Engaging with the Bible (September 2016)

Later this month (15th September at 7.30pm) there will be an important event at the cathedral to launch a year-long initiative for all of us to further develop our Bible reading.  Please do make every effort to attend this, at 7.30pm on Thursday 15th September. In preparation for that, I thought it would be good to focus on engaging with the Bible.  © Phil Collins, Ph.D., 2014. This material was created in partnership with the Taylor University Center for Scripture Engagement and published on BibleGateway.com.

There is much research to show that the way churches grow in their walk with God, is through regular prayer and bible reading.  So, if we want our church to grow, we each of us have a responsibility to make sure we are reading our bible regularly.  The Scriptures are so vital to spiritual growth because they are living and active (Hebrews 4:12-13), give freedom (James 1:25), make truth known (Psalm 19:7-11), and equip for service (2 Timothy 3:16-17). All this and more is true, but perhaps the most important reason is based on the simple description that the Bible is “God’s Word.” Every time we come to the Bible, we can meet and know God. Engaging the Bible is about coming into a relationship with it, and therefore, coming into a relationship with God.

So what is Scripture engagement? It is a way of hearing and reading the Bible with an awareness that it is in the Scriptures that we primarily meet God.  It is a marinating, mulling over, reflecting, dwelling on, pondering of the Scriptures, resulting in a “transformative engagement” with God. Besides “Scripture engagement,” phrases that have been used to convey the same idea include "holy attention", “spiritual reading,” “participatory reading,” “formative reading,” and “existential reading”.

How do you tend to approach the Bible when hearing it or reading it for yourself? Take a minute and consider honestly what your attitude tends to be and what you actually do. When you’re done, ask yourself if your attitude and process is helping or hurting your Scripture experience.

Now that you’ve considered your current method, how do you think we should approach the Bible? The foundational premise of Scripture engagement is that when you engage the Bible, you engage God. Spiritual reading of the Bible is a relational process; we primarily read to meet and know God. We should approach the Bible the same way that we would want to approach God. 

Here are some simple suggestions for preparing yourself to meet God as you engage with the Scriptures:

  • Pick a time: Set aside a specific amount of time in your weekly calendar to engage the Bible. Just like in any relationship, you have to spend time with God to know him. This is probably the biggest downfall for more people than anything else in the whole process of Scripture engagement: we just don’t make the time. As the saying goes, “We don’t plan to fail, we fail to plan.” Check your motivation here. Make time because of the joy that comes when you actually get to come close to God. Setting up time to meet with God is not a “should and ought,” it is a “I get too!”

  • Pick a good time: Make your time with the Bible a “prime time” of your day—not when you are the most exhausted or distracted. God calls us to give him our “first fruits,” our best, not our leftovers.
  • Pick a place: Go wherever you naturally go when you want to focus on something important. For some this will be a quiet place, for others a busy place. Some like to have music playing. Going into a specific room for your reading and praying is a practice that Jesus encouraged. You know yourself, do what works.

  • Get rid of distractions: Get rid of as many things as you can that usually distract you. Be honest here; what is likely to take your mind away from engaging the Bible? Our world seems to be designed to distract us from focusing on almost anything, but with diligent effort, you will grow in your attention to the Bible.
  • Quieten your heart: Take the first minute or two of your time with the Bible and just think about what you’re going to do. You are coming to God’s Word to meet him. 
  • Pray: Briefly ask God to teach you, to meet you, and to bless your time in his Word. Ask for the Holy Spirit to illuminate the passage for you.  Commit to God that, with his strength, you will obey what you read.
  • Start: It is better to start small and continue the practice than to start with huge goals, get disappointed, and stop. Something is better than nothing!  (As time goes on, you can try the different scripture engagement practices that will be described).  
  • Keep moving: If you get distracted or tired, don't worry or criticize yourself. Guilt won’t keep you motivated very long. Simply bring your mind back to the passage and start reading again.

The key lesson is that as Christians it is really important for us to be regularly – daily - reading some of the Bible.   So, may all of us keep persevering with it!

Tina Upton


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