We are living in a time of constant change. All around us our cultures and sub-cultures are fluxing and morphing before our eyes. Our world is desperate for people who are able to represent and stand for the deeper realities that do not change. God is still the same God, His plans are still the same plans and He is still what this world needs. So the world needs us. It needs us if we know Him. It needs us if we are able to represent Him.
Somehow, in the increasingly hectic whirlwind of contemporary society, many of us have lost touch with what we need most at this time. If we are to represent God. If we are to truly know God, then we need to be people with a passion for knowing Him. We need to be people with a passion for His self-revelation – the Bible. In a previous century, in a different time, John Wesley cried, “Oh, give me that book! At any price give me the book of God. Let me be a man of one book!” He changed his world.
Many today react against that kind of fervent passion. “It’s imbalanced! We need a more balanced approach.” So in this article I’d like to share my balanced approach to the Bible. It’s what you might describe as a call to radical balance. We need balance, but the kind shot through with radicality, not tinged with tepid nothingness. Now, as much as ever, maybe more than ever, our world needs us to have a radical balance in our passion for the Bible, a radical balance in our time in the Bible and a radical balance in our approach to studying the Bible.
A Radical Balance in Our Passion for the Bible
New studies are released all the time that tell what we have always known. A balanced diet is necessary for good health. Yet in our overly busy lives, a balanced diet often seems impossible. Note the increasing emphasis on dietary supplements, super foods and special pills. People think that taking a couple of pills each day will make up for a thoroughly imbalanced personal menu.
In the same way many believers act as if there is a supplemental pill of Bible intake to make up for an imbalanced spiritual menu. We consume the spiritual junk food of the world all day, then try to balance it with a few verses here and there, or a brief devotional thought.
We need to have a radical balance approach to the Bible. We need to pursue a more radical commitment to God’s Word. Consider the hours of messaging the world can direct at us each day. The television, movies, internet, advertising, not to mention the soap opera lives being lived all around us, usually without the false happy endings of the soap operas. We need to bring a balance to our souls. This takes more than a supplemental pill of Bible reading. It takes a radical commitment to God’s Word. Oh, give me that book!
As we commit chunks of time to being in God’s Word, we discover how great our God really is. As King David once wrote, we can taste and see that the Lord is good! (Psa.34:8) We read His Word and we discover Him. As we discover Him we find Him attractive, compelling, gripping. We give time to His Word and discover that He gives far more to us. He gives us Himself. As we read the written Word, we get to encounter the living Word of God.
A Radical Balance in Our Bible Time
So let’s say you commit a chunk of time to God’s Word. What do you do with it? On the one hand, we need to be reading the whole Bible. Yet on the other hand, we find ourselves hungry to dig in and chew over smaller chunks of text. I suggest a balanced approach.
AW Tozer once wrote that nothing less than a whole Bible can make a whole Christian. We need to feed on the whole counsel of God. The Bible is a great book and we should give some of our time to enjoying it. So take whatever time you give to God’s Word and divide it into two. The first half is what I refer to as the foundation. The foundation is simple – keep on reading through the Bible.
Start at the beginning and move rapidly through the Bible. Then start again. If you give 40 minutes of your day to personal time in the Bible, then you’ll want to give about 20 of those minutes to just reading the text. Cover to cover. In 20 minutes it is possible to move through quite a few chapters. In this time your goal is not retention of details. The goal is to get the big sweep of the Bible, to see the big picture. If you get to a long list of names, don’t labor through each pronunciation, just see that it is a list of names, skim it and keep moving. Remember, in foundation time you don’t want to try and retain loads of data. It’s like pouring water through a sieve: it retains very little, but it does get clean!
Then in the other half of your time, go deep. Use this time to soak in a specific part of the text. Charles Haddon Spurgeon once stated that he affirmed the value of reading several chapters of the Bible each day, but he also believed in the immense value of letting his soul soak in a few verses. “Oh, to be bathed in a text of Scripture, and to let it be sucked up in your very soul, till it saturates your heart!”
My suggestion is to build on the foundation one brick at a time. In the second half of your Bible time, saturate your soul in a chunk of Bible text. My preferred approach is to select a book of the Bible and study it. Which book? Whichever you are motivated to study. How? Using whatever Bible study skills you have. You might have a hunger for the book of James, which is just five chapters. Read it through multiple times. Graphically represent the flow of thought on paper. Write a song that presents the theology of James. Or in my case, I like to get to the point after 2-4 weeks where I can stand before the mirror and talk through the content of the book. However you study, try to let the book get a grip on your life, let it do its work in you.
