I want to begin with a rather fanciful hypothetical scenario – you have responded to an invitation and are sitting at a beautifully set table. When the banquet is served the food is both extremely tasty and nutritious. You are told that you are invited to another banquet in one week’s time. But, and there is a rather large but, no food will be served at this table until next week. What do you do? The solution is really quite simple, you prepare meals for yourself each day at your own home, or you arrange to go out or have Skip the Dishes deliver meals from your favourite restaurants. You may be scratching your head wondering if I have permanently slipped off the rails with this rather unlikely story. Here’s the point – every Sunday we are invited to a banquet of God’s Word. We are invited to worship through music, prayer, and hearing the Bible preached and explained. And we are invited to return each and every week. But here’s the catch – no matter how good the worship experience, no matter how filling and nutritious the preaching, they will simply not be enough to sustain us for the rest of the week. We will have to learn how to prepare our own spiritual meals for the remainder of the week. You can look at last week’s and this week’s posts as a spiritual cook book to help in preparing healthy and nutritious meals that can sustain you between Sundays.
Last week I suggested you try a word study and gave you the Greek word koinonia that is often translated as fellowship. I was encouraged and gratified by the responses I received from you, some electronically and some in person. There are other words you might want to explore. How about the word baptize or baptism? You may want to do a character study. Probably best not to start with the headliners like Moses, Abraham or Paul. It might be easier to start with some of the lesser lights. Look at the books of the Minor Prophets and see if their name appear anywhere else in the Old Testament. How about the apostles that don’t get much ink in the New Testament like Nathaniel, or Judas, not Iscariot. They can each teach us things about how to successfully live the Christian life. Many years ago, I preached a sermon from the genealogy of Jesus as recorded in book of Matthew, looking only at the women who are named there. Pretty interesting group of women. And remember that Jesus was the only person who was able to pick His own family tree.
I want to move to another group of tools we can employ while interacting with the Word of God. My first bit of advice is to always begin with prayer. I acknowledge that ultimately God is the author of the book, and it is always best to approach the author to ask what He meant rather than speculating. I like to recite a prayer from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer that is prayed every year on Bible Sunday. I am not suggesting that there is some special power in these words or that anyone else use them, but they encapsulate my attempt to engage God as I open His word. “Blessed Lord, who has caused all holy scripture to be written for our learning, help us so to hear, read, learn, mark and inwardly digest them that we may embrace and forever hold fast the hope of everlasting life that You have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ, who is alive and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.”
There is great value in reading large portions of scripture each day. I have undertaken the task of reading the entire Bible in one year, on a number of occasions. You can simply read it from any translation you like. Many organizations print plans for this kind of exercise. If reading is difficult for you, try listening to the Word of God. I have an app called You Version on my phone. It is free. It has a number of English translations as well many foreign languages. It has the advantage of having both the written word as well as audio forms as well. I like to walk, and I can plug in my phone and listen to the Bible as I walk. For a number of years, I have tried to read a different translation of the Bible each year.
If you want to be a little more thorough in your approach to the Bible, choose a book and work at studying it rather than simply reading it. You might want to start with the gospel of Mark. Most translations have the book divided not only into chapters and verses, but also into sections or stories. Mark 1:1-12 is entitled “John the Baptist Prepares the Way” in my Bible. Pray, then read the section in a number of translations, then paraphrase it, or write what you have read in your own words. After doing that, make note of any questions that have arisen in your reading. Discuss what you are learning with friends. After all of this you may want to read a commentary to see if your understanding is similar to the understanding of others who have also studied the same passage. I think it is best to wait till this point in your study before going to commentaries. The book of Ephesians fascinates me because Paul shares with us his understanding of the nature of the church or his ecclesiology which is what theologians call it. It has helped me a great deal in my understanding of the church and of my role as a pastor in God’s church.
Another great avenue for studying the Bible is in small groups and there are so many good resources out there. If you aren’t yet hooked up with Right Now Media you should consider it. I have heard Right Now described as Netflix for the church. Excellent Bible study videos with discussion questions are available. Studying the Bible with others is a great way to built yourself spiritually.
Finally, I want to share some resources that I have discovered over the years that have helped me. I enjoy good preaching and have listened to some of the best preachers of our generation. Bishop NT Wright is near the top of my list. So is David Jeremiah. I have enjoyed the marvelous story telling of Jamie Buckingham. Who are some of the preachers that have inspired you? There are some excellent books on hermeneutics which is just a fancy word for the study of interpreting the Bible. One of the best is called “How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth” by Fee and Stuart. I expect to hear from Fred who is probably a good friend of Gordon Fee’s. (Fred, I’d sure like to meet him.) Fee also delivered an excellent lecture at Regent College called Why Christians Read Their Bibles Poorly. I have contacted the college where the lecture was given asking permission to post it here. Will let you know if and when that permission is received. I would love to hear of the resources you have used in your study of the Word of God.
Until next week Keep the Son in Your Eyes.