How to Let the Bible Read You
1 Corinthians 2:11–14 (ESV)
11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. 14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
When Tim Keller became a believer, he said “the Bible came alive in a way that was hard to describe.” Keller wrote, “The best way I can put it is that, before the change, I poured over the Bible, questioning and analyzing it. But after the change it was as if the Bible, or maybe Someone through the Bible, began pouring over me, questioning and analyzing me.”[i] Many Bible readers have had this experience. In 1 Corinthians 2:11-14 Paul argues that some truths must be “spiritually discerned.” We need the “Someone” Keller talks about, that is, the Holy Spirit “that we might understand the things freely given us by God.”
If you are not a Christian and you are reading the Bible as a “natural person,” there are going to be some things that are out of reach. If, however, you have repented[ii] and believed in the free gift of Jesus’ righteousness[iii] in exchange for your sin,[iv] you have been given the Holy Spirit of God,[v] a Spirit who helps you “comprehend the thoughts of God.”
Eugene Peterson has spent considerable time reading the Bible while writing The Message, his personal translation of the Bible. Peterson says, “I sometimes marvel that God chose to risk his revelation in the ambiguities of language. If he had wanted to make sure that the truth was absolutely clear, without any possibility of misunderstanding, he should have revealed his truth by means of mathematics. Mathematics is the most precise, unambiguous language that we have. But then, of course, you can’t say ‘I love you’ in algebra.”[vi] The Bible is a very personal book written by a personal God and accompanied by a personal translator, the Holy Spirit. We have to avoid depersonalizing the Bible.
Lectio divina is one way to do this. Lectio divina means divine reading. Peterson says that divine reading “guards against depersonalizing the text into an affair of questions and answers, definitions and dogmas.”[vii] Divine reading involves four elements: reading, meditating, praying, and contemplation.
Let the Bible Read You
The aim of Bible reading is not to read the Bible, but to be read by the Bible. To engage the text personally, you may want to practice this Benedictine approach to divine reading.
- Reading – The objective here is not quantity but quality. Seek to understand the text in whole thoughts. Focus on what is easy to understand and then work your way toward the things that are hard. Harder verses are often easier to understand after further reading.
- Meditating - A metaphor for meditation in the Bible is to “chew on it.”[viii] It is important to commit verses to memory. To think about them. To chew on them. To digest them. Let the words become a part of you and fuel you like food.
- Praying - After listening to God speak to you, speak to him. Speak about the current topic of conversation—what you are learning about. Pray for understanding.
- Contemplation - Peterson says contemplation “means living the read/meditated/prayed text in the everyday, ordinary world.”[ix]
May you and the Lord have a great time spent together.
[i] Timothy Keller, Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God
[vi] Eugene Peterson, Eat This Book
[ix] Eugene Peterson, Eat This Book