My last post shared what I’d never confessed to my Sunday school teachers: I used to hate reading the Bible.
But then I prayed for God to help me desire His word. I realized I couldn’t love the Author of Life if I hated His writings. And simple as can be, He answered. By the next day, I craved the Bible. Driving down the highway, I’d suddenly give in to the urge to pull over at the next exit and read. I’d skip days hanging out with friends to read. I’d even spend services not listening but reading (oops). Many days, I study the Word for three to four hours, highlighting and noting like mad.
Here are my favorite revelations.
Not Really a “Drab, Dusty Narrative”
Ah, the humor, cleverness, wisdom, mystery, eloquence, tragedy! How did I not see all of this in the Bible before??
My April mission trip to Jordan continues to help me visualize the Biblical people, lands, and rituals. I see the Sea of Galilee while reading of Jesus walking down its shore, I feel the harshness of the sun beating upon his neck during His temptation, I taste the food of Bethlehem and know it was what Mary and Joseph once ate.
The cultural notes of my Bible help me realize how hilarious and even sassy Jesus was, how laughable the remarks of His disciples were (this emphasizes their future growth), and how mind-blowing the fulfilled prophecies were (and are).
A Misunderstood Text
The cultural notes also helped me approach the texts that most intimidated me. For example, I looked into the at-first-glance harsh words of Paul in the letters to the Corinthians and learned that they simply could not be read properly without
- knowing the audience and their specific problems, without studying the linguistics of keywords
- examining the difference between Gentiles and Jews
- studying the societal expectations of sex/gender in those days and at those places
I went from thinking of Paul as a misogynist to realizing how counter-culturally for women he was. Additionally, I went from seeing him as an arrogant scrub to seeing him as someone who struggled with the knowledge that he didn’t match up to Greek standards of rhetoric and popularity, yet he continued his mission. Like me, he was a decent writer and not-so-decent speaker.
It’s also been personally revolutionary to study the rhetorical traditions of rabbis in Jesus’s time, which helps me to know when He used sarcasm, hyperbole, irony, etc. Without that knowledge, it’s difficult to pick up on what is literal or not, what the meaning of certain parables are, why He told parables to begin with, and why He sometimes acted odd (by modern standards) in the way He discipled or corrected others.
I also gained a new appreciation for the words of the Bible, like the “wholeness” described by the word Shalom.
And prophecies? Wow. They’ve never been cooler. It feels almost impossible to track the myriad parallels between generations, Old Testament and New — prophecies and metaphor galore!
Yes, Even the Well-known Stories Give Me Joy
You can hear a story a million times and still be affected differently. It’s like watching Star Wars or Harry Potter. Sure, you know what’s gonna happen on your fiftieth watch-through, but you still find value.
I’m now reading the old Sunday school stories with the intention to learn something new. The Word is living, and one reason we can say that is because it produces different “tasting notes” each time it is read. New ingredients are detected; components hit differently.
- As a child, I heard the story of Jesus feeding thousands with small baskets of bread and dish. I marveled. As an adult, I focus on Jesus telling His disciples to rest, but not before feeding those He demanded care for — but yes, rest. I felt conviction.
- As a child, I saw Peter as pathetic and even treacherous. As an adult, I see his brokenness, confusion, redemption. I cry when Jesus pushes Peter to self-realization each time He tells him to feed His sheep: “See it, Peter. See it, hold it — you’re changing.” Where I once saw Peter with distaste, I now see Peter as … Brad.
(A question I often ask students in my youth group is: “Which Bible character do you most relate to?” I give them a few days to think before answering. It reveals much. Try it!)
It Moves Me
The Word is God’s love letter. It conveys His broken heart and jealousy at the turning of our backs. It identifies our connection with Abba by using intimate words like son or daughter and friend, and empowering words like heir and royalty; it contrasts those words with what we should be if not for liberation, like slaves and enemies. It chronicles the repeated offers of redemption and our repeated betrayals and the ultimate grace — check out Stephen’s address.
Scripture weaves its way into my every prayer. When the Spirit overwhelms me, I find His words drip from my tongue — words I didn’t try to memorize but somehow dug their way into my soul. A prayer injected with scripture is powerful. It’s imperative for any intercessor to know the Word; we are commanded to test what is said in prayer for alignment with Him.
As a sword, the Word pierces my spirit with chilling truth. As a honeyed law, I do now delight in it. As the words of a Father, it comforts me.
My Plan and Materials
- The goal is to read the Bible through entirely … then start again. Reading random verses doesn’t do it for me. The Bible is wondrously rich when read as a single chronicle — the Author of Life compiled our story into a complete volume. How rad is that?
- I’m doing machete style, so starting in the New Testament and then backtracking to the
OGOT material. For me, reading in this order emphasizes the liberation under the New Covenant more so than the traditional chronology. My brain just works that way.
- Most of the time, I use the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. Sometimes I read an NLT apologetics edition. (NIV is not my favorite translation — I prefer ESV or NLT depending on the need — but the cultural notes make me drool.) I urge anyone studying the Word to get an edition containing cultural notes.
- If anything confuses me, I don’t shrug and move on, but instead, I read commentary from trusted scholars and pastors. I super recommend the Bible Project videos.
- Get some highlighters. This speaker I met had memorized the entire Bible and when asked how he did it, he said, “Just highlight everything you want to memorize.” I’d take it a step further and write notes on why you highlighted each bit.
- Unless there’s something important going on, I leave my phone out of reach and on silence. I heave my hefty Bible around for five reasons:
- The Bible app results in habitual switches to social media
- It feels respectful to speakers/pastors to put away my phone
- It encourages people in public to ask me about my faith (has happened!)
- I love making notes by hand because they more deeply sink into my brain
- I’m a writer … I love print
- On weekends, I read at a beach or park. On workdays, I break up readings: Morning before work (often, Psalms and Proverbs), during lunch break, and at night by candlelight. This prevents reading too much without absorbing meanings.
- I pray for God’s help in absorbing the readings because I have serious brain fog. I now get super stoked to share what I’ve learned each day with those around me. Teaching people is the best way for us to learn!