(From the Beatitudinal Podcase Episode # 4: Mind Series #:4 God Still Speaks Today, Part 2, Scriptural Emphasis)
Being attitudinal – to fiercely live a life of gratitude – is what we are about. We are taking a moment to remind ourselves that our state of mind – shaped by our thoughts – plays a major role in our ability to have and maintain a grateful attitude.
The good, the bad(ish), and the ugly: we are still exploring the glorious realm of the divinely good – the ways in which God speaks to us today.
Our title for this week is : God Still Speaks Today, Part 2 – Reading Through the Bible and Scriptural Emphasis.
Closely related to the first source – the Word of God, the Holy Bible – is the mysterious phenomenon of Biblical Emphasis.
Biblical emphasis, a somewhat subtle means of communication in which the Lord causes a specific or specific verses of scripture to be somehow emphasized to our vision, attention or comprehension requires an alert attitude, as it may be missed without care.
It consists of impressions, a sense as one reads scripture, that certain words or passages are being emphasized more than others – almost as though the passage in question has been virtually highlighted either in the internal hearing, or the vision, of the reader.
Priming the Pump
A life long Christian, I have had a deep love and reverence – from my earliest years – for the Bible. An early reader, I have been a reader of the Bible practically from the time I could read. It was after I had experience of being born again in 1986, that I heard, for the first time, of people who had the habit of reading through the Bible annually.
I was delighted to discover Bible reading aids, particularly what were presented as Read-the-Bible-in-a-Year (Bible in a Year) devotionals. The thought came to me that if I read through the Bible at least once, I would have internalized Holy Scriptures, in a way I had not hitherto been able to. Though I understood that God could inspire words fo scripture to come to my attention – in my mind, in my spirit – without my doing so, I sensed that if I did so – as a loving act of obedience, it would be priming myself, to be receptive, and equipped with the ability to have scripture rise to my lips according to the appropriateness of the situation in which I might happen to find myself. It was as a result of that insight, that I read through the Bible, with the aid of a 1 Year Bible Reading Plan, for the first time in 1988.
The Gentle Variance
Despite having repeated this exercise several times over the more than thirty years since, I have barely scratched the surface of this divine blessing: the repeated experience of appropriate passages of scripture coming to mind appropriately in different circumstances. Despite memorizing scriptures not being one of my strengths, I give grateful praise and credit to the Lord, that I consistently find that verses of scripture which I do not consciously remember (i.e. I would not be able to quote the book, chapter or verse of passages that come to mind, or from a quote of the citation, be able to provide the content of the verses, save in a relatively few instances), come to mind as appropriate during my Quiet Times (QTs), or during times of ministry. This has been a very powerful and direct source of guidance in my life, that I value highly and for which I am inexpressibly grateful.
Another form of this equipping occurs where verses of scripture may be suddenly impressed upon you, during every day unremarkably routine thought, or perhaps during general prayer – that are relevant to a specific situation in your life, in which you need guidance. I gave an example of this form of guidance in It Seemed a Good Idea at the Time) when I recounted the experience of The Vindictive Victim.
Yet another form of this is where the cadence of the passage, rather than the words, is impressed upon your thoughts. This illustrates the reality that we absorb so much more than the ‘mere’ words when we read the bible attentively. There are various ways in which we can approach our reading of the bible – to absorb the general detail, atmosphere, spirit, and ‘feel’ of the content; to study deeply – book by book – to gain a deep knowledge and extensive familiarity with the selected text, to memorize a large number of verses, content, chapter and verse. verse by verse.
Directions to My Life-Verse
My objective – when I first read the Bible – through was to obtain an overall understanding of the connectivity and broad characterizations of the various books. To have a very general – shallow even – understanding of what each book was about. It was a surprise to me that I not only met that objective, but I also absorbed the cadence of some portions – as in the rhythm and pronunciative inflections of specific passages, particularly the Psalms.
It was this familiarity that the Lord used to highlight what in effect is a ‘life-verse’ for me – a passage that reverberates intensely and powerfully for me, with the sense that the promises therein have been spiritually highlighted for my especial attention. I love the Book of Psalms – they have been a go to from childhood, when Psalm 23 provided a visual and emotional oasis, a place – the green pastures of the Lord’s presence – to which I could retreat in my heart, when I felt unsure or afraid. and have from childhood. I had not read through even that book, when I undertook my first bible in a year attempt, but I did have a cache of all time favorites: Psalm 23, Psalm 39, Psalm 91, Psalm 135 etc.
Many years ago – I don’t even remember when exactly it was – I suddenly had an impression – out of the blue – that I should look for some verses of scripture, and I sensed that I would find them in the book of Psalms. Regarding what I was to look for, the only way I can explain it is that I had a very clear sense of the rhythm and cadence of the verses, as they would sound and be enunