Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Reading the Bible

Jeremiah 31:3-4
I did it. I read the whole Bible cover to cover. Not in order but I have read all 66 books in about a year and a half. The first book I read was 2 Timothy and the last book I read was Jeremiah. Random, right? But I got the message, I soaked up as much of God’s Word as I could during that time and I am forever changed.
I had two fears about reading the Bible before I started. The first fear I had was that there would be this huge expectation of me and my Biblical knowledge. I realized quickly this fear was absurd, because no matter how many times we read the Bible, we are not done. God is still working on our hearts and our minds. We are constantly being molded in our lives, circumstances change us and God changes our responses to our circumstances, so the Bible is not a once and done kind of thing. God’s Word is living; it as applicable today as it was then. It is unchanging but people are ever-changing so soaking in the same passage during different times of life can make the passage be understood differently.

The second fear was I would feel so condemned. I’ve been going to church all my life; I’ve seen the looks, I’ve heard the “prayer requests,” I know what religious folks think of certain things. I’ve also heard how church people talk about the different people in the Bible and to be honest I pictured this squeaky-clean version of the Bible. It is anything but.
The Bible is a mess. But so am I. Reading the Bible reminded me that I am broken but so is everyone else. We all break and hurt in different ways. We don’t have the same struggles or longings or desires. That doesn’t make anyone better or worse but just solidifies the fact that we all need a savior. And we can find that savior in Jesus Christ. He is the only one that can heal our broken pieces and deeply love all of our being despite who we are (not because of who we are). How comforting it is to be wanted, to be called to love like Christ, not judge or tear down, to forgive and be forgiven, to have a relationship with God, and be reminded that this broken world is not our home.
My dad toasted Darren and I at our wedding with a quote: “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.” This is a common theme in the Bible. As I read through the Bible, I quickly noticed there are highs and the lows. Some highs are really high and there are some really deep, deep lows. And somehow it comes together as this beautiful masterpiece that makes perfect sense.
Imagine that! The Bible actually makes sense. Why books are in there, where they are in the Bible, why are certain people in there – it all comes together. (Please, tell me I was not the only one who didn’t understand.) The Bible is about forgiveness and redemption and justice and love, not how to keep your faith in a tidy, little, perfect box nor is it a comprehensive list of all the things you must be or do in order to be deemed good enough. The fact is we will never be good enough. We can always try to be better, to seek God more closely, to live and love more like Christ, but we will never be “good” enough for God’s grace. That is a gift, one Jesus died on the cross for – His flesh was ripped and torn and His blood poured out so that we won’t ever have to check enough boxes to get to Heaven. We just have to believe God for who He is and what He says, and accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. In doing that, I have no doubt you will be changed.
Going through this experience I was able to seek God in a deep way that I haven’t experienced before. I was also able to understand some of the why’s to hurts, trials, and lesson. God works for the greater good always. Even in the hard stuff. There is always, always purpose for His ways. I’m reminded of the song lyrics by Ginny Owens that go:

            “Oh I will praise You in the deep,
            For it’s there that my eyes see the truth.
            When I dance for joy, or when I weep,
            I will praise You.”

That song isn’t about flippantly praising God because He is God, it’s about trusting God, trusting His time and trusting His ways. When we are in the deep, dark spots of our lives – the hard stuff – that is the ultimate test for trusting God. Praising God in all circumstances is a reminder that God is fighting our battles for us. I can’t even tell you how many times I read the phrase, “The Lord will fight for you” in the Old Testament. Over and over until it felt like it was in bold and capslock. I get it, it’s time to relinquish control of our lives and trust the Almighty.
And now that I’ve finished the Good Book, I won’t stop wrapping myself in the scriptures for I know each time I read them, God will shed a different light on every lesson there is to learn.
If you’re like I was, about a year and a half ago, sitting with your Bible in your lap, full of questions and an eagerness to know God more; maybe with tear soaked eyes or anger pounding through your chest, or maybe just curious and have a desire to seek God fully, then I hope the following notes about how to get through the Bible will be helpful.
First off, let me just say, it’s doable. Even if you have littles (seriously, I remember answering one of my devotional questions, "What is keeping you from getting closer to God?" as "Well, Maci is currently jumping on my head.") Even if you have a full time job. Even if you are super popular and have a crazy social calendar. It can be done. God will meet you right where you are in your life. In your chaos, your mess, your joy, your hurt - wherever you are, He has already found you. Now it's your turn to find Him.
As you begin reading, I don’t suggest sticking to a schedule because you won’t keep it and that’s just disappointing. I do suggest reading the Bible every day. Some days that may be a lot (a whole book) and some days that may be a little (a few verses). But if you work your way through a portion of the Bible every day, you will eventually finish. I promise.
Before you start reading, pray. Ask God to make the scriptures clear, not just so your mind will understand but so it can be impressed upon your heart.
It’s also important to understand what the books are (i.e. history, letters, prophets, accounts, etc.) so let  me do a quick run-down. Trust me, it really helps it all make sense.

The Old Testament

History – the following books are basically history books. Some are incredibly interesting, some aren’t. (Though I must note some of the books I had to drag myself through, my husband loved. To each his own!) They are mostly in chronological order. Unless you really love history, I would suggest reading a couple of these then reading one of the prophets and then going back to a couple of these. This will help break up any monotony.

1 Samuel
2 Samuel
1 Kings
2 Kings
1 Chronicles
2 Chronicles
Wisdom/Poetical – the following books incite wisdom and are mostly written in a poetic style. They are beautiful, really. Job is one of my favorites and Song of Songs is romantic. Psalms is really long. Really, really long. I decided to simply read a few Psalms at the end of my daily reading until I read them all. If you ever have questions about how to dig into these books (or any for that matter) visit Intervarsity Press.

Song of Solomon
Prophets – the last of the Old Testament books are written based on the accounts of the prophets. Many of which align with the historical books (especially 1 Samuel – 2 Chronicles). It is helpful to have the context from the history before reading the prophets but not entirely necessary.


The New Testament

The Gospels – the following are the Gospels which are the account of Jesus’s life told by the disciple after which the book is named. I suggest reading at least one of these before moving on to Acts.

History – the following book chronicles the event after Jesus’s death and resurrection. I definitely suggest reading this plus at least one Gospel before moving on to the rest of the New Testament
Letters to Churches

1 Corinthians
2 Corinthians
1 Thessalonians
2 Thessalonians
Letters to People
1 Timothy
2 Timothy
Letters to the Christian Public
1 Peter
2 Peter
1 John
2 John
3 John
It helps to have a devotional Bible as well that tells you who the book was written by, at what time period, and the setting of the book (this is especially helpful when reading about the prophets and the letters). Intervarsity Press (http://www.ivpress.com/) is a great guide and easy to understand.

The Bible is not the only way to seek God and draw closer to Him but it is a beautiful tool and resource given to us. I don’t know what took me so long to really dive in and start using it, but I’m glad I did. I hope you will be too.