If you’re anything like me, you may sometimes come to the Bible having no idea where to start or how to go about it. Perhaps you choose to read a passage that your devotional book has led you to, randomly flip to something, read what’s on your Bible reading schedule that your church gave you, or find your way to a certain page by tossing dice.
Okay, don’t do that last one. As a matter of fact, the randomly flipping to something one won’t do you much good either. And don’t get your panties all in a bunch when you assumed that’s how the Holy Spirit works. We’ll address how you probably got that wrong idea later. Anyways…
Often we read Scripture and we come out on the other end wondering what in the world we just read. Your friend asks you what you’ve been reading in the Word lately, and you freeze. You remember you had yummy french toast last Tuesday but your Bible reading this morning is a total blank spot in your memory file.
This is a problem, friends. I want you to understand what the psalmist said when they expressed, “Your words are like honey to my mouth!”
The Bible is way more delicious than french toast, and it should be WAAAAAY more memorable. I think the reason we often don’t connect with what we are reading in the Word is because we are reading it the wrong way and looking for the wrong things. So, because these are mistakes that I often make, and because my husband is a better human than I am (but seriously….) we wrote these together. Bon Appetit!
MISTAKE No 1: We read the Bible looking for what it has to say about US.
The Bible is primarily about GOD and His plan to restore all things in Jesus Christ. The best way to understand this is to ask 2 questions about each text we read (thank you Bryan Chappell for these questions):
1) What does this passage say about the God of redemption?
2) What does this passage say about people who need the God of redemption?
These two questions highlight the central aim of Bible reading. The first question reminds us why we are reading the Bible–to know the God of the Bible. We read in order to commune with Him and love Him. The second question helps us understand our place in relation to this holy, loving, sovereign God.
For example, think about how we watch television shows. If you began watching 24 for the first time last week, you may be extremely confused (as I have been) as to why the Chinese are the bad guys, who Chloe is, and why Jack seems to have a crush on the President’s daughter. Plus, you have no clue why everyone thinks President Heller is dead or why the Russians want to kill Jack. Confusion, confusion, confusion. But if you have watched the past 7 seasons, AND all the previous episodes of this current season, all these details of the past episode make complete sense. So if you find yourself to be confused, you can either a) give up and start watching another show; b) step back and read a synopsis of the whole story of the show thus far; or c) watch all previous 7 seasons from start to finish and get the big picture of the overall storyline, characters, plot structure, etc.
The central message of the Bible is that God lovingly and graciously saves sinners through the perfect life, sacrificial death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Or in other words–Big God. Big grace. For big sinners. Grace, according to J.I. Packer, is God’s love toward rebellious sinners. That pretty much summarizes what the Bible is about. The problem with our temptation to read the Bible as primarily about us is that it mistakenly places us at the center of the story. Think about the temptation of Adam and Eve. Satan tempted–“You can be like God.” When we understand the whole story, we will understand that while there are everlasting joys for those of us who follow Christ, the reason those joys are available are because of God and the grace of our Lord Jesus, not because of anything we’ve done. In fact, the story shows us just how much we can’t do, and just how much God CAN do.
He is the focus. Remember that next time you head to those scared, beautiful pages.
MISTAKE No 2: We don’t look for Jesus in the Old Testament.
We have to learn to read the Old Testament as Christians. As those who are on the other side of the cross, who know even more of the arc of the story than those in the OT times, we have a huge advantage. Plus, all those who have accepted Christ have the Holy Spirit, who will guide us into all truth regarding Jesus.
Hints of Jesus are everywhere, if you read with eyes to see Him. One of the easiest ways to look for Jesus is to look for a place where God is promising a future good to someone- often the fulfillment of that promise is ultimately in Jesus. Even as early as Genesis 3:15, where God makes a promise to Adam & Eve that one day the serpent will be crushed, He says that knowing that Jesus would be that rescuer. Jesus in the NT references passages from the OT, and once you know those passages from the New Testament, it is always amazing to see them show up. For example, Jesus basically stands up in front of a bunch of people, reads Isaiah 61 and says, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” He blows their minds with that one. What God has promised is standing right in front of you, He says.
There are about a billion other examples of how to see Jesus in the OT, but another one of my favorites is just keeping in mind the system of sacrifices God’s people had to keep up in order to atone for their sins. It was so much work, and it was the only way they could be made pure enough to bridge the distance between their sin and God’s holiness. Remember, Jesus becomes the perfect spotless lamb, who only had to be sacrificed once, and bore the sins of the world. He made the old system null and void, and showed that it was God’s good pleasure to create a way for all of time for His people to be in relationship with him through the death of His Son.
We are blessed to be on this side of the cross. We know who the Serpent Crusher is. We know who has come, died, risen, and who is coming again. The Old Testament has so many treasures within it’s pages to find Christ in.
MISTAKE No 3: We don’t read things in context.
This is one example, but it applies to a myriad of misused and misunderstood verses in the Bible.
Guys. I KNOW you love Jeremiah 29:11. I know you do. I know you do because Christians throughout the eons have plastered that verse alone on pillows, mugs, journals, lampshades, and just about any other item they can get their hands on. Why? Well, I’d like to think for solid theological reasons, but to be honest, I think we’re harkening back to mistake number 1 here. We love that this verse seems to be about us and about everything working out awesome for us and going great for us and being catered to us and feeling warm fuzzes about our lives…for US.
Except, first of all, Jeremiah 29:11 has a whole lot of text around it that HAS to be considered in order to understand what’s going on. And I promise you, it’s a lot cooler than you telling God what your plans are and then using this scripture as a way to remind Him to give you what you want.
Let’s read around the edges of this verse. It just might blow your mind. You might just find out that this passage is way deeper and more awesome than you thought it was.
vs 1) These are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders of the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.
vs 4-5) It said “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce.
vs 6-7) Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
vs 10-12) “For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.
I am using the amazing ESV Gospel Transformation Bible notes here to show you what depth we are missing out on if all we get from this is “God has sweet plans for me.”
“Jeremiah is writing a letter to the exiles in Babylon…his message to the exiles is to get on with a normal life where they are, and to pray for the welfare of where they find themselves. This is important instruction for God’s people in all ages as we become agents of God’s righteousness in all the places to which his providence calls us. God’s plan is to give them wholeness, a future, and a hope, as Gd controls the length of their exile, and will fulfill his promises. As in the NT, hope is not merely a fond wish but a certain future based on God’s faithfulness to his word. Those who seek God with a whole heart will find him. Prayer is not trying to get God to do something he might not otherwise do, rather it is aligning our thoughts, desires, and will with God’s as we humbly consider our circumstances in light of his priorities that he reveals in the Word.”
See how much we could have missed by not reading around verse 11? There’s a reason the whole Bible doesn’t fit on a coffee mug. It isn’t meant to be read in small snippets and understood without the rest of the story. It is unfair to God’s story to assume we can take the fast food version and get all the nutrients out of what He wants to tell us.
As you see, it’s about God and what He wants to do with His people, not what His people want God to do for them. Our lives are for His glory, and if we use context to understand God’s plan through history, we will always find this to be true.
The Bible is an absolute treasure trove of truth and goodness. God reveals Himself to us most clearly in His Word, and through Jesus Christ Himself. Don’t neglect reading the Word, and praying for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The more you practice, and the more you learn, the fewer pitfalls you’ll fall into.
Trust me, you don’t want to miss a thing.