Not This Way
Again, though any listening and reading of Scripture is better than none at all, some ways that people come to the Bible end up restricting their spiritual growth. Many people started listening to or reading the Bible for a weak reason and then over time adjusted their motivation. Below are a few ways NOT to approach the Bible. This list isn’t exhaustive, but perhaps it can serve as a catalyst for you to explore your own motivation for coming to the Bible.
Many people have come to the conclusion that “good Christians read the Bible.” They want God to like them, so they read the Bible out of trying to please God, out of a kind of guilt. This approach can see God as either punitive (“if I don’t read, God will be mad at me”) or almost like a “lucky charm” (“if I read, God will have to reward me”). At its core Scripture engagement is a relational process. We come to a loving God through the Scriptures to know him, to understand what is true, and to be changed into the person he created us to be. Approaching anybody out of a sense of trying to win them over, from guilt, really limits the depth that relationship can reach. The same is true of approaching God. Guilt is a poor motivator. The results just don’t tend to last or give life. I’m not saying there is not guilt in the world; we are sinners that need God’s forgiveness. I’m just saying that if we approach the Bible only out of guilt, we will not tend to be prepared to fully engage the God who loves us so much that he sent his Son to die for us. We aren’t doing God a favor by spending time in the Bible. He has done us a favor by giving us the Bible as the gracious means of knowing him.
Another way that people approach the Bible is for a “devotional thought.” Scriptures are approached for some quick small happy thought that will be an encouragement for the day, maybe tied to a nice moral story. But the Bible never presents itself as something warm and fuzzy. Hebrews 4:12 tells us that “the word of God is alive 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.” Treating God’s Word like a warm and cuddly toy, when it is really a double-edged sword (or a fire and a hammer as in Jeremiah 23:29), is condescending.
The Bible is full of content. It is a window into a number of ancient worlds and a window into the spiritual world. While all of the information in the Bible is fascinating, facts are not relationship. The person who knows the most Bible facts is not necessarily the person who knows God the most. If we elevate facts above meeting God, then we have lost the most important facet of the Bible. If we read primarily to learn content, it can lead to treating the Bible like an object for us to control or as a problem to be solved. Knowing the content of the Bible is critically important because through those concrete real-life realities God makes himself known. But don’t come to the Bible just to be able to pass a Bible trivia exam; come to the Bible ready to meet your Creator. We should read the Bible out of relationship, out of love for God, not just to learn facts.
Have you ever overheard a conversation that you thought was about you but really turned out to be about someone else? When that occurs it can be the source of some deep misunderstandings. It is possible to come to the Bible thinking it is our story and read it just to understand ourselves. Not every word in the Bible is a direct instruction of how to live. In reality, the Bible is God’s story. Yes, we learn a great deal about ourselves in the Bible, but to think that every word is all about us can lead to our misunderstanding the message of the Scriptures. The Bible is a sweeping story about God. It is only as we grow in our understanding of God, his character, and his plan that we’ll really start to understand our place in his story. Perhaps the best question you can ask after reading a passage of Scripture is, “What does this tell me about God?”
Many people think that the Bible is primarily a book of rules, as if God wanted to control all of our actions by giving us a lot of directions about what not to do. The people who think this way tend to avoid the Bible altogether—who would read a book of rules on their own? The truth is that the Bible is about God and his loving actions of redeeming us and making us into his people. To view the Bible as a bunch of rules is similar to viewing marriage vows as a list of rules. Marriage vows are about love and promises made between two people to enhance and protect their love. The Bible is about love also, and to view it as a set of rules is to miss the whole point and to ruin the loving relationship it is designed to protect.