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How to Study the Bible, Part I

28 September 2007

Some of the guys in the men’s group of which I am a part have voiced their frustration at not being able to study the Bible “well.” They look at a few of the other guys in there who have a steady “devotional life” (whatever that means), and they say, “I wish I could study the Bible and get something out of it, glean the insights that you guys are able to glean. But I can’t. How do you do it?”

It’s generous for them to say it to us, and we take their well-intended point, and I don’t mean to pick nits. (You can hear what’s coming, right? If you said, “the conjunction from h*ll,” you can go to the head of the class.)


…I wonder if they’re even shooting at the right target. I mean, insight is great; wisdom is a wonderful thing; and knowledge is a tremendous asset. Or at least I’ve heard that they are. And the “eureka” moments when the light comes on? Wow, what an incomparable thrill.

To study the Bible rightly, we need to start at the beginning. And that’s where Part I of this series begins: at the beginning.

“The fear of the Lord,” the Solomonic tradition said, “is the beginning of wisdom.”

If the objective of study is insight, or wisdom, or knowledge or any other thing, the cart is before the horse. We don’t start with wisdom. We start with cultivating a healthy reverence for the Creator and Sustainer and Lord of all things. Call it “fear,” because that’s what it is. It is, before it is anything else, a recognition that I am in submission to an unfathomably powerful Being. It is an act of the will that bows the knee of the heart and affirms – not just admits, grudgingly – that I am inferior. And if I am inferior, then I need to be changed. If I want to be perfect, I have to be changed. And I have to be changed by a Being who is greater than I am. And I come to the Scriptures with that affirmation fresh in my mind and heart, an affirmation that drives me to my knees.

What a joy it is to coach elementary-aged children in the Beautiful Game, soccer. But sometimes it’s not such a joy, especially when a hotshot kid full of talent just will not trust me. He knows the game better than I do, and so he will not do the drills, or if he does, he does them half-heartedly, joking around with the other kids and distracting them from what they need to do. Did you see The Karate Kid? He thinks he can go straight to full-contact karate with the kicks and the blocks and the punches and the swirling dervishness of the black belt. (You and I both know the truth: he’d get killed in there against those snarling brutes.) In a word, he’s not coachable.

It’s just another way of saying that he’s unwilling to submit. He’s proud. He has his agenda. He wants to run freely to pursue that agenda, and he wants to do it now. But that’s not the way it works.

In later posts we’ll explore these ideas further with the help of the Apostle Paul. God just might be willing to take us where we are, full of spit and vinegar and ambition, and make us students anyway if it suits his purposes. But I find little reason to expect that to be the case, and little Scriptural justification for suggesting that we test him on it. Better, I think, to come to Scripture on our knees. Let’s lay aside the self-serving agendas of gaining insight, accruing wisdom, stockpiling useful and interesting and impressive knowledge. Let’s lay aside the ambition and the desire to tell the Potter how the clay ought to be formed.

Let’s be coachable.

Now: what does that mean to you? How empty a slate can you imagine bringing to the Lord? Let’s hear some concrete things we can lay down before Jehovah in prayer.


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