More Than Just Raking

I’ll take a rake over a shovel any day.

Raking is relatively easy work and can make the yard look better in a short time. It’s easy enough that even our twin three-year-olds helped this fall, thanks to a pair of kids’ rakes from the neighborhood hardware store.

Raking may make my back a little sore the next day, but it’s nothing like the digging we did earlier in the year to prepare the front yard for a small retaining wall. Raking, even a lot of it, is reasonably painless. Digging, however, even just a small amount, can be backbreaking.

But moving earth can be gloriously rewarding. It can do a lot more to improve a yard than just collecting the leaves. Though my soft side still would take the rake anytime.

Digging in Divine Words

Which is why I need to periodically remind myself to slow down, bore in, and go deep when reading the Bible. No doubt, some Christians naturally incline to a slower gear, and they need the reminder to press for breadth, keep the larger context in view, and reflect on the big picture, not just individual verses as little lozenges for the soul.

But others of us tend to coast toward raking. It takes less energy, especially early in the morning before the coffee is kicking in, to just keep reading, skimming along the surface of the text, rather than slowing down, asking questions, and perhaps even capturing reflections in words or diagrams. In a minute flat, we can be done with another chapter and ready to check the box. It feels more challenging to pick up a pencil, or to open a laptop and go straight to an empty page for recording thoughts without getting sidetracked into email or social media.

Getting Better at Bible Study

For the Christian seeking to develop the ability to feed his soul with God’s words, there is simply no replacement for diving in daily. Yes, you can pick up some skills and techniques here or there, in a classroom or in a book on Bible study. But you don’t need seminary to feast regularly in the Scriptures. Most of the world’s best Bible readers and appliers have little formal training, if any.

It’s like any sport. There’s no substitute for getting yourself on the field, and in the game. You can only talk about it so long until the only way to really improve is to actually play. Listening to gifted, insightful preachers and teachers is critical. Using good references — like a good Study Bible, or Carson and Moo on the New Testament, or Longman and Dillard on the Old — provides important aid. But there is simply no stand-in for reading the Scriptures for ourselves, and doing so for the long haul.

Don’t Forget Your Shovel

And as we aim to feed ourselves daily from the inexhaustible pantry, we need a diet of both breadth and depth. There’s a place for reading the Bible in a year and a place for going deep in half a verse. It takes both an increasing sense of the big picture of Jesus’s rescue of sinners as well as a growing depth in the little pieces that make up that big picture for us to stay fresh in applying the gospel to our lives.

Without raking, we won’t have enough sense of the landscape to dig in the right places. And without digging, and making sure the banner of our theology is securely tethered to specific biblical sentences and paragraphs, our resources will soon dry up for feeding our souls with various textures and tastes.

Discover the Diamonds

In the introduction to Future Grace, John Piper celebrates the place of “unrushed reflection,” and asks the reader to make space for it.

O the riches of understanding that come from lingering in thought over a new idea — or a new expression of an old idea! I would like this book to be read in the same way that the apostle Paul wanted his letters to be read by Timothy: “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Timothy 2:7).

Every book worth reading beckons with the words, “Think over what I say.” . . . When my sons complain that a book is too hard to read, I say, “Raking is easy, but all you get is leaves; digging is hard, but you might find diamonds.” (page 10)

And if this is true for every book worth reading, how much more so God’s Book.