put it another way, if we take the person from behind the Word, then it allows us to remove the personal.

  So maybe this Sunday take a moment to pause the service before God’s word is read, take that pause to remind yourself of what is coming next, that God is going to speak. Or tonight or tomorrow as you sit down in your favourite chair and open the pages to the passage where you last left off, however long ago that may be, pause to remind yourself of what is coming next, that God is going to speak; in a moment the Lord of all the universe is going to breathe on you, so is it not worth a moment to marvel at what a wondrous and gracious thing that is.

  Then after having remembered that the Bible is God’s word, take time to recognise your need of them. Let me break this into three parts.

 The first part of this is to realise our need of God’s word because, though the world may reveal to us something about God’s power and stature by creation, it is only by the revelation of God’s Word that we learn the details of salvation. A beautiful mountain vista shows the brush strokes and signature of the Master Artist but they cannot tell you anything about Jesus or point you to His life, His death and His resurrection. Only the special revelation of Scripture speaks of the person and work of Christ and the salvation that comes through the gospel.
The Westminster Confession of Faith puts it like this:

Although the light of nature and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men unexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God and of His will, which is necessary unto salvation. Therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His Church; and afterwards, for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing: which maketh the Holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God’s revealing His will unto His people being now ceased.
WCF 1:1 (for an easier to read version, check out Ben Hoyt’s PEW)

Therefore we should recognise how we have an eternal need for these words because how else would we learn the truth about ourselves and our God; how else would we learn that we are rebellious sinners or that our God is holy and just and because of who He is and who we are, there is a death sentence placed on runaway rebellious children but God in His grace has provided for His people what they could not provide for themselves by the work of His Son, Jesus Christ.

  The second big point is to realise our need for God’s Word for life, both this life and the next. We need God’s word to accomplish growth and progress in our spiritual life. Those of us in faith, live in a relationship with God and a relationship with God will never grow in absence from His Word. I say this because we have a terrible tendency to think that we can muddle through this murky fallen world without God’s Word, which is like trying to find your way home in the dark when you have a torch in your pocket. We need to recognise that the principles that we know of everything else in our everyday life carry over into our faith life. All of us know that if you want chiselled abs you need to be prepared to put in the time, the effort and the sacrifice; there will have to be more trips to the gym and fewer trips to the chip shop. All of us know that to master anything, a new skill, a new language, takes dedication, devotion and commitment. All of us know that the longer you spend apart from someone, how that distance drains that relationship of the love and longing you once had. Our vertical relationship with God is the same, without time spent listening to Him in connection with Him, how can we ever expect our love to grow? It is hard for any sort of long term, lasting love to stick out the course if all you know is a shadow of who the person actually is.

  Lastly, our need for God’s word is because of the reality of life lived in a fallen, messy, broken world. I’d say for most of us this reason is the one that hits home hardest considering the current climate in which we find ourselves. But take COVID-19 out of the picture and you can still recognise the hardness and brutality of living life. All of us experience heartache, time weighs heavy on us as age slowly cripples us, illness comes to us or someone we love and death does the same. It is in those moments when all of us will cry out wanting God to speak, to say something to us, all as it seems that He has gone quiet and doesn’t care. I wonder if you have ever been in a time when despair has closed in about you and the only thing you seem to be able to muster is anger towards God at His silence and I wonder, if like me, whether in that moment your Bible lies buried under your iPad or simply a thick layer of dust.
  Bryan Chapell in a sermon relayed a story which I think can help shine a light on this. A youth group leader wanted to impress upon the kids he was mentoring the worth of the Bible and how it is God speaking into their lives. He got the group to meet together and put chairs in a circle and a chair in the middle of the circle. On the chairs around the outside he placed little pieces of paper with Bible verses on them. His idea was that someone would sit on the chair in the middle, with a blindfold on, and they would talk about a problem that they had in life and someone would look at the Bible verse on their piece of paper, see if that verse applied to the situation they had just heard and to read it out and thus demonstrate God’s word still speaking.

  The youth leader thought this idea was great, the kids thought it was really dumb. The first guy sat on the seat and mocked the idea, wondering how he would get through his English exam when he was top in the class, but then a new girl who had recently joined the group said she would sit in the chair.

  After some silence, she started,
“I’m so miserable, I don’t know if I can stand my life anymore”

You can imagine, the awkwardness, the worry, the fear, the number of people now staring at their shoes, but one guy looks down and sees the piece of paper in his hands and the words written there and reads them out:

God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. 
1st Corinthians 10:13 NIV

Her reply,
  “No one cares about me!”

Another verse comes,

I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.
Jeremiah 31:3, NIV

She responds with anger,
“You don’t understand, my parents kicked me out last night and they said never come back.”

Another verse comes,

I will never leave you nor forsake you.
Deuteronomy 31:6 / Hebrews 13:5, ESV

  The blindfold comes off, and with trembling lips and tears running down her cheeks she turns to the youth leader and says,

“Why doesn’t God really speak to me like that?”

And the youth leader had the privilege of saying to her, “He just did.”

  There will be times in all our lives when our cries will mingle with the psalmist and with Christians of old crying out for God to hear us, to listen to us, and to speak but what if that happens all while our Bibles lie buried. You and I have to recognise that God in His grace, His mercy and wisdom has given us His breath in a book that we can turn to anytime day or night, in sorrow and in joy.

  To paraphrase what Chapell goes on to say: think about it, if God were to speak to us through the thunder, it would fade away; if God were to write a message in the clouds, the wind would blow it away; if God were to scrape it on the sand, the sea would wash it away. So God has said, do you mind if I write this down so you can hold it in your hands and turn open its pages whenever you need them?

  If you want to grow in faith, if you want to cope and deal with life, open the pages of your Bible, see the worth of these words because of the worthiness of the One who breathed them out for you and remember that the One who breathed out these words, took a gulp of air and cried ‘it is finished’ as He died on the cross to make you His child and to one day, finally and fully bring you home. And as you remember that great message of the Gospel realise and recognise how you would not know it if God, in His grace by His Spirit, had not had His people record His wonderful deeds.

  Last week I turned 31, it’s no milestone, but I look back and already in my short life I’ve buried family and friends, I’ve see pain and suffering in people that have made me wonder and question why, and I realise and recognise how I don’t turn to these words often enough for the comfort and confrontation that they are. I realise and recognise that I haven’t leant on these promises as much as I should and how I’m still all too slowly learning the benefit of these things and I plead with you not to make the same mistakes I have. If your Bible, like mine more often than I would care to admit, spends too much time buried you have to recognise that you are burying yourself under the weight of the words of this world, you are putting nails in your own coffin and to put it bluntly, you are committing spiritual suicide in trying to make it through this world without God’s Word.  Here is a time, a season of suffering and solitude, that has been set apart for God’s people to see more clearly their dwelling in a world that is falling apart, but also to dwell in God’s Word and to find in it God Himself and the fuel to face this world and to be ready for the next. Take hold of the time that we have been graciously given and see the words that look like only print on a page are God’s breath and how desperately we need them.

Resources:

  Bryan Chapell Sermon story is taken from “Singing Out the Word,” story told from 15:20 onwards and can be accessed here: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/grace-presbyterian-church/id268286266?i=1000428280123

An excellent book on this topic is Kevin DeYoung’s, ‘Taking God at His Word.’ Please support your local bookstore in purchasing books, particularly Evangelical Bookshop, Belfast and ICM, Dunkirk Road.

Here is an article from Crossway that condenses some of DeYoung’s book and the thoughts of this blog post: https://www.crossway.org/articles/3-things-we-must-believe-about-gods-word/

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