The “why” of Bible reading

When I open my online “Read through the Bible in a Year” program, it tells me I am on day 275 of 365.

That’s true, but it’s taken me quite a bit more than 275 days to get to this point. I don’t remember exactly when I started this plan, but right about the time I started falling behind in it, I discovered the “catch me up” button at the bottom of each daily reading list.

At first I felt guilty, as if I were a woman on a diet sneaking cookies.

But I don’t feel guilty now.

Not long ago I downloaded The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer to my Kindle. He wrote this in his preface to the book: “The Bible is not an end in itself, but a means to bring men to an intimate and satisfying knowledge of God, that they may enter into Him, that they may delight in His Presence, may taste and know the inner sweetness of the very God Himself in the core and center of their hearts.”

I reflected on Tozer’s words in my journal. Why do I study Scripture? I wrote. That is a necessary question to answer. If my desire, as I read, study, and meditate, is not to know God better; to be more awed by His beauty and goodness; to be convinced more fully of His love for me; to be satisfied in Him and by Him—if all this is not my aim, then I may as well read another book.

Christ did not die for me to make me a Bible scholar; He died so I could have relationship with His Father. The only point in being a Bible scholar, then, is to deepen my knowledge of and relationship with God.

Yet other purposes often take over when I read Scripture. Sometimes I am seeking a particular answer to a theological question. Sometimes I simply want to know more just to know more (and I don’t mean that in a good way). My purposes can get even further from what they should be when I am following a reading plan. I like to see the little checkmarks fill in the empty circles on the reading calendar. I like the completion aspect of it. “Well, I got through Leviticus and Numbers. Now let’s tackle Deuteronomy.”

It can become a homework assignment; something to “get through.”

And when I don’t complete it, I experience guilt.

All these purposes cheapen both God and His Word.

Early last fall, my mother-in-law sent me a devotional she’d written for me to edit. The title was “Encountering God.” She wrote this: One way I encounter God that is such a thrill is when I draw near to Him before beginning my Quiet Time. I deliberately turn my focus to His presence. In my mind, I see Him standing before me. I focus my mind on Him, blocking out all else around me. Then I pray: Father God, I draw near to You, and in faith, I receive You drawing near to me. I see Him smiling at me and then coming near to embrace me with His Strong Arms. My soul is filled with delight as I allow myself to feel His embrace and His love for me pouring out through his loving arms. 

He never fails me. When I draw near to Him, He is always ready, and He graciously draws me close to His heart. These encounters strengthen my faith and hope in the One Who calls me His very own special treasure.

If I prepared for Bible reading and study like that, I would see and treasure Scripture as the very words of God. I would be unconcerned with “getting it done” and completely consumed with seeing God revealed in Scripture.

I share this post because a new year began only 21 days ago, and I know that many Christians resolve to read the Bible more in the new year than they did in the old. I certainly don’t want to discourage anyone from reading Scripture—it’s still the Sword of the Spirit even when we don’t approach it as such—and I know we gain much from reading the entire Word of God…

but we gain God Himself, and not just knowledge ABOUT Him, when we read His Word with anticipation and awe.

*For a great article about yearly Bible reading plans, read Bible Gateway’s article “When Reading the Bible Becomes a Chore: Six Ways to Keep Your Bible Reading on Track This Year.

*Bible Gateway also has a variety of Bible reading plans. Visit this page.

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Everyday Gospel, continued (part 2 of conversation with Jake)

Game pieces? I think so. Why? Not sure. Because he's a nine-year-old boy? Good answer.

Game pieces? I think so. Why? Not sure.                       Because he’s a nine-year-old boy? Yep, that’s probably it.

Sunday night Dave took the crew out for ice cream. Jake decided to stay behind. As soon as everyone left, I found out why.

“Mom, I need to talk to you about something.”

He’d been waiting for just such a quiet moment.

“What’s up, bud?”

“I think I have an idol.”

It took me a moment to process that one. It’s not a phrase a 9-year-old boy often uses.

“Where did you hear…? Never mind. How ‘bout we sit down together.”

After we were snugged into the chair-and-a-half, with Jake’s hand rubbing the back of my hair, I asked, “What do you think your idol is?”

“Legos.”

“Why do you think Legos are an idol?”

“Because I think about them so much. I would rather play with them than read my Bible. I know that reading my Bible is good, and Legos are keeping me from doing as much of it as I should. I think they’re an idol.”

Ah! A repeat of our conversation the week before.

I held my hands up as if they were scales and launched into an explanation of how we can never do enough “good” to earn God’s acceptance. It’s impossible, which is why He made another Way.

But the anguish in Jake’s face stopped me.

I thought of what I’ve learned through spending time with believers from other cultures—how our Western view of salvation as a transaction is not the only way God presents the Gospel in Scripture. It is justification, yes, but it’s also reconciliation and restoration. It’s relationship, made possible through Christ.

“J-man, what do you think your dad would say if you told him, ‘Dad, I know you’re a runner, so I’m gonna’ start running four miles a day to make you love me more’?”

Jake’s face screwed up as if I’d bought him a hot pink shirt. “Mom, Dad already loves me. That’s not gonna’ make him love me more!”

I grinned.

He was quiet, his brain connecting the dots, seeing in them a picture, a constellation of beauty.

We talked more, about how we know someone loves us, then specifically about how we know God loves us. We talked about God’s joy in Jake’s enjoyment of Legos, how Jake’s creativity, imagination, and collaboration please God; they are gifts from God. We talked about how good things CAN turn into idols (and I thought, “Even Bible reading, clearly!”) and what we do about that.

At one point Jake said something truly beautiful. I don’t remember the exact words, but it was something like this: “So God wants me to read my Bible so I can know better that He loves me! It’s NOT so He will love me more! That’s not it at all.”

I laughed aloud in delight.

But part of my heart grieved.

Not at his words, but at this truth: my son, like I, will forget, time and time again, that God loves us simply because HE IS LOVE. Jake, too, will wrestle with guilt over “not doing enough.” He will lose the joy of being loved freely by God. He will equate “doing” with relationship, and he will wonder what he has done–or not done–to feel so far from God. He will assume God has withdrawn in anger and fail to realize that his own efforts and guilt have actually pulled him away from God rather than to Him.

I am grateful, not only for strange but wonderful conversations with Jake but also that God is revealing my own tendencies through my son.

But I still don’t want him to wrestle with my struggles. I want him to feel as sure of God’s love for him as he is of his dad’s (and, boy, am I grateful for that!). I want him to draw near to God with full confidence in His grace and mercy.

I want him to fiercely love God—because he knows God first fiercely loved him. I want him to know that God never, ever stops loving him.

I want for him what I want for myself.

And I can be confident that God, Who is a far better parent than I, wants the same for both of us.