Growing up in the church as a 4th generation pastor's kid had its pros and cons. Some of the cons I didn't realize until I had already grown up. One of the pros was simply that early on in my life I was learning what it means to be a follower of Christ. I learned all the big things of the Christian life. Read your Bible. Pray every day. Stuff like that. As I look back on it though, at least for me, that's where it ended. An emphasis on a few fundamentals, but I wasn't able to connect those to my life in any other way.
And specifically when it came to the Bible, I struggled to make a connection to my everyday life through reading Scripture. Maybe you are similar to me and you were told to read it. You were told to read it but not really sure what the end game was other than to simply read. My dad once told me all the answers to life's problems were found in Scripture, but reading it often times simply didn't make sense and I wasn't sure how to apply it. Or I would simply read it incorrectly as if I was the central figure of the story and that skewed how everything applied.
Many churches make the same mistake. We hear about an issue someone is having and deep down we want to help them. We tell them to read Scripture. Dive into the Word everyday. So with that framework, they open up to Genesis 1 and start reading. Somewhere around Genesis 12 they don't know what's going on anymore. If they're one of the fortunate ones, they might make it to Leviticus or Numbers and that's where they give up on reading Scripture altogether.
I want to pause at this point and simply say that I love Scripture. I love what I learn when I read it. I love how God is shaping me in what I read. There's so much depth to Scripture, so many nuances to explore and learn from. There is no end to the learnings that come from God's Word especially when the Holy Spirit gets involved and shows you things you've missed before. However, the mistake we often make in the church and by default, with our disciple-making, is that the end goal is to simply read the Bible.
We connect people to the Bible, but not to the Author.
We connect people to Scripture, but not the giver of life.
We give people a to-do, but not the path toward life transformation.
I was convicted about this when I was reading through the book of John. Here's what I found in John 5.
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. [John 5:39, 40 ESV]
*This is not a commentary on John 5, but simply something that God convicted me of as I was reading through John recently.
Call me slow, but that stung like a really angry bee. I am so guilty of this. Searching the Scripture looking for answers to life, but not remembering that they point to Jesus. Or worse, I pass along that training to others even if I don't mean to. Ultimately, it's the mistake of reading the Bible simply for more knowledge or to feel better about ourselves. We say things like...
"I'm just feeling really down. What Scripture verses can I read that will make me feel better?"
"What verses are there that will encourage me in my current situation, pastor?"
When we don't read Scripture with abiding in Christ and surrendering to His Lordship as our primary focus, we fall prey to using the Bible as a self-help book. We strip it of it's supernatural power to transform our lives. It becomes manageable for us and the God of the universe is anything but "manageable." God is interested in transforming us through obedience and surrender to His Son that will ultimately point to His glory. Anything short of that is missing the point of Scripture.
Consider this a call back to abiding in Jesus through Scripture, not simply managing the Bible and by extension, God. Scripture isn't the goal. Jesus is the goal. So let's get practical. There's a simple tool that you can use and that you can disciple others to use when reading Scripture. It's called SPECK. This is a great tool that will help you read Scripture in a way that puts the focus back on Jesus as the giver of life.
Sin to confess
When reading Scripture, it's important to agree with God about what He says about you. When we only read parts that make us feel better about ourselves, we miss the conviction God may have for us in something we need to change. So reading Scripture with an eye toward sin that needs to be confessed, allows us the opportunity to be in agreement with God about who we are and where we fall short. It also helps us keep Scripture from becoming our self-help book or reading only with a lens that we are the heroes of the story. Knowing there is something we need to confess allows for humility and in humility, Jesus can transform lives.
Promise to hold
We often read Scripture with the lens bent toward us, but it's not about us ultimately. It's about God, His character and what He's about in His world. Take Psalm 136 for example. The promise of God's everlasting faithfulness is made clear. By clear I mean, in every single verse. When you read through that chapter, it's hard not to leave with your eyes on God and His promise to always be faithful. As you read through Scripture, what promises has God given you that you can anchor yourself in?
Example to follow
Sometimes Jesus pauses during a busy season of ministry simply to touch a leper or talk to a widow. Or you read about David and you realize his heart for worshiping God through music. It's something you read and the Holy Spirit gives you a gentle tap on the shoulder. That's a great example. I need to weave that into my life. Stop being so busy and see opportunities God has around me to reach people. Truly worship God and surrender to him afresh each day.
Command to obey
While some things are examples we see in Scripture, other times there are outright commands that we simply aren't doing. So much of American Christianity has become about knowledge and very little about action. I see that changing in disciple-making movements and in some places in the United States. That's very encouraging to me.
This one is a very strong reminder that it isn't about you and reading Scripture isn't simply about more knowledge. When Jesus says, "Go, and make disciples of all nations," there is no wiggle room. That's not an option. This isn't about my comfort or how I'm feeling that day. God has a plan and a mission for us. Jesus has shown us the way and is commanding us to carry it out. When Jesus says (paraphrase) "New command, gentleman! Love each other as I have loved you." We don't get to pick and choose who we love. There's no opting out of loving the difficult people in our lives. We are commanded to love people.
Reading Scripture through that lens becomes life transforming, because it's not about my comfort. It's about what God is up to and I am aligning myself with God in how He is at work.
Knowledge of God to remember
Sometimes we simply forget things. We forget moments when God showed up or that thing we read that one time back in high school. Sometimes as we read Scripture we simply need to underline or memorize something that reminds us about God. "Be holy as I am holy." God is holy, perfect, set apart. We are not equals, He is on a different plane than me. He is in another dimension. He is holy. Now it changes how I worship and how I view God. Now it isn't about me anymore, it's about a holy God.
There are hundreds of reading tools like this one that are available to you. But if you would dream with me for just a second. Imagine the church in the United States fifty years from now. Imagine every church is discipling people in how to read Scripture through the lens of Jesus as the giver of life and the focus of history…reading through the lens of God wanting to them restored to him through Jesus and living on mission. Imagine the impact the church would have on the world. Jesus said this in John 10...
I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. [John 10:10 ESV]
I believe that Jesus wants to give us life and that life will overflow with amazing stories of transformation. Pastors, disciples and disciple-makers, this means we have to stop using the Bible as a self-help book, reading through the lens of my own selfishness and comfort. We must challenge and convict people to read it through the lens of abiding in Christ and life transformation.
What's one thing you can do today to get started?
Maybe begin reading through Scripture using SPECK to personally abide in Jesus. Or maybe sharing this tool with someone you're discipling to help them read Scripture to discover life in Jesus and not just a legalistic to-do. Whatever it is, set a goal, write down the date, make a plan and abide with Christ more today than you did yesterday.