I wrote my first rough draft to this series 4 years ago. Four! I was perhaps newly pregnant with our youngest child. But in my typical perfectionist fashion, I tucked it away and sat on it.
Newly inspired, I polished it and planned to release it last Spring. Then COVID hit and all of our worlds flipped upside down. Just to add insult to injury, my computer crashed this summer, losing all of my documents from the past few years (yes, I know, quite the lesson in backing up files). Instead of picking myself up by the bootstraps and rewriting immediately, I wallowed in the loss of all my creative writings that were gone.
Well, after a good cry (or, ya know, three), I gave myself a good kick in the rear and started over. So let’s give this a go again:
For the past decade, I’ve had this growing awareness of something crucial; a bit of a crisis in the Christian church that needs remedying. At least from the numerous conversations I’ve had with other believers, I don’t think it’s merely a personal hunch. Many Christians do not read their own Bibles and don’t know what’s really in the Bible. As a culture, we’ve become great at reading Christian self-help books or devotionals that reference a Bible verse, but even finding a “Bible study” that reads the Bible directly can be challenging.
“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” -Psalm 119:105
Growing up, I went to church every Sunday for worship service and Sunday school, attended Wednesday night services, completed a discipleship class as a teen, along with a mission trip and other volunteer gigs over the years. Needless to say, I wasn’t a Christmas-and-Easter-only sort of a kid. Despite that, I missed how the Bible all connected. I could tell you about individual stories, could explain salvation, and knew a dozen memory verses. But to explain the Bible as a whole, well that was an entirely different level.
Churches became really good at teaching stories like Daniel in the Lion’s Den or Jonah and the Whale, and at teaching topical series that reminded us to “have more faith” or “how to have better relationships.” Maybe I missed something, but I never saw the big picture. I don’t think anyone within my church is to blame. I think I’m simply a product of the generation, of the cultural trend of the time, but suddenly a whole generation doesn’t know the Bible. If you’re reading this and thinking “actually Renee, my church or school really did help me understand it all,” consider yourself fortunate. You seem to be in the minority.
Why does any of this matter anyway? Boy, I’m glad you asked! There are a few significant reasons why reading the Bible shouldn’t be a task reserved for your pastor.
1. We’re starving ourselves of the lifesource the Bible provides.
We were made for fellowship with God. And one of the best and easiest ways to learn about and get to know our Creator God is by opening up the holy Scriptures. We actually cheat ourselves when we don’t take time to read it. Our souls become undernourished when we fail to read and know God’s word.
Christian authors, speakers, pastors, church leaders, and devotional books are all great tools and resources, but they should remain secondary to our own reading of Scripture. When we rely only on our church leaders and devotional books for all our information about being a Christ-follower, it’s really just second-hand faith. It’s as if we’re gleaning the crumbs off the ground instead of sitting at the table and biting into the very bread of life itself. You get a taste, but you miss out on the full sustenance God has to offer.
2. We become like lemmings with no discernment of our own.
I once worked with a middle-aged woman who was quite vocal about her faith. She confidently declared that she didn’t need to read her Bible; her pastor told her everything she needed to know. She was only the first of many I encountered who seemed to hold this same sentiment.
I wish it were not true, but in this fallen world in which we live, that can be a dangerous notion to live by. I’ve seen some pastors twist scripture in order to yield power, ones who lazily added hodgepodge verses to their preferred topical series, those who’ve taught some weird theology, and one who even referred to the words of Jesus as “Christianese,” as opposed to something which to regard with reverence. I’m sure we can all picture some televangelist out there who’s had more than suspect teaching.
We don’t need to end this blog feeling a sense of distrust toward our pastors and Christian leaders. Please don’t misunderstand my end goal. There are scores of phenomenal pastors, several of whom I am honored to know personally. But in a day and age where there are so many differing opinions being thrown out there, we need to know God’s word ourselves in order to have a compass with which to distinguish. Furthermore, humans make an awfully unreliable foundation, and it is unfair to put them in that position in the first place. When we raise up individuals on a pedestal, they are bound to fall and to fail us. Be careful not to replace God with false idols. There is nothing wrong with being guided by the teachings of Christian leaders; the problem begins when we elevate them as God instead of remembering they are merely a follower of God, doing their best.
“Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way.”- 2 Timothy 3:16 (Msg)
When we don’t know God’s word ourselves, we lack the ability to discern. We may be swayed to follow our political party, our church traditions, or our family’s “way of doing things” without ever considering God’s heart on a matter. We may be tempted to spew hate instead of welcoming and loving our neighbor. We may even one day find ourselves carrying a “Jesus Saves” flag on the steps of the Capitol building, all the while acting in a way that does anything but reflect the heart of God.
3. Finally, and this might be the one I get the MOST excited about, when we fail to read God’s word, we miss out on the unending goodness and richness it has to offer.
Spoiler alert- some of the traditions I learned as a kid aren’t actually biblical. For instance, things about heaven and Revelation. I learned the cultural trend of the time; not the Biblical text. And before you go throwing stones at me for heresy, just bear with me- it’s actually better than you might think!
A couple of years ago I sat across from a woman who began to share during a small-group discussion in a New Testament Bible class we were attending. All her life she had grown up in the church and even attended Christian school. She fought back tears as she pointed at her Bible and said, “None of this is anything like I learned, but it is so much better!” It was as if her eyes had been opened to the message of the Bible and the extreme depth of God’s love for his people for the first time. It was life changing for her.
“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12-
Guys! That is what I don’t want you to miss out on! The Bible is like an onion: the more you peel back and learn, the more layers you find. It’s incredible! I remember a moment last year in a Bible study on Acts where a passage in Acts 3 meant something so much deeper to me because of something I learned the year prior (that will be an exciting blog to share later!). But we all have to start somewhere. Without understanding the greater context, the small moments and details won’t make sense. We aren’t going to be great theologians overnight. But you’d be amazed at the growth that happens with 10 or 15 consistent minutes a day. Little by little. Or, as a favorite pastor of mine likes to say, growth through “slow and steady faithfulness.”
I’m not here to slap anyone on the hand or make them feel shame. Quite the opposite! I’m hoping to enrich, educate, and empower. Many people don’t open their Bibles out of pure intimidation. Let’s be honest, it can be confusing, especially if no one ever taught you how to read it. Knowing how to study the Bible shouldn’t be a skill reserved for Bible students and theologians. Yes, there are amazing layers that can be delved into after one studies Greek or travels to the Holy Land themselves, but nothing about Christ’s saving message for all mankind should require a PhD to open up his Word. With a few simple tools, you can confidently read your Bible.
Over the next few weeks, I’m going to teach you what I can from my humble wheelhouse (remembering that I am merely a servant of God myself; don’t go putting me on that pedestal).
- Learn what Inductive Bible study is, what it means, and why it’s useful
- Learn why Genre matters
- Learn why Context matters
- Look at the Bible from a bird’s-eye view to understand the BIG story, one big rescue story; the cliff notes version, if you will
- Talk about using the Inductive method to apply passages to our life, and how to do it in the correct order
- Look at tools I find helpful
- Practice what we’ve learned and dive into some scripture
- Discuss why the head to heart connection matters
If you’ve made it this far- a gold star for you! I hope that you choose to journey with me over the next few weeks to learn and grow as a consumer of God’s holy Word.
Grace and Peace,