I Read the Bible and Feel Nothing — What Should I Do?
We close the week with a very commonly asked question on the minds of many Christians. It’s a question you, Pastor John, are asked a lot on the road, and it’s one of the most common questions we get from our listener emails. Here it is: If I read my Bible but I don’t feel anything in my affections that resonates with the worth, the value, the preciousness, the beauty, the pleasures of what those words are supposed to communicate, is there anything I can do next? Or do I just have to wait and let the experience happen to me in the future? How do you answer?
I am so glad for the question because it is something that I have been thinking about recently. I have been meditating on a section of the book of Proverbs, and I think this section is introduced by the inspired writer precisely to answer that question.
The section runs from Proverbs 22:17–24:22. If you look at Proverbs 22:20, it says, “Have I not written for you thirty sayings?” Now those thirty sayings are found in groupings. Some Bibles break the groupings out for you. So every time a new theme starts, there is a new saying, and there are thirty of them in this unit. Verse 17 is where they start, and it says, “Incline your ear, and hear the words of the wise.” So these are usually entitled “The Words of the Wise.”
Now what is so important about this is that I think the first two verses, or the first three verses perhaps, in this new section of thirty sayings are written precisely to answer the question that we have just been given; namely, How do you hear these words and how do you feel appropriately?
Let me read Proverbs 22:17–18.
Incline your ear, and hear the words of the wise,
and apply your heart to my knowledge,
for it will be pleasant if you keep them within you,
if all of them are ready on your lips.
Notice two things. The first line says, “Incline your ear, and hear the words of the wise.” So clearly the point there is that words are being spoken and you should lean in, incline your ear. So literally if you can’t hear them, what do we do when we can’t hear? We kind of lean forward. We press in closer.
But we do that with our attention as well. If you are reading words or if you are hearing words and the words are just going by, he is saying: “Don’t let them go by. Don’t let any of the words go by. Attend meticulously, carefully, attentively to the words themselves, because the words are going to form knowledge in your mind.”
The next line says, “Apply your heart to my knowledge.” So knowledge is what forms in the mind some idea — some communication of something valuable or precious or important or wise that he is going to communicate — coming through the medium of words that hit your ear, go inside, and produce knowledge.
Then here it comes: the effect is that “it will be pleasant.” And I take it that the heart is the organ of pleasantness or pleasure. And that is what the question is, right? How can I experience pleasure in appropriate admiring and valuing and treasuring and loving and embracing and enjoyment and satisfaction in what I perceive through the words? And he says that the way you do it is apply your heart.
Now I am going to talk for just a minute or two about what that means. But just know that this writer, this inspired writer, is answering your question with a yes. Is there something you can do to move from ears attending to words and mind grasping knowledge to your heart experiencing pleasantness of what is within? Is there anything you can do? And his answer is yes. And the words he uses are “apply your heart to what your ear has heard and the knowledge that is forming in your mind.”
What does that mean? I have it here right in front of me on my screen tashit, the Hebrew verb for “apply.” Balibbcha tashit means “apply your heart,” or literally, “put” or “set” or “stand” or “place.” So you take your heart and you push it. You place it into what you have seen with your eyes or heard with your ears. You push the nose of your heart in the beauty of the knowledge.
If the heart is not feeling anything, you say to your heart, “Heart, wake up!” And you take hold of the heart and you apply. You push it. You place it in the knowledge. You push on it. There is something you can do.
Keep Tasting and Seeing
Here is an analogy. Suppose you would like to taste a steak. You can hear it sizzling on the grill outside. So you go outside, and then your eyes see the steak sizzling on the grill. And if you get close enough, your nose may smell the steak sizzling on the grill, and yet there is still no taste in your mouth of that steak.
Is there anything you can do? That is the question. It really is the question. Is there anything you can do with the “steak of God,” with the “steak of Christ,” with the “steak of salvation,” with the “steak of the word of God” — the word of the infinite Creator God? Is there anything you could do to taste it?
You know what the answer is: you take a knife and you cut off a piece and you put it in your mouth and you chew and you chew, and then you swallow and you taste. So you say to your heart, “Eat, heart. Eat, heart.”
Let me give some more examples. I am walking to church. It is October. This happened in the last two weeks. The leaves on the trees in my neighborhood are unbelievably bright with yellow and orange, and the sun was shining, and it was a more mild October than usual — around sixty degrees. The leaves are flickering, and it is absolutely stunning.
But I am walking to church to a prayer meeting and not noticing anything. My eyes are seeing it, and I am not seeing it. What has to happen? I pause. God’s grace causes me to pause. This podcast right here causes me and you to pause. You look at it and you look at it. You lean in and you say, “Heart, that is orange. That is yellow. They were green, and now they are orange and yellow and gold, and the sun is making them bright. And they are waving at you with the breeze, and God is trying to get your attention, and he is saying, ‘The glory of God is shining here.’ Look, heart.” And you push the nose of the heart up into the tree.
When I came home several days ago, there were two or there afternoons that were so stunning I would look out my window and say, “Whoa.” Then I would get up, go downstairs, and I would walk under the tree and look up. Then I walked across the street and looked back. Then I got out my camera and tried to get some different shots. Then I walked around the side of the house to see what it looked like from that angle.
Apply Your Heart
This is the pushing of the heart into the gold of natural revelation. You do the same thing with the word of God. A diamond is offered you. You see the diamond, but you don’t see the diamond, and you say to your heart, “Heart, move around this diamond. Look at the diamond from that side and look at the diamond from that side.”
And when a born-again person is doing the second half of Proverbs 22:17— “apply your heart to this knowledge, apply your heart, apply your heart” — you can’t help but turn it into prayer. When you are preaching to your heart and you are saying to your heart, “Come on, heart, wake up. Come on, heart, look at this. Come on heart, feel this. This is beautiful. Wake up, heart,” instinctively you are praying. You are not just talking to your heart — though you are talking to your heart, because that is what the text says to do: apply your heart. But you are also praying, “God, help me. God, open my eyes.”
So, may I suggest that even if you listen to this right now and you say, “I have tried that, and it doesn’t work” or, “I don’t even know what you are talking about,” may I urge you, may I plead with you? You may be such a novice at this, like a little child who knows nothing about sex. You choose an analogy. You may be such a novice at this that you need practice. Please, don’t give up. Don’t say that you are beyond the capacity to feel the beauty of the knowledge of God in the Bible and the knowledge of his ways. This text is God’s word to you. Apply your heart.