I think it is important to put closure on this kind of study. After a few weeks have passed I find my motivation shifting to another book. Great! I’ll go there next. But first I want to put closure on my study of James.
Perhaps I talk to the mirror, or write a synopsis in my journal. Then I thank God for the time in the book and celebrate having gotten to grips with the book (or the book getting to grips with me). Too often we lose motivation and beat ourselves up. It is healthier to bring closure and celebrate completion of another chapter in our devotional lives. Another brick is laid on the foundation and we can move on successfully! (How often people feel disheartened by repeated failure in Bible reading – like looking back on a commitment to read the whole thing, then quitting in Leviticus because they were retaining nothing and getting bogged down trying!)
Time in God’s Word is not a duty hanging over us. It is a delightful privilege that can and will stir our hearts if we allow it to do so. A free evening or an early wake up is a “chance” to read God’s Word. Just as if you have a great book and some time, which you do! Once you get a taste for God’s Word you’ll be motivated to find ways to supplement your time each day. For instance, you can keep cranking through the text (the foundation reading), by listening on CD or MP3 while driving or working.
A Radical Balance in Our Bible Study
Studying the Bible is really complicated, isn’t it? I mean, isn’t it just for very qualified scholars who dwell in dusty libraries? Actually no. We can be thankful for those scholars since they produce helpful tools for us to use. But studying God’s Word is really as easy as 1-2-3. Actually, it’s easier than that. It’s as easy as 1-2.
Let’s say you give an hour to personal Bible time. In the first half you are reading through the whole Bible at a good pace. In the second half you are studying a book or subject that motivates you (it’s ok to take a subject now and then, when the motivation is there, but generally I would stick to choosing one book in the Bible at a time – God did give us 66 books, rather than a subject index!)
Whatever book you are studying, remember what I call the Bible study bridge. This is the 1-2 of Bible study. It’s simple, but many people undermine their Bible time by just doing 1, or, you guessed it, just doing 2. We need both for a healthy and radical balance in our Bible study.
Step 1 is to read the text and think “back then.” What did David mean by what he wrote in this Psalm? What did Paul intend to communicate in this paragraph to the Ephesian Christians? What was Solomon saying in that pithy little proverb? Whatever kind of text it is, look at a chunk of it and figure out what the author’s idea was in that chunk. What was he writing about, and what was he saying about what he was writing about. The first step in healthy Bible study is always to try to figure out the author’s idea in his context (at that point in history, and at that point in the book!)
Once you’ve got a fair grasp of what the author intended by the story he wrote, or the instructions he gave, then you can, and must, move on to step 2. Step 2 is critical. If that was the author’s idea in his context, what is the application of that idea in our context today? Sometimes the step over 2000 years of history and across languages and culture is clear. The whole Trinity was involved in their salvation to praise of His glory (Ephesians 1:3-14), so the whole Trinity was also involved in my salvation, so I should also praise the glory of His grace!
Sometimes the move from step 1 to 2 takes some careful thought. Israel was instructed to celebrate God’s goodness through annual feasts and festivals (Leviticus 23). Today what are the ways we can make sure we don’t forget what God has done for us? Perhaps communion? Perhaps a more “Christian” Christmas? Step 2 makes you think about applying the Bible in your own life today. That is critical to spiritual health.
Some people love application and quickly try to apply anything they read without understanding it first. Others love the history and process of interpretation so much that they never make a specific and real move over to applying that truth today. Both of these approaches is imbalanced and unhealthy. We need balance. We need 1. We need 2. The author’s idea in his context and the prayerfully applied idea in our context!
Conclusion: Go For It!
So there you have it. We need a radically balanced passion for the Bible. If it is to balance out everything else that pours in through our eyes and ears, then we need to give it more than a few minutes now and then. We need a balance in our times in the Bible. Give half of the time to washing your soul by pouring the Bible through it (fast read throughs, maybe getting through the whole thing in a few months!) Give the other half of your time to prayerful study of a specific book for a while. Soak in that book until that book soaks into you. We need a balanced approach to Bible study. When we take the time to study a book, be sure to first understand the author’s idea in that chunk of text, then follow through and consider the application of that idea in your situation right now.
When we get into God’s Word we taste and see that He is good! We develop an appetite for His Word because we have a passion for Him. Don’t fall into the false thinking that a few verses now and then is enough to bring balance to your life. Instead let us be committed to a radically balanced approach to the Bible. A radical passion for balanced Bible times using a balanced 1-2 study method. It’s simple, but it takes commitment. May God raise up a new generation of history changers – people as ordinary as you and I, people with a passion to read and study God’s Word, to know Him and to apply His Word in our lives!