Three Things to Remember When You Read the Bible
You can never just read the Bible.
There is something deep happening. It’s something more glorious than the universe. Whether you open these pages before dawn, over midmorning coffee, or at the dinner table with family, whenever you read the Bible something miraculous is happening. After all, you are not just any ordinary person, and the Bible isn’t just any old book.
You are, if you are trusting in Jesus, a redeemed son or daughter of God. The Bible is his very word. And yet, as clear as this is to us on paper and in theory, it can easily slip our minds when we step in and out of the normal routine of daily Bible reading. But it doesn’t have to. It shouldn’t.
Practically, this gets down to the details of how we approach Scripture. In chapter nine of When I Don’t Desire God, John Piper introduces a helpful acronym of how to pray over our Bible reading. This acronym — I.O.U.S. — is taken straight from the Psalms and anchors our aim in reading by four explosive verbs: incline, open, unite, satisfy. I still have this prayer taped to my desk on the yellowed index card on which I first copied it. I have petitioned God for this work virtually everyday for the past decade.
Incline my heart to you, not to prideful gain or any false motive.
Open my eyes to behold wonderful things in your Word.
Unite my heart to fear your name.
Satisfy me with your steadfast love.
But then, there is actually something much more basic to remember before we get to this prayer. It is simple, very simple, but I think it recalibrates our hearts and stills the swirling of our minds, especially when we find ourselves in a rut. It thaws our coldness, it seems, and clears the table to focus our souls on the wonder of what we’re doing. It is remembering three straightforward truths: God, the text, and the reader.
This is obvious in many ways, but perhaps too often assumed — there is a God, he speaks through a Book, and he speaks to people like me.
There is a God.
This is first and foremost. God is real and mighty and intensely personal. In fact, he is God triune. He is the everlasting Father who has eternally loved his Son in the unceasing fellowship of the Spirit. Or as the Athanasian Creed puts it, “We worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in unity, neither blending his persons nor dividing his essence.”
And it is out of the fullness of this trinitarian relationship that everything in this world exists. He made it all, and he condescended to his creatures in a covenant, revealing who he is and promising to always act as he has shown himself to be. More than that, he stepped into this world himself in the person of Jesus Christ (John 1:14). All that God is dwelled in the man, Jesus (Colossians 2:9). To have seen Jesus was to have seen God (John 14:9). And right now, in the very moment of space and time when you hold the Bible in your hands, this Jesus is present with you by his Spirit. He is not distant and unconcerned with what you’re doing. He is working, listening, gladly leaning forward as the God who wants to be near you. Stop for a second then. Feel your heart beating. Take a deep breath. God is all over this. He is right here.
God speaks through his Book.
Yes, God speaks. That is how anything that was made was made. That is how he formed a people for himself. God spoke. He proclaimed his glory. He made known his ways. And in his infinite wisdom, he had his prophets and apostles write it down. He had what they wrote copied. He had what they copied preserved. He had what they preserved translated again and again and again. And right now, right before you in full-book form, in a language you can understand, is the word of God. These are the thoughts of God. These ancient words, nothing less and nothing more, is what God has determined to say to his people across all generations and cultures of this earth. You are holding it in your hands.
God speaks to people like me.
There is God; there is his incomparable Book, and then there’s me. Me? This great, mighty, wondrous God who speaks great, mighty, wondrous words speaks them to me. God showed the biblical authors profound depths into the mystery of Christ, insights hidden for ages, things into which angels longed to look, and now, when we read them, God shows us (Ephesians 3:3–4; 1 Peter 1:10–12). The God who talked to Moses face to face as a man talks to his friend still talks to his people (Exodus 33:11). And now, by his rich mercy, because Jesus loved me and has freed me from my sins by his precious blood and by grace made me part of his people, God talks to me (Revelation 1:5–6).
The one holding this book, sitting at this desk before God, is one who has been brought from death to life (Ephesians 1:4), one who was delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of Christ (Colossians 1:13–14), one who once was guilty but is now righteous (Romans 3:23–24), once defiled but now holy (1 Corinthians 6:11), once his enemy but now his child (Galatians 3:25). And God speaks to ones like this, ones like you and me.
This is as real as it gets. There is nothing more important or meaningful or relevant than for these three truths to converge, and for us to remember them: God, his Book, and his people.
You can never just read the Bible.
God speaks through the Bible to people like me.