Friday, February 20, 2015

How to Read the Bible? (Part 2)

SCRIPTURE: Psalm 119:25-29
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: February 18th, 2015

"My soul cleaves to the dust; Revive me according to Thy Word. I have told of my ways, and Thou hast answered me. Teach me Thy statutes. Make me understand the way of Thy precepts, so I will meditate on Thy wonders. My soul weeps because of grief; Strengthen me according to Thy Word. Remove the false way from me, and graciously grant me Thy law." (Ps 119:27-29)

Last week, I began this series of articles on how to read the Bible, with a look at modern media usage as well as how people tend to browse/scan works rather than actual reading of it. Compared with hard copies, research has shown that people's level of comprehension and understanding deteriorates upon switching to a digital platform. This week, I want to begin with reading proper, assuming that you the reader has decided on the best possible platform you will use for good, undistracted, and focused Bible reading. If you have chosen paper, good for you. If you prefer digital, at least, know the limitations, ok?

This week, I want to talk about reading the Bible for the busy person on the run. Before I begin, let me offer some preliminaries.

A) Some Preliminaries

First, select a reading plan. For those of us who are really "on the ball" or highly motivated to read a lot, you can start with either a one to three years plan. There are pretty good Bible reading plans if you just do a search on the Internet. The ESV one is quite good. The two-year plan from TGC is also good. If you prefer to take it slow, choose the three-year reading plan. The one from Moody is rather good. Alternatively, if you follow the lectionary, you can adopt the Years A, B, C plans which helps you read through the Bible in three years. In the Revised Common Lectionary, there are verses each day from both the Old and New Testaments. Here is one way in which you can use both digital and paper together in unison. Use the digital medium to store your Bible reading plan. Then read the paper version.
  1. For example, if you are using the lectionary, set your digital browser's HOME page to the RCL page here
  2. Keeping this digital page open, flip to the passages on your printed Bible.
  3. Read.

Second, choose a time and place. We live in a very distracted world. One of the most distracting things is the myth of multitasking. Granted, women "multitasked" better than men generally, it is still better for the soul to be singularly focused on letting the Word have priority over our time. It usually takes a while for the soul to be quietened down and ready for intentional Bible reading. I know of a colleague who would spend time each morning in his parked car, just reading and praying for an uninterrupted period of time. It could be as short as 10 minutes or longer. I recommend at least 15 minutes.

Third, read. If you are following a plan, take the time to read slowly. Do not rush. Initially you will feel a little strange. You will be tempted to check your phones or social media updates. Don't yield to the temptation. Let the phone chill while you focus on being still.

In spiritual formation, learning to read Bible passages slowly and with patience is crucial. We do not read the word to mine information. We read in a manner to let the Word mind us. This calls for biblical meditation. According to the Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms, "lectio divina" is defined as "Meditative reading of Scripture that leads to prayer." Others have also called it meditative reading. The key point is such reading enables us to focus on God rather than on the needs of men. It enables us to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. It allows us to let the Word be the Word and let us be under the Word. Eugene Peterson expresses it well:

"It means not only reading the text but also meditating on the text, praying the text, and living the text."

B) Meditative Reading For People on the Run

Rather than to provide meditation examples for people with lots of time, I want to consider the way meditative reading can be done for busy people. We cannot run away from a busy life. As long as we are connected and contactable, it is not easy to escape the reaches of the world. Who on earth is not busy? Surely, Jesus himself was busy. He had so many people to heal, so many teachings to share, and so many miraculous works to do. Moreover, he had twelve disciples to spend time with. If there is any one person who needed a break more than anyone of us, it had to be Jesus. One thing is for sure. Jesus did not wait for free time to come. He carved out time to be with God. He made time. He kept to his time.

Jesus' ministry was powered by God's Word. We note how quick He was able to support His actions with the backing of Holy Scriptures. We see how Jesus was able to resist the world and to make sure the world did not interfere with his plans.

"And when day came, He departed and went to a lonely place; and the multitudes were searching for Him, and came to Him, and tried to keep Him from going away from them.

But He said to them, 'I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose.'"

Jesus is one person who is busy but remembers His priorities. If it is the work of God, surely it is more important to receive instructions and convictions first from God. Without the clear instructions from God, what then should He preach? Without the empowering of the Holy Spirit, how then should He work? Without the sensitivity to the timing of God, how then would He know when to move forth and when to retreat? Spiritual discernment is borne out of meditative reading.

Psalm 119 is a classic psalm that is dedicated to meditative reading on the Word. It is the A-Z of how one loves the Word of God. Eight verses are dedicated to each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. With 22 alphabets, there is a total of 176 verses in all. Some commentators have even subdivided the entire Psalm into five parts, which parallels with the Pentateuch. For me, each time I look at Ps 119, I cannot help but be amazed at how the Psalm evokes inner responses.

Ps 119:25 reminds me of my true nature. That I am mortal. That my flesh is bound for the dust. The day will come when I would have to say goodbye to this world. Death will come if not sooner, then later. We need revival to things that are out of this plain world. We need to be reminded of the promise of God toward eternity. We need God's Word to point us forward, to revive us inward, and to encourage us onward. Ps 119:26 is surprising, as it is about the psalmist's confession followed by an acknowledgement from God. How wonderful it is to know that God answers even as we confesses. How does God communicate with us? Primarily through the Word. If that is God's primary channel, should we not spend more time in the Word? If our hearts long for God, we need to be generous with our time to read. Like a fish that is out of water, we long for the living waters of Word after a day out in the desert plains.

C) Three Suggestions for Meditative Reading

Many of us have good intentions and great plans to serve God. That is good. What is necessary is to be able to let the Word of God lead and empower us. Reading the Bible well does not mean we need to be experts in theology. It simply means we let the love for the Word guide us. It is this love that would find ways for us to improve on our reading. There are three ways I can suggest for a better reading of the Word.

1) Memorization

People on the run can be too tired at the end of the day to even bother to read. They may be too anxious to begin the day at the morning rush. Whatever available time slot, they can only read a small portion of Scripture. That's ok. Just read what you can. It's better to read and remember one verse than to read a passage and forget whatever you have read. I believe memory verses will serve us very well. In keeping the Word of God in our hearts, we can let the Spirit teach us through the day.

2) Repetition

Another way to develop meditative reading for people on the run is to read the same verses/passages over and over again. Maybe, for a certain week, just keep reading the same passage. Repetition increases familiarity. Familiarity enables us to detect nuances of the verses. With repetition, we not only develop a familiarity with the Word, we can improve our memorization skills too.

3) Slowly

One of the tendencies of a busy person on the run is the desire for efficiency and speed. Do more things in less time. Accomplish double the things with half the resources. Faster, bigger, better, are all symptoms of such a lifestyle. When it comes to meditative reading, short and slow is best.

THOUGHT: "Serious meditation as the goldsmith with his metal, he heats it and beats it, turns it on this side and then on that, fashions it on both that he might frame it to his mind. Meditation is hammering of a truth or point propounded." (Thomas Hooker)


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