Do You LIKE the Bible; or Just Study It?
I didn’t like the Bible for the first 20 years I was a Christian. Ok…that might be a bit of an overstatement. (But not by much.)
The first several years I really liked it. After all, I was in elementary school. And in elementary school, they only tell you the really cool stories. You know the ones:
- God Speaks…Everything Appears
- Brother Sold Into Slavery Becomes Prince
- Bush Burns Without Burning…and Talks
- Runaway Prophet Has 3-Day Quiet Time Inside Huge Fish
- Messiah Spends First Night On Earth in a Feeding Trough
- Sack Lunch Goes a Looooong Way
- Messiah Heals Blind Man with Spit and Mud
Cool stories. Stories that really fly on a Flannel Graph. (Did I just date myself?)
But then came Junior High. Now I was supposed to read it – on my own. Now I was supposed to study it. Now I was supposed to have my own “quiet time.”
I tried. I really did.
I would pick up my Bible, read my chapter-a-day, and try to see what I could “get out of it.” Some days it was really cool. I would see something that I hadn’t seen before or felt like I understood something that had confused me in the past. But not every day. In fact, not very frequently at all.
Bottom line: I believed the Bible was true. I just didn’t like it very much.
I thought that I would like it more when I got into High School. Then I got to High School. I thought to myself, “Hmmm…maybe when I get to college I’ll like it more. After all, in college you become a deep thinker.” Then came college. No change. Except I thought that I would like it more once I got out of college. But not much changed then either – even though I was a full-time youth pastor!
I believed the Bible. I studied the Bible. I actually really liked teaching the Bible. But I still didn’t enjoy sitting down and reading the Bible.
Then came the spring of 1993. A guy named Bruce Kuhn (www.brucekuhn.com) was coming to a local church where a friend of mine was the youth pastor. Bruce had memorized the entire gospel of Luke. Yep…the whole thing.
He got up on stage alone. No other actors. No sets. No props. And he quoted it. He didn’t just stand there like I did as a frightened 8-year-old quoting John 3:16 in front of “big church.” He lived it. He told the stories. They came alive!
That night, the living Word of God went from being a phrase to a reality.
Little did I know that God was changing my entire perspective on the Bible…and my life in ministry. I got to know Bruce and heard him talk about “hanging out” in a section of Scripture and “soaking” in a passage until he knew it. That summer, I did exactly that with Paul’s letter to the Philippians. And I loved it!
As I look back on those few months and really ponder the shifts that helped me fall in love with God’s Word, I can boil it down to two:
I shifted my mindset from informational Bible study to relational Bible study.
This is huge. And it’s not semantics.
I hear people talk all the time about having a “relationship” with Jesus. But how often are you thinking about that relationship when you read the Bible. I didn’t think about it much at all before 1993. When I opened my Bible, I was there to learn something – or to be challenged, inspired, comforted, or even corrected.
Certainly every one of these still take place when I read the Bible. But the overarching mindset is one of relationship. I am there to learn something by having a conversation with God. I am there to be challenged by God, inspired by God, comforted by God – and yes – corrected by God.
I am with Him in His Word – not just learning about Him. When Paul tells the people in Ephesus what and how he has been praying for them he says, “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know Him better.” (Eph 1:17, NIV, emphasis added) Not just know about Him, but know Him. This is the essence of relational Bible study. Could you imagine if you approached one of your friends the same way that so many of us approach our time in God’s Word? We would spend a few minutes listening to what they have to say. Then we would ask our 5-10 questions for that day. Once the “blanks” were all filled in, we would stand up and walk away. Yikes! Not very relational.Next time you pickup your Bible, ask God to help you know Him better, not just know about Him.
I shifted from memorization to internalization.
Memorization is something people at church, Sunday school, vacation Bible school, and summer camp have talked about since I was a kid. (Most of the time it had something to do with earning a sticker or piece of candy.) However, I don’t ever remember a time when someone had me talk through it in my own words before quoting it back to them.
People ask me about memorizing Bible verses all the time. After all, a large part of what I do for a living is travel to churches, conferences and universities to present whole books of the Bible word-for-word. Yet sadly, most of these conversations pretty quickly lead to a discussion about how to get the words in the right order.
Is that really the point? Is that truly God’s desire for you and me? To be able to quote back the words on the pages of His Living Word? I certainly hope not!
The goal should always be to know the Word – not just know the words.
That is the crux of internalization. All throughout Psalm 119, the psalmist writes:
- “I have hidden your word in my heart…” (verse 11)
- “Your statutes are my delight.” (verse 24)
- “Let me understand…then I will meditate…” (verse 27)
- “Give me understanding and I will keep your law and obey it with all my heart.” (verse 34)
- “Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long.” (verse 97)
Hidden…Delight…Understand…Meditate…Love. These don’t happen with memorization alone. Memorization is certainly one element of internalization. It helps us meditate on the Word. Ponder it. Think about it. Pray through it. Live it out.
But how can we really meditate on it if we don’t know it? If our primary focus is remembering the next word or phrase, how can we be in a conversation with God? God never intended memorization to be the place to start…or end! We start – and end – with fully engaging in a relationship with the Living God.
Two shifts. Relational Bible Study and Internalization.
As I made these two shifts, my love for God and His Word skyrocketed. Ironically, once I started liking the Bible, I was blown away at how much easier it was to be consistent, study it more deeply, and let it shape me to become a little more like Jesus every day.