We have about a half dozen emails from listeners asking a very similar question, and it’s essentially this: Must we always come away from our Bible reading with a life principle or a specific point of application every time?
Yeah, I feel pretty strongly about this. The answer is no. And here is why I feel strongly about it. I would say probably 99 percent of our lives is lived without immediate reflection upon a life principle. Rather, we just act. If you think about your day there are maybe a hundred big decisions you make in a day. And by “big” I just mean “conscious.”
But right now, I am just talking to you. I am just choosing words. Before every word I am not stopping and saying, “Now, what principle is going to govern this word, and what principle is going to govern this sentence?” They are just kind of tumbling out of me right now.
Well, that is scary. Right? Where did they come from? Most of our lives are lived spontaneously. Most of our lives are not lived after ten seconds of reflection on a biblical principle. So where do they come from? They come from being a kind of person.
And that raises the question, how do you become a kind of person so that you are a good tree that bears spontaneous good fruit instead of a bad tree that bears spontaneously bad fruit? And the answer is you soak in the Scriptures and you let your sight of Jesus and your taste of Jesus and his ways in the Bible affect and shape your soul. Your soul marinates in the sauces of grace until the soul is made soft and tender and supple and sensitive to the leadings of the Holy Spirit so that in a kind of spontaneous way, it responds.
Bible-Reading for an Astonished Heart
Jesus said we will be called to account for every idle word that we speak. Now, idle words are words spoken before you have a chance to think on any biblical principle that you have gotten from your text in the morning. So I think people who are bent on trying to get three principles or three points or something and then try consciously to follow them during the day are trying to do something impossible that we were never designed to do.
Piper: “A godly life is lived out of a heart that is just astonished at grace—so go to the Bible to be astonished.”
I would put it like this. A godly life is lived out of a heart that is just astonished at grace — “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.” So we go to the Bible to be astonished. We go to the Bible to be amazed at God and amazed at Christ and amazed at the cross and amazed at grace and amazed at the gospel. And when we are stunned and amazed and humbled, we walk out of our study or our chair or wherever we are having devotions, and there’s a spirit and a flavor about us that makes us a better person at the kitchen table and when we go to work.
All that just to say I am not opposed to principles. Good night, I write books in which I am trying to do things so they are helpful to meditate on. But that is the key: meditating on truth shapes the soul. 2 Corinthians 3:18 says that we become what we behold. So my goal in reading the Bible is mainly to become a kind of person. Don’t amass a long list.
Seeking a Spirit-Molded Subconscious
Pastor John, do you think it is appropriate to talk about the subconscious here? Is it right to say we live out the Christian life through an informed, Spirit-filled subconscious?
Piper: “Whenever I pray I am pleading with God, ‘Work down deeper than I can get in my reading right now.’”
Yes. That is basically what I was trying to say, that most of our life is lived from resources that are not presently reflected on in our mind. Our words are coming from inside — “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person” (Matthew 15:18). And most of that heart is unconscious or subconscious and that is shaped day by day by what we are taking in. It is shaped by what we do with our eyes on the computer, and it is especially shaped by what we do with our Bibles and our prayer.
Whenever I pray I am pleading with God, “Work down deeper than I can get in my reading right now. Take your scalpel, and don't just deal with the sins I am aware of: go be a surgeon.” Surgeons put you to sleep, and they go in to places on your body you don’t know anything about and work on you. That is what God has to do with us. So, yes I think the subconscious is being worked on by the Holy Spirit all the time.