Growing up, I didn’t like the Bible.
Seriously. I thought it was boring. I saw the Old Testament as nothing more than a long list of names I couldn’t pronounce and the New Testament was merely the same five or six stories over and over and over. I loved to read, but stories about concubines and animal sacrifice simply weren’t my taste. My engagement with scripture was surface level at best. I read enough to keep up in youth group, but I had no desire to study God’s word. I certainly didn’t care to apply it to my life.
For seven years in a row, my New Year’s Resolution was to read through the entire Bible. And for seven years in a row, February rolled around and I found myself adding to the long list of excuses why I just couldn’t make it happen this year.
I started reading the Bible once I got to Taylor, but not because I wanted to. The first weekend of college, my assignment was to read the Pentateuch. I had never even heard of such a thing (apparently, it’s the first five books of the Bible). I was thirteen hours into grumpily skimming over Leviticus when I realized that something in my engagement with scripture needed to change. I was interacting with the living and active word of the God who breathes galaxies and I couldn’t bring myself to enjoy it even a little. I ended up using SparkNotes for Numbers and Deuteronomy and suppressed any convictions I felt about running from the Word of God.
However, I quickly learned that the more time I spent avoiding God’s word, the worse my life was getting. As I continually avoided spending time reading scripture, my heart continued to get farther from the Lord. I relentlessly pursued desires of the flesh and found myself seeking my entire satisfaction from the things of this world.
One day, a professor mandated that our class memorize Psalm 119:9-11:
“How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”
Suddenly, God got a hold of my heart. I had been living in sin and relentlessly straying away from the path of purity. The reason? I was not living according to His word. My relationship with God was virtually nonexistent and I discovered that I felt so far from God because I was not putting any effort into hearing from him. Any relationship requires effort, and this is especially true of a relationship with God.
God communicates with us through scripture, but if we are not willing to put in that time in the word, we cannot possibly know God on a personal level. Finally fed up with my indifference to reading the Bible, I approached a well-known ministry professor at Taylor.
“Dr. Collins, why do you read the Bible?”
He didn’t hesitate. He didn’t even look up from his paper. “Because I want Jesus.”
That was all I needed. Those words were enough to prove that the only way to really experience the fullness of Jesus is through actively engaging with scripture. As I walked back to my dorm, I begged God to transform my heart and change the way I interacted with His word.
With the help of some close friends, I got involved with a process of meditative scripture engagement. I selected three main facets which ensure that we do so much more than simply read the Bible. Nothing has a bigger impact on spiritual growth than wholeheartedly reflecting on scripture, so it’s really important that we learn how to do that.
I am by no means a Bible scholar, nor do I have this skill mastered. However, I can honestly say that my relationship with Jesus has grown significantly stronger since I started really reading the Bible. If this is challenging for you, I encourage you to pick up any of these three practices:
1. Journaling scripture. This usually means that you write out a passage and allow your own personal experience to take the place of possessive pronouns. Can it be that the verses a psalmist wrote over a thousand years ago is the same desperate plea for salvation that you need to be writing yourself? It also means you write your own thoughts in response to the verses read. It could be in the margins, like a simple, “Amen!” or an entire journal entry on the way you are struggling to understand God’s timing. Journaling scripture as you read it makes it personal.
2. Praying scripture. My favorite thing about scripture is that it transcends time. It is never irrelevant, so we can always find a situation to apply it to. By praying scripture as you read it, you are in constant communication with God as He writes to you and you pray back to Him. Take Ephesians 3:14-21, for example. Why can’t we pray this same prayer over our church, and our friends, and our families? Sure, it might have been Paul’s prayer for the Gentiles, but there is no reason we can’t echo those same words as we pray for spiritual strength in our own lives.
Take verse 17, for example, and pray like this: “God, I pray that you may dwell in my family’s hearts through faith, so that we, the _____ family, may be grounded in love.” Paul wrote the prayer for us. We get the opportunity to echo His words to our Father.
3. Meditating on the words of scripture. This is a great way to keep scripture constantly running through your head, and it will make scripture memorization even easier (I could write a book on the importance of scripture memorization, but I only get one blog post so we’ll stay on track). It is important not to take words out of context, but focusing on one or two words at a time can be very beneficial for immediate application. It is crazy how easily these words get stuck in your head, and you’ll find yourself whispering them without even thinking about it. For example, I cling to Psalm 34:18, “the Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” I meditate on the words “the Lord is near to the brokenhearted.” Now, whenever I experience hard times or heartbreak, these words are automatic.
Scripture engagement is not easy, but it is absolutely vital if we want to have a flourishing relationship with Jesus. Pray that God will give you a desire to spend time actively engaging with His word. When I started praying for this desire, He started waking me up at 6am to spend time with him (maybe pray that he picks a little bit later time for you). I hope this helps with the way you engage with the God-breathed Bible! It is truly a treasure.