Yesterday I had a startling realization. I don’t know how to read Scripture. I know how to use it (I’m sure some of you could argue with that), but I don’t know how to read it for my needy self.
Seriously – I sat outside on my back porch on a beautiful Fall day. Just me and the text. Actually, I went outside to prepare a Bible study. I thought it best to spend time reading and praying before I set to “studying and preparing.” Then a whole lot of nothing happened. I didn’t know how to do it. Had I wanted to, I could have kicked back into “Bible study preparation mode” and I would have been actively chasing nuances and contextual drivers, etc. I would have felt productive. But who would I be kidding?
This was one day on the heals of an incredible gospel-centered counseling conference (CCEF). I had been fed the gospel and devoured multiple texts of Scripture over the weekend – so why was it so hard when alone on my porch? Or, recently I have been reading book after book about the gospel and culture… or about life… books that drive the reader into Scripture as the sole authority. So why was I now – when it was just me and my Bible – drawing a blank?
In other words… I get jazzed when preparing to teach/preach Scripture. I am moved when others speak the Word into my world. I am encouraged, challenged (and jealous all at the same time) when a good writer kidnaps my mind and heart and takes me to an internal gospel-textual world. Yet sitting on my back porch I felt unmotivated, unmoved and unsure about what to do next.
Maybe that was my problem. I have often made it as though there was something for ME to do next, when Scripture very clearly teaches us about what God does first, next and last by his Spirit when he engages us with his Word. “Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God”(1 Cor. 2:12).
What would the Spirit do next to break through the textual workaholic inside of me with the very text before me?
Long story short. I turned to the book of James (knowing it talks about anger and anger has been an issue lately). I read the whole book slowly. s-l-o-w-l-y. And then it happened. I read Scripture without thinking about teaching it. Without the desire to check it off of my list of “a pastor’s daily duties.” I feel like I read Scripture for the first time in a long while.
Maybe I wasn’t the one reading. It was as though God was reading to me. The words slowed down. The words didn’t drag on, they jumped off the page. God was reading to me. He told me His story of my life.
He told me about me and what he has done to save me from me. (O, and he used words I had read over and over… he made them NEW.)
James 1:19-21 – “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger [all 3 are me]; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness [that’s me too] and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”
Then the word implanted itself in me 2 chapters later: “But He gives more grace… Submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. [You don’t teach that, you taste it, Jim.] Cleanse your hands your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you.” – James 4:6-10