There are times when I feel like I’m fitting in the spiritual discipline of Bible reading as if it were a workout at the gym. I don’t want to do it, I know I should, but after I do it I usually feel better so I’ll make sure to squeeze it in. Besides, it makes me feel better and gets my head clear and ready for the day. This approach, however, has caused me more discouragement and frustration than spiritual growth in recent months (okay, years). It’s caused me to want to move father away from God than to draw closer to him. After some reflection, I’ve reached two major conclusions:
- The Bible isn’t about me and making my day feel more complete.
- The Bible is about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
I’m approaching the word differently and I’m finding it to become more satisfying. When we open the pages of the Bible, God is telling us something about himself. He is sharing his heart with us so that we may better understand how to relate to him, obey him, enjoy him, admire him, and commune with him. The Bible is not God’s love letter to us, as it is so often said in evangelical circles. Love letters are about the recipient, not the sender. That is not to say that God does not radically love us because he does; his love is so outstandingly profound and he freely and generously lavishes this gracious love upon us. Yet, the Bible is God’s revelation about himself to us. It’s his Facebook profile and he truly deserves likes and follows.
This morning I read a verse that I’ve read several times before. “By the blessing of the upright a city is exalted, but by the mouth of the wicked it is torn down” (Proverbs 11:11 NASB). Another translation reads, “The good influence of godly citizens causes a city to prosper (Proverbs 11:11 TLB). I’ve typically read this verse as follows: if I do good things, God will bless the place I live. I’ve then applied this verse by thinking, “If I can only pull myself up by my bootstraps and get to doing some good works, then my community will be better.” And because we know I am a sinner who cannot be saved by his own works, we can rightfully predict that I am quickly discouraged by my own ineptitude and give up. I then think, “I guess this is why our nation sucks morally. I can’t even get through the day without messing up and I know the God of the universe.” I hang my head in shame and retreat from God. I was happier before I read the Bible.
I committed a rather large interpretive error during my Bible reading. In my self-centeredness, I focused on myself during my study rather than on God. Instead, I now ask, “Father, what are you telling me about yourself when I read Proverbs 11:11?” The Lord then brings to my mind so many other passages. He reminds me of Jeremiah 29:11, where he tells us that he desires to bless, prosper, and provide hope. The Holy Spirit guides me to 1 Corinthians 12:27, where I am reminded that I am part of Christ’s body, and to 2 Corinthians 5:20, where I am described as Christ’s representative to the world. He directs me to Romans 3:22, where I see that I am only upright because He made me so through Christ Jesus. His holiness demands my righteousness; I am unable to meet his demand so he provided the way for me to know him through Jesus. I’m counseled by the Spirit to reflect upon John 15, where I am told to abide in Christ if I would want to see any good work accomplished.
God is not telling me to do better so my city can be blessed. He is telling me to abide in Christ, to be filled with his righteousness, and to allow that righteousness to flow freely into the places I live and work. In doing so, God will bless those communities, even if the blessing is simply having his ambassador point the way for broken spirits to find wholeness in a wonderful savior. God is telling me he desires to bless others through the salvation and righteousness he provides to me. Proverbs 11:11 does not feel so legalistic and self-defeating anymore. It excites me. It’s an evangelical call to intimacy with God that results in works spurred on by faith. A verse that once discouraged me now provides me with joy.
If I want to thrive, I’ve got stop focusing on me when I read the Bible. It’s not my memoir, it’s God’s.