Here’s Brad from Mt. Gilead, Ohio, who must be a Bible teacher or a pastor, because he asks: “Pastor John, can you, in your personal devotions, check the impulse to want to think about how to teach what you’re discovering in Scripture, in order to simply enjoy it personally and devotionally?”
I really enjoyed thinking about this question.
The first flag I want to wave is a flag that celebrates the inseparable nature of seeing glory and saying what we have seen. In other words, I am not sure that we should fret too much about the impulse of turning our seeing into saying. I wrote a whole book about this about a year or two ago, so it’s really important to me [see Seeing Beauty and Saying Beautifully]. I have thought a lot about it and I am eager to dive into this with Brad.
I have tasted the dangers and the glories of what Brad is talking about.
So we are reading the Bible. We see something new and fresh and amazing. We experience a flash of genuine enjoyment of what it shows us about God. And then there is an almost immediate impulse to begin shaping it for a conversation or an email or a devotional thought or a sermon or a lecture or a blog post or a poem or a tweet. I mean, this is real dangerous stuff. And it can feel in that moment as though we have lost the authenticity of our enjoyment of community with God in the truth we have seen. That is a real danger that Brad has put his finger on. I don’t want to minimize it. I want to agree. There’s danger here.
In fact, I think the danger — at least in my experience — is, first, that the impulse to plan to teach or restate in some way what I have seen, may reveal that my enjoyment is not really in the Lord himself at that moment, but rather in the intellectual process of making the discovery and in the impulse. Does that impulse reveal that insidious deception to me? It has served me well and I want to be on my face in repentance, pleading with God: Lord, deliver me from the bondage to that kind of intellectualism that finds more pleasure in the processes of intellectual discovery in the Bible than the glorious One we have discovered! So that is the first aspect of the danger as I have experienced it and I think Brad is describing.
The second part of the danger is that the impulse to turn my insights into, say, a teaching plan or a blog or something may signal that I crave recognition from an audience for what I have seen. So my pleasure is not so much in what I have seen as in the approval others are going to give me for seeing it. O, how hurriedly insidious and dangerous this is! If my impulse should teach reveals that to me, again, I am on my face. I am pleading: O God, deliver me from that kind of vainglory.
So Brad is right to be concerned about this, and I think there are steps we can take to minimize those dangers and maximize the benefits. And I will mention those in just a minute.
What I have discovered over the years is that I am helped to see more of God and more of his ways in the Word precisely by the impulse to turn seeing into saying. So this is the positive side now. It is not just dangers that come from this impulse. There are positive things. It is precisely the effort to find words — effective, compelling, awakening words — which bring greater clarity, greater depth to the first flash of insight. So that is the first positive thing.
Now I suspect the reason God set it up that way relates to the second positive dimension of this impulse; namely, that by its very nature, the enjoyment of God himself and all his ways is essentially centrifugal. In other words, as our minds circle and orbit around some glorious sight, some discovery about God and his Word, viewing it with joy from all the angles as we orbit the thing we have seen, the very circling of the mind to see the beauty of the truth tends to fling the mind outward where people are, so that they can be drawn into this orbit of seeing.
I think that belongs to the very nature of the truth of God, the very nature of God. He is not a privatistic God. He is a very public God. He is a displaying God, a communicating God, an expansive God. So it is not surprising to me that not only would our seeing become centrifugal almost immediately, but that he would design for that centrifugal impulse to become a way of seeing more. That seems exactly the way God would be.
And the third positive thing I would say about this impulse that Brad feels to teach something that he has seen almost immediately when he has seen it and enjoyed it, is this: The teaching or the writing is not a separate thing from the enjoyment of what we have seen, but is the overflow of it. It is the extension or the expansion of the enjoyment. So, teaching is not strictly a mere second step after enjoyment, but is an extension of the enjoyment itself.
Otherwise, I think teaching becomes inauthentic. And that can be a danger almost as great as the original inauthenticity of the enjoyment that that would be if we only had the enjoyment in order to teach it. So it cuts both ways. For teaching to be authentic, it must be an extension of that joy, I think. Otherwise, it is just not Christian teaching of glorious truth.
And the fourth observation that is positive about this impulse is that to aim at the building of faith, to aim at the refining of holiness, to aim at the empowering of mission in the lives of those we teach — those aims are organically, inseparably, essentially related to the expansion and extension of the enjoyment of God that we have experienced. This very enjoyment is what we want to happen in the world: more and more and more people coming to see and savor the glory of God’s grace. That is what faith is. That is what holiness is. That is what the mission is about.
So I will end here.
Here are the steps that I think Brad should take to minimize the dangers and maximize the benefits:
First, and he is already doing this, test your heart to see if you are enjoying God authentically and supremely, or if you are enjoying the process of discovering things about God more than you are enjoying God himself. So do a self-check.
Second, and this is the most practical thing I have found, pause repeatedly when meditating on the Scriptures and actually tell God how much you are enjoying what you have seen. Tell him. Talk to him about how good he is and beautiful he is and wise he is and just he is. Build into your meditation a time, for example, to sing to him.
Now I find this to be a great test of my soul. Am I in such a hurry to finish my reading and get on with saying it somewhere, or to read more, to get more insight, that I find it to be annoying to pause and sing to God about his goodness? Or am I ready to pause, ready to soak, ready to say to God, “You are better than anything”? This is a barometer of the temperature of my authenticity.
Third, when the mind is drawn out by the impulse to teach or speak or write or whatever — to say what you have seen — make sure that you view this not merely as a way of saying, but as a way of seeing more of God by saying. And make sure that all your teaching is the overflow, the authentic overflow, of your enjoyment.