The Bible is to the Christian what weights and barbells are to a bodybuilder. The people of God need Holy Scripture, God’s Word, in order to spiritually grow and become mature. Christian character formation cannot truly occur apart from the continuous repetitions of reading the text of Scripture, and letting it build strength into the muscles of the soul.
Scripture is a powerful unifying force within the life of God’s people. At the end of the day, we may not explain every Bible verse in exactly the same way, but a common desire to honor, apply, and obey God’s Word will draw us closer together rather than separate us. It is the devil’s strategy to magnify our differences, and minimize our common confession of Christ around the Word of God. A passion to listen, talk about, and apply God’s Word will bring believers in Jesus together. Perhaps because the average American household today has at least three or four Bibles, we take for granted the availability of God’s Word. It is always at our fingertips, even on our smartphones and computers. Yet, because it is always present and available we may let the busyness and business of life keep us from paying attention to it. When we commit to reading and listening to Holy Scripture, it should not be done quickly or mechanically, and certainly not half-heartedly. If we are to allow God’s Word to penetrate and seep into our souls, we must take the time to listen carefully and slowly.
A famous first century rabbi, Akiva, once noticed a tiny stream trickling down a hillside, dripping over a ledge on its way toward the river below. Below was a massive boulder. The rock below bore a deep impression. The drip, drip, drip of water over the centuries had hollowed away the stone. Rabbi Akiva commented, "If mere water can do this to hard rock, how much more can God's Word carve a way into my heart of flesh?" He realized that if the water had flowed over the rock all at once, the rock would have been unchanged. It was the slow but steady impact of each small droplet, year after year, that completely reformed the stone.
We sometimes want quick answers to our questions without taking the time to prayerfully listen and reflect on the Word of God. God likes to reveal truth over many days, months, and years, as we read and discuss Scripture together. Big splashes aren't usually God's way of doing things. Instead, through the slow drip of study and prayer and reflection, day after day, year after year, he shapes us into what he wants us to be.
When we approach the Bible it is necessary to come at it with a teachable spirit. Sometimes God’s Word is not apparently relevant. We oftentimes need others to help us, and we need the patience to stick with reading it and learning it, even when we aren’t sure about what it is saying. Rightly interpreting Scripture typically happens in community, and not in isolation which is why small groups of people interacting on the Bible’s message is so very important.
One of the things a careful reading of Scripture does is to expose our sin. When we look intently into God’s Word, it doesn’t take long for us to see God’s faithfulness and our disloyalty; God’s compassion and our selfishness; God’s holiness and our fickle nature. And, for the believer, it causes us to grieve and be distressed not only over personal sin, but the fact that this sin is universal. We are all guilty. But sin does not have the last word, because God’s grace trumps everything! So, do not grieve, because the joy of the Lord is your strength! Being truly forgiven washes away the guilt and shame and brings restoration. God’s Word both slays us, and gives us new life.
With this freedom, God’s Word opens our eyes to the needs of others. An appropriate response to hearing God’s Word is to address and provide for the problems of others. In other words, God is not just concerned about us, but about other people, as well.
In ancient Israel, Scripture was so important that, by the age of twelve, every Jewish boy had the first five books of the Old Testament memorized. They did this because they wanted God’s Word to be internalized and known so that it influenced every situation and every relationship of their lives. What do you suppose would happen if we all committed to carefully reading and listening and meditating, even memorizing God’s Word on a daily basis? Would it make a difference? Would it transform our worship? Would it make a difference in our relationships? Would a commitment to learning God’s Word together change our life together?
There is no substitute for the heavy lifting of working through the Bible verse by verse, chapter by chapter, book by book. Read, meditate, reflect, memorize, and prayerfully consider the Bible, and let its contents be the means of bringing intimacy between you and the divine. In so doing, we lift up God’s Word and let it do its work within us.