On a rare weekend away, I found myself worshipping at a church in Spokane, Washington. It was a relatively new church, with two services full of young people, many who were college students.
It was your typical non-denominational, evangelical, new church plant. I applaud this church for not trying to be slick, for being successful in reaching a younger generation (something the larger Church is struggling to do), and for a very biblical sermon.
The pastor who was preaching went right from the text, and stuck to it without being cute. (Few things send me ballistic like people who are supposed to be preaching the Word and who try to be cute.)
But one anecdote from the sermon has remained in my craw. The young preacher favorably quoted a pastor who he had served with in a previous church. When asked if he read the Bible, that senior pastor of some years of experience said he did not read the Bible because he was still trying to live out what he had read.
I have tried to work with this piece of “wisdom” and give the benefit of the doubt over the past week. But (with apologies to the good people I was with who worship there regularly) I can’t soften my response to it other than it is one of the stupidest spiritual things I have ever heard. Here’s why:
We don’t read God’s Word just to live out a set of principles. That is to reduce the Bible to a “rule-book”, which is one of the misconceptions many people have about the Bible.
And to say I will not read anymore until I learn to live out what I have read is to suggest I will be able to master what I have read. Folks, I have read about loving people with the love of God, forgiveness, watching my tongue, being generous, and giving thanks in all circumstances. I have yet to be able to perfectly live those things. I am growing in them, to be sure, but I am learning as I go.
I will never glorify God as I ought, but that doesn’t mean I am going to close my Bible until I get there.
And what a discouraging thought to not pick up the Bible until I have figured out how to live the last thing I read. This isn’t martial arts where you are earning belts. Discipleship isn’t about mastering something. It is about commitment and failure, walking and stumbling. Sometimes the best growth comes in the lacking and the falling.
Unlike that senior pastor, I would encourage people to read the Bible always and often. Here are some reasons why:
1. The Bible is not just a set of principles to live. It is story, and we need to hear that story so that we can live in it. The narrative of God creating us, our rebellion, and his jealous pursuit of us is something the Christian tries to live in. It needs to be rehearsed again and again, which is why Christians gather every Sunday to hear some part of that story, and why “how to” sermons about being more successful in business, losing weight, or having good children need to be banned. I may need and want to lose weight. But there are groups such as Weight Watchers that have that covered. God is about something much bigger.
2. We read the Bible to continually hear God speaking to us. It is a living Word and through it, we discern ways God is addressing us and others. As we mature and change, some of the same passages we have read many times before are see anew and take on new meaning. If I don’t read the Bible, I am closing a major form of God’s communication toward us.
3. We need to be reminded of what God desires of us, who he is, and how he has moved in history. I forget too easily and to have my memory jarred again.
4. The words of God’s Word are nourishment for our souls. Sure your genealogies won’t do much for you, but 80% of the Bible has plenty of nutrients. The Psalms, the Gospels, and letters of the New Testament are buffets of life-giving, faith-stretching, soul-awakening words. And, we could add Isaiah, Proverbs, Amos, and many other books. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “The heart of God opens itself to us in God’s Word.” I need to regularly (daily for me) encounter that heart.
5. Sometimes we read the Bible for correction. I become convicted by what I read, and it leads me to repentance and a closer walk with Christ. If I don’t open the Bible for a month or two, I easily miss opportunities to change and grow.
6. The Bible helps us pray. St. Benedict demanded that his monks have a disciplined schedule of Scripture reading because he believed it would lead them to spontaneous prayer.
7. The Bible will open your eyes to God. Yes, plenty of people read it and are cold on God. But many more read it (and faith is key) and become much more aware of God’s movement in their lives and in the world.
There is no way I am ever going to suggest to someone to not read the Bible. I want to encourage them to seek and find the heart of God, and the Word might be the best way to do that.