Today begins our twelfth national conference, and we are here at the Minneapolis Convention Center. It’s also our final national conference. Bittersweet. We’ve had a great response, and every hotel in downtown Minneapolis is filled up. It should be a really wonderful weekend. The conference is titled “Look at the Book: Reading the Bible for Yourself.” The fun begins this afternoon with seminars from Jerry Bridges, Nancy Guthrie, Ben Stuart, Jon Bloom, Jason Meyer, and others.
This evening, Pastor John, you will deliver a message titled “Scripture: The Kindling of Christian Hedonism.” If you cannot make it to Minneapolis, the conference will be livestreamed as well. Speaking of reading the Bible for ourselves, we have a question from a frustrated podcast listener who asks, “Pastor John, I’ve read the Bible, and a lot of it just doesn’t make sense to me. Why should I keep reading, if I don’t feel like I know enough to understand it?” What would you say, Pastor John?
Stuck in the Deep End
Well, I don’t want this person to go on reading without understanding. So I resonate. I love poetry, and I buy volumes of poetry, and I go online and read poets. But if I pick up a new author that I have never read before — and I have done this maybe three times the last six months — and I try about ten poems, and none of them makes any sense to me at all, I am going to lay the book down. I am. I get it. I get this. I am not going to keep reading the book, you know, for poem after poem after poem that is meaningless to me.
“The Bible has so much to give, and what it has to give can be found only in the Bible.”
But something else might happen, right? Someone who knows this author way better than I do might come along and say, “Oh, you read those ten. Don’t start there. Those are the most obscure, the most difficult poems he ever wrote. There is a whole world of poems that he has written that are clearer and really interesting and really helpful. Here, start here, and maybe you will even catch on to the way he uses language, and maybe someday those forms will make sense.” In other words, someone might rescue me from throwing away a great poet because I stepped into the deep end of the pool, and it went over my head right away.
So, what I would like to do is help this person get over the hump of feeling like the Bible is over their head or from another planet or just totally irrelevant. The real answer to the question of Why press on? is this: it is worth it. The Bible has so much to give, and what it has to give can be found only in the Bible. If you turn away from it, it can’t be found anywhere else. And nothing can compare to it. So Psalm 19:10–11 really is true:
More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
That is what I want for everybody who looks at the Bible and finds it to be too hard or confusing or irrelevant. This is not true. It is better than gold, better than silver, better than honey, great reward. And so I want people to hang in there, because in the Bible we find truth that will save us eternally (1 Timothy 4:16).
We find truth that liberates us from sin and Satan. We find truth that gives peace with God. We find truth that empowers holiness and love, truth that sustains in the hardest times. It really is the greatest book in the world, because it is the only book inspired by God Almighty, the Creator of the universe, and the only one that can make us wise unto everlasting life. So, here is my encouragement. I want to give six simple steps for this discouraged Bible reader to try.
Six Steps for Discouraged Readers
1. Make sure you have a modern translation that is readable, like the ESV or the NIV.
2. Make sure you are in a church where the pastor explains passages from the Bible every Sunday. That is what preaching is. It should be. If you are not in a church where the Bible is explained, you probably need another church, where you can be in a small group where folks talk about these things and you can ask all your questions about the Bible.
3. Get a good study Bible, like the ESV Study Bible, because in a study Bible, there are these notes at the bottom of the page that answer a lot of your puzzling questions and give guidance for newcomers who aren’t making sense out of it right away.
4. Read carefully and slowly, trying even to write the passage. I don’t mean write out the long stories in the Old Testament. I mean, if you are stumbling over verses or a paragraph in the letters or in the Gospels, try writing it down.
“God loves to make his Son known. He sent him into the world at the cost of his life so that he could be known and loved.”
5. A little self-advertisement here: Join us online for Look at the Book episodes that are going to go public at our national conference and be online at least by October 1. They will be there for me to help guide you through texts that I hope will instill habits of reading in you that will make the Bible live and will make it understandable for you.
6. And the last thing would be to pray. Pray for God to give you light. God loves to make his Son known. He sent him into the world at the cost of his life so that he could be known and loved. He is not interested in holding back from you the light that he gave with his Son and gave with his word.