Last week we began a new series entitled Fit for Life . We looked at natural fitness and how it is a result of specific habits of living such as a good diet and regular exercise. In the same way, spiritual fitness is a result of specific spiritual exercises such as prayer, reading the Word and obedience. God’s Word, as revealed in the Bible, is to be our ‘daily bread’ (Matt.4:4). In the same way that we need food every day to be healthy and strong so we need to daily feed upon God’s Word to us. Then as we apply it to our lives we are adding exercise to healthy food, which results in good health and spiritual fitness.Observations about Bible Reading
SOAP – Washing by the Word
- Why a Book? God chooses to reveal himself to people through a variety of ways – through creation, through direct contact, through the coming of Jesus to earth, through the Holy Spirit and through the Scriptures as recorded in the Bible. Why a book? If you think about it, relationships are made possible and enhanced by communication and communication occurs primarily through language. For you to know me I have to make a choice to reveal myself to you and I do that primarily through language. Through words you can begin to know who I am, where I’ve come from, what I like and what I dislike and what I’m interested in. You start to get to know me as a person.
We serve a God who reveals himself to us so we can know him. He does this through language – God speaks. God used words to create the world and to create us. Then he uses words to speak to us – to relate to us as persons.
God’s revelation to us begins with the spoken word but the weakness of the spoken word is that is can easily be forgotten and only those who hear it directly receive the information. However, once it is written down it can be passed on to others and the impact of those words spreads. Written communication is also highly accurate and the margin for error is very low when it is passed on compared to verbal communication. An experience with God can be incredible but it is easily lost and it can’t be passed on so others can experience it to. In contrast, an experience or spoken word recorded in writing lives on for all who would read. It is a ‘more sure’ thing (see 2 Peter 1:16-21).
- What Kind of a Book is it? The Bible is primarily a story book. It is not a myth, but a true story of what God has done, and is doing, in history. The Bible is not just an instruction book – though it does contain instructions and rules. The Bible is a story - a grand, epic narrative with three main acts: creation, fall and redemption. The Bible contains laws, songs, wise sayings, prophecies, prayers and visions, but these are all parts of the overall story.
In many ways, the Bible is a love story - a love story in which we are invited to take part. It is like a novel, in which, though the scene is set, the plot well developed, and the ending planned and in sight, there is still some way to go, and we are invited to become living, participating, intelligent and decision-making characters within the story as it moves towards its destination.(1)
- How Should We Read? So how do we read the Bible … like a newspaper, an encyclopaedia or a textbook? It is easy for Bible reading to degenerate into merely an intellectual exercise OR for the Bible to become just a practical guide for living or a source of personal inspiration for us in our time of need. As good as these things may be they fall short of the primary purpose of God’s Word and that is to be a place of communication with a personal God (see Jn.5:39-40). God is what the book is about and we need to come to the Bible on his terms, not ours. The Bible is person to person communication. It is not just information but rather it is a book of revelation – God revealing himself and his ways to us, not so much telling us something, but showing himself. John was told to ‘eat the book’. This is a good metaphor for Bible reading – don’t just read it, get it on the inside of you (see Rev.10:9-10).(2)
There are many metaphors that the Bible uses for God’s Word. As we have already seen, God’s Word is like ‘bread’ or food for our life and health. In other parts of Scripture it is likened to a seed (Lk.8:11), to fire (Jer.23:29), to a hammer (Jer.23:29), to a mirror (Jas.1:22-25) and even to water that helps to wash us and make us clean (Eph.5:26). We’re going to use the word SOAP as an acronym (3)
for reading God’s Word devotionally – so we can hear his voice, get to know him and do what he tells us.
Some More Practical Tips:
- S – Scripture. We begin by reading the Bible text (or listening to an audio version). Eugene Peterson says, “The written word has the potential to resurrect the speaking voice and the listening ear.” Begin by choosing a translation you find easy to understand. The Bible is meant to be readable as it is. It is not a book of secret knowledge accessible only to the academic elite. It is written plainly for plain men and women. Recommended translations include the New International Version and the New Living Translation or a paraphrase such as The Message Bible . Use a plan and over time read the whole Bible – Old and New Testaments.
- O – Observation. As you read, begin asking yourself some questions such as, “What does it say?” and “What does it mean”? Think about what the Word says – mediate on the words and seek to enter into the world of the text. Meditation (see Ps.1:2 and 63:6) is a bit like a dog going to work on a bone. The Bible is clear, but we must discover what it meant then and there before we can understand what it means here and now . Otherwise we can easily misinterpret or wrongly apply the Scriptures (see 2 Tim.2:15. 2 Pet.3:16. Acts 17:11). Sometimes the Scriptures need explaining, like Jesus did to the disciples on the way to Emmaus (Lk. 24:13-32). Some good tools include a good study Bible (like The NIV Study Bible ), an atlas and a Bible dictionary.
- A – Application. Next is to ask “How does this apply to my life?” Reading and studying are great, but the purpose of these exercises is to apply God's Word to our lives. Put it into practise. Be a doer of the Word by obeying what it says (Jas.1:22-25). Use God’s Word as a mirror - a tool to see a reflection of your life in God's eyes. Then make the necessary adjustments. What is God saying to me here and now ? God’s Word contains that way to life - God’s thoughts about every area of life. Obedience is the ultimate act of worship (Jn.14:15, 24).
- P – Prayer. Pray the text – answer the God who is speaking to you. The Bible has to do with you. God’s Word is addressed to you – you are the one being spoken to. Share your heart with God.
Sample Discussion Questions
- Find the right place where you can be free from distractions.
- Find the best time. Morning is often best, as it sets the course for your day. Give God the first part of every day.
- Ask the Holy Spirit to help you and teach you (Jn.14:26).
- Use a notebook or journal to write down what God says to you. Keep a record of it and follow it up.
- Start small and seek to establish the daily habit of Bible reading. Reinforce it daily over and over until it becomes part of your lifestyle. Don‘t get discouraged if you drift. Simply get back on course. A little done consistently over a long period of time is more beneficial than a lot done sporadically.
- Have everyone share a time when God spoke to them out of their Bible reading. What did he say and what did it feel like to hear from God in this way?
- What are the benefits of God giving us a book to read? What are some of the challenges or dangers?
- Discuss the benefits of different Bible translations and have people share what their favourite is and why.
- Select one or two Bible passages and follow the SOAP devotional reading idea as a group as part of your meeting (e.g. Phil.2:14-16 or Psalm 23). Give people 10 minutes to write out or think about their observations and application ideas. Then have a time of sharing followed by prayer.
- Explain the Bible reading plan we are encouraging the church to get involved in beginning on December 1st. Information and resources are in the church magazine (December/January edition), on the church web site (under ‘Resources’) and in the Journals which are available for purchase for only $2.00.
From the book Simply Christian – Why Christianity Makes Sense by N.T. Wright (Harper Collins Publishers: San Francisco, CA, 2006).(2)
These thoughts are from Eugene Peterson’s book Eat this Book – A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading (William Eerdmans Publishing: Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2006).(3)
This idea is from Wayne Cordeiro, Senior Pastor of New Hope Church in Honolulu, Hawaii.