Don’t read your Bible the way you’ve been taught: Scripture Union offers guidance this summer

It is Scripture Union’s 150th birthday, a milestone we cover in the Jul/Aug issue of Faith Today. We thought it would be fun to ask them to do what they do best for blog readers, help us read the Bible this summer. We asked Lawson Murray, Scripture Union president, to give us a nudge in the right direction.

By Lawson Murray

The key to reading your Bible is not to read it … at least not to read it the way you’ve been taught to read.

To help mark its 150th birthday, Scripture Union has published this book, full of Bible reading tips.

The way we normally read is based on three ingrained assumptions:

  • We’re the masters of what we read
  • Texts/content are subordinate to our intellect
  • We have the right to choose what to do or not do with what we learn.

When it comes to Bible reading these assumptions create tremendous obstacles because they place us in control when God should be in control (cf. Isaiah 55:8-9).

God must direct our reading. This happens when we learn to read the Bible on its own terms. We cannot, and should not, be the masters of what we read. Nor can we stand to one side exercising our cognition and intellect to evaluate or control the text in the light of our own best interests. Rather, the Bible must read us!

So how does the Bible get to read us? It begins when we cultivate humility, learn how to listen, and are soul-aware.

Cultivate humility.

“The beginning of good Bible engagement is a bit of reflection on what it means to be a virtuous reader in general,” says the founding director of the Institute for Bible Reading, Glenn Paauw.

Because God is omniscient, because His Word is holy, and because He’s God (and we’re not), being humble is the only acceptable way for us to read His Word. Humility is a bankruptcy of spirit (Matthew 5:3), depending solely on God’s righteousness (Luke 18:9-14), receiving something from God like a little child (Luke 18:15-17), and fearing the Lord (Psalm 25:9-12; Proverbs 15:33). Without humility we lack wisdom (Proverbs 11:2). Without wisdom we can’t hear or understand God’s Word (Matthew 13:13).

Learn to listen.

There are two types of listening: the every-day superficial kind of listening and the listening that occurs (when we’re patient and still – Psalm 37:7) in the depths of our being.

We must learn to listen from the inner reaches of who we are – to pay attention not just with our minds, but with our hearts and spirits. For this to happen we must learn to see beyond the words on the page; to find and know the God who “speaks” those words. Then when we find Him, we must open our ears to receive instruction, comfort, renewal, grace, rebuke, correction, or whatever He wants to share with us.

Be soul-aware.

When we read and hear the Scriptures rationally and critically there’s a tendency (and danger) to manipulate the text to validate the pervasive make-up of our self-referenced being. To counteract this tendency we need to be soul-aware.

The road to being soul-aware starts with dying to self and denying “the desires of the sinful nature” Galatians 5:16. It’s also letting our response to God’s Word percolate into the core of our volitional nature. This is done, in part, through asking questions like, “What am I feeling?” or “What is God stirring up in me?” or “How is the Spirit moving my spirit?”

Medieval German monk and writer Thomas à Kempis said, “A humble knowledge of ourselves is a surer way to God than is the search for depth of learning.” So let’s not read the Bible the way we’ve been taught to read other books. We cannot and should not take control of the text as if it’s powerless without our intervention. That’s a sure-fire way to filter out God’s voice! Let’s read it in a new way. Let’s read it without “reading” it. Let’s read it with what the ancient writers called “Holy Expectancy.” That is, read it with vulnerability – with a desire to hear, be transformed, and obey it.

Lawson Murray is president of Scripture Union Canada. This blog is condensed from Bible Engagement Basics, an upcoming book from Scripture Union.

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