How you choose to approach someone is often very important to the outcome of your meeting. Your attitude as you go in for a job interview, meet potential in-laws, interact with a teacher, or even talk with a friend, make a difference in the quality of experience you have.
How do you tend to approach the Bible when hearing it or reading it for yourself? Take a minute and consider what your attitude tends to be and what you actually do. When you’re done, ask yourself if your attitude and process is helping or hurting your Scripture experience.
Now that you’ve considered your current method, how do you think we should approach the Bible? The foundational premise of Scripture engagement is that when you engage the Bible, you engage God. Spiritual reading of the Bible is a relational process; we primarily read to meet and know God. We should approach the Bible the same way that we would want to approach God. Let me explain what I mean.
If you had the chance to be in the physical presence of Jesus (of course we are in God’s presence all of the time, but play along with me), would you choose to go? It would probably be terrifying (think of all the times in the Bible where the words “fear not” are needed to calm the hearts of people who have a direct experience with God), but let’s say you decide to meet Jesus. How would you want to approach him? How would you prepare to meet God? Lots of thoughts run through my mind, but here are a few of them:
First, I think it would be a time of high anticipation and expectation. It would not be “just another meeting!” I can’t picture any sense of indifference or boredom in my attitude. I am sure I would feel very unworthy and fearful. Thinking about meeting our Holy and good God brings out a sense of my own sinfulness. I think my reaction would be to confess my sins and ask for forgiveness before we met. I imagine I would come into God’s presence with gratitude and joy at the chance to meet with my Father and Savior. Surely my focus would be on him alone. I also imagine I would be quick to listen to whatever God would say; I would come open and ready to pay attention to every detail and nuance. I don’t picture myself being distracted or dominating the conversation.
When we come to God’s inspired Word, in a very literal way we are coming to God. It is an amazing biblical truth that we have access to God through Jesus (and his sacrifice) by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 2:18, 3:12; Hebrews 4:14-16; Romans 5:1-2). The more we prepare our hearts and minds for meeting God in his Word, just as if we were coming into the physical presence of Jesus, the more life-changing and powerful our experiences with the Scriptures will be. Coming with expectation, anticipation, confession, worship, and focused attention will directly impact our experience. No matter which Scripture engagement practices we use, how we approach the Bible will determine the impact of our time in God’s Word.
I’m not saying every time you engage the Bible it will feel like a miraculous experience (at least that is not my personal experience). The disciples don’t appear to have been overwhelmed by Jesus every moment they were with him either. However, I do know that if I come to the Bible without any personal investment or preparation, distracted and just “doing my time,” my time with the Bible tends to have almost no impact. On the other hand, when I prepare myself to read the Bible, remembering that to engage Scriptures is to engage God, I often have a significant experience. When you come to the Bible, prepare your mind and heart, and know that God uses his Word, no matter whether it feels miraculous to you or not (Isaiah 55:11).
Here are some simple suggestions for preparing yourself to meet God as you engage with the Scriptures:
- Pick a time: Set aside a specific amount of time in your weekly calendar to engage the Bible. Just like in any relationship, you have to spend time with God to know him. This is probably the biggest downfall for more people than anything else in the whole process of Scripture engagement: we just don’t make the time. As the saying goes, “We don’t plan to fail, we fail to plan.” Check your motivation here. Make time because of the joy that comes when you actually get to come close to God (Psalm 84:2, 10). Setting up time to meet with God is not a “should and ought,” it is a “I get to!”
- Pick a good time: Make your time with the Bible a “prime time” of your day—not when you are the most exhausted or distracted. God calls us to give him our “first fruits,” our best, not our leftovers.
- Pick a place: Go wherever you naturally go when you want to focus on something important. For some this will be a quiet place, for others a busy place. Some like to have music playing. Going into a specific room for your reading and praying is a practice that Jesus encouraged (Matthew 6:5-6). You know yourself, do what works.
- Get rid of distractions: Get rid of as many things as you can that usually distract you. Be honest here; what is likely to take your mind away from engaging the Bible? Our world seems to be designed to distract us from focusing on almost anything, but with diligent effort, you will grow in your attention to the Bible.
- Quiet your heart: Take the first minute or two of your time with the Bible and just think about what you’re going to do. You are coming to God’s Word to meet him.
- Pray: Briefly ask God to teach you, to meet you, and to bless your time in his Word. Ask for the Holy Spirit to illuminate (1 Corinthians 2:6-16) the passage for you. Commit to God that, with his strength, you will obey what you read.
- Start: Check out the many different Scripture engagement practices described on this website. Pick one and get going. It is better to start small and continue the practice than to start with huge goals, get disappointed, and stop. Something is better than nothing!
- Keep moving: If you get distracted or tired, don't worry or criticize yourself. Guilt won’t keep you motivated very long. Simply bring your mind back to the passage and start reading again.
* If you are interested in reading more about preparing yourself to hear God’s Word, there are two books that I have found particularly helpful: Shaped by the Word: The Power of Scripture in Spiritual Formation by M. Robert Mulholland, Jr. and The Fire of the Word: Meeting God on Holy Ground, by Chris Webb.