Reading the Book Rarely Opened
I remember sitting in first-grade reading circle when the letters in the large book in front of me suddenly formed words. Sit, Spot. Run, Jane. Run, Dick.
I could read!
From then on I read nearly nonstop. Cereal boxes on the breakfast table. My Brownie and Girl Scout handbooks. Stacks and stacks of library books. “Dear Abby” in the newspaper. College texts. Magazines. Self-help tomes.
But one book I rarely opened. And when I did, it mystified me.
In high school I bought myself a New Testament. For college graduation I asked for and received a leather-bound New American Standard Bible. By then I had chosen to believe that Jesus is God’s Son, my Savior. I understood little about that, but I did believe it with all my heart. (Still do.)
In the early 1970s I went to work for a Christian publisher (can you guess which one?) that liked my secular-university journalism degree and overlooked my lack of Bible training. My first job? To develop curriculum for 2s and 3s. (I had no training in curriculum development either, but Julie and Jeff and their Bible friends turned up in Sunday school classrooms for more than 20 years, so I guess that turned out OK.)
I got to know the Bible pretty quickly. Well, parts of it. The “story” parts we teach to children. The parts with “lessons” for our lives.
But I didn’t know God very well.
Now right about here I’m starting to sound like any number of up-and-coming or already-hip writers and speakers: “We’ve gone down a wrong road. Years of Bible teaching haven’t helped us live like true disciples. So now we need _________” (fill in the blank with whatever the gurus you admire believe is the correct fix).
But that’s not what I’m saying. (And I’m not up-and-coming or hip.) Stay with me.
Eleven years ago someone invited me to read through the Bible in a year to get to know God. I wrote about my experience here in “Light on Our Path” (June 8, 2008). Getting to know God changed me. Changed how I think. Changed what I do. Changes me still, growth being a process.
Please do the math. I’d been a Christian a long time. I’d opened my Bible and read along through zillions of lessons and sermons. But I didn’t start to really know God until I began to read the Bible with knowing him as my goal.
Think you couldn’t read the whole Bible? Think the people in your church certainly couldn’t? Think again.
How many hours a week do you read (or watch or listen to) other things?
And I know you can read . . .
(Not everyone enjoys reading. Still, God always does what is best and for our good—um, I learned that from reading the Bible—and whatever the reason, he chose to preserve his story in words in a book. So get an audio Bible and follow along. Or listen while you run or cook dinner.)
Let’s read the Bible. All of it. Often. When we’re gathered for worship and when we’re at home. With our families and on our own. Not to answer study questions, not to fill out disciple to-do lists (although those are not bad things). Let’s start reading the Bible to get to know God. What does he say? What does he do? How has he proven he is faithful, mighty, and true?
So many Christians, like me in the past, couldn’t tell you.
When Sally Lloyd-Jones’s best-selling Jesus Storybook Bible debuted in 2007, Tim Keller wrote, “I would urge not just families with young children to get this book, but every Christian.”1
I’m convinced one reason for the book’s popularity is this: adult Christians reading it to their children are discovering for the first time that God’s love and mercy permeate the whole Bible. (Someone new blogs about this nearly every day.) If those parents were reading the whole Bible for themselves, they would already know this.
They probably never realized they could read the Bible or that reading it matters. Maybe their churches don’t communicate the importance of getting to know God by reading what he has to say.
I’m strengthened when worship of God uses the Bible prominently. It doesn’t happen everywhere. “It is actually possible to go through an entire worship program and hear only a verse or two of Scripture,” Gary Weedman wrote recently, “often obliquely related and only preparatory to the sermon.”2 (I might add, “And quoted from a paraphrase.”) Weedman concludes with a quote from Daniel Block: “In our efforts to be contemporary and relevant, we dismiss the reading of the Scriptures as a fossil whose vitality and usefulness . . . died long ago. . . . In the process we displace the voice of God with the foolish babbling of mortals and the possibility of true worship is foreclosed.”3
A friend wrote recently that when she makes the Bible central to her time with God, “he does speak through it.”4
She’s right. We sometimes think God is silent when he isn’t doing something we want him to do or telling us something we want to hear. But he is never silent. His word remains. Forever.
I don’t believe God speaks to us only through his Word.
And I realize motives matter. Maybe you know someone with a head full of Bible and a heart full of hate. One thing the Bible is not is a magic charm.
But when I read my Father’s living, active Word seeking to know God better, it’s like I’m right there at his throne. Right there. With him. How could I not grow and change, be encouraged and strengthened, be made wise and discerning? How could I not begin to do the things that please him?
One of the questions this column is supposed to answer is, “How does the Bible provide you with ongoing help or support?”
My answer is, “I read it.”
Everything good that needs to happen flows from that.
Read a related article from 2008, “Light on Our Path,” also by Diane Stortz
2Gary Weedman, “‘A People of the Book!’ or ‘A People of the Book?’” Blue & White, September–December 2010, 2, 3. Weedman is president of Johnson Bible College, Knoxville, Tennessee.
3Daniel I. Block, “Tell Me the Old, Old Story: Preaching the Message of the Old Testament Narrative” in Giving the Sense: Understanding and Using Old Testament Historical Texts, edited by David M. Howard Jr. and Michael A Grisanti (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2003), 435. Block is a professor at Wheaton (Illinois) College.
4Linda Delay Wallace, “Transitions and God,” Christian Women’s Resource Network, http://www.cwrn.org/blog/transitions-and-god/.
Diane Stortz, formerly editorial director of the book group of Standard Publishing, is a freelance editor, writer living in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is author of The Sweetest Story Bible (Zonderkidz), Rumble! Zap! Pow! (Tyndale), Jesus Loves You: A Read-the-Pictures Book (Standard), and co-author of Parents of Missionaries (Biblica).