We must learn to read the Bible for transformation. As we seek to follow Jesus into the world on mission, Scripture serves as our interactive guide for the journey. We may think of it as a map to the life of God’s dreams. Yet unlike directions that seek to guide us to a particular geographical location, the Bible’s goal is to shape us into the kind of persons that God created us to be. The journey of faith involves growth in our missional activity, personal holiness, and community. The Bible desires to convert us to its perspective and propel us into the world as witnesses to new creation.
To read and study Scripture in this manner involves learning to adopt and practice a set of postures.
(1) Be open to hearing the voice of God and being astonished. When we read Scripture, we are engaging a sacred set of writings that the church affirms as inspired by God and foundational for our faith and practice. It isn’t enough to lift up Scripture as an authoritative artifact from the past. We need to approach our reading and reflection with an expectation of astonishment in the present moment. When Scripture astonishes us personally, we are ready to live and move in ways that will astonish the world with the love and grace of Jesus Christ. I find that prayer helps me to enter into a space where I’m ready to receive all that God has for me. Here is one that I’ve found helpful: “Lord, astonish me anew with the riches and good news of your word. Amen.”
(2) Take the stance of a learner rather than expert. There’s an irony in our lifelong reading of Scripture. Over time, texts become so familiar that we speed through them, assuming that we already know their message. This is dangerous to our spiritual formation. It’s vital that we consciously avoid treating the text as an object that we gain control over via study. The moment we reckon ourselves experts will mark the time when our voice becomes the authority rather than God’s. Don’t pray, “Lord, help me to master this text.” Instead assume the posture of a learner and say, “Lord, I open myself to hear all that you have for me. Master me through my conversation with your word.”
(3) Embrace listening over demanding. Our conversation with Scripture requires patient and persistent listening. We cannot control the speed of illumination and insight. Some passages will release their riches quickly and easily. Others will only do so slowly and with difficulty. In either case, we must be willing to be fully present with God and the text in a spirit of humility and dogged resilience. We cannot demand a word from God. We can only receive one gratefully with open hands, hearts, and minds. Remember the mark of the happy person in Ps 1: “He or she meditates on the law of the Lord day and night” (1:3).
(4) Align with the text and take action. To listen to Scripture involves realigning with its message continually. Our conversation with Scripture must lead to tangible change and action. As James reminds us, “But be doers of the word and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like” (Jas 1:22–24).
How do we become “doers”? We become “doers” by taking action based on our reading. Here are some questions that help me (this isn’t meant as an exhaustive list):
- How does this text challenge my current way of life as well as that of my community of faith?
- How does this passage stand in tension with my current thinking or understanding of the gospel?
- Who or what is this text calling me to care about?
- What kind of person do I need to become to live out this text?
- How does my community need to shift to embody this text?
We can’t treat this stage as merely rhetorical. We need to write down or journal the key actions that we need to take. Then, go out and live the gospel for the world.
Thank you God for the gift of Scripture. Give us the hearts and minds to listen and meditate on it so that we may encounter you the living Lord of the text. Grant us the courage to dare to realign with its message and live it out before a world that desperately needs its good news. In Jesus’s name: Amen.
[See here for part two of this series on Conversations with Scripture.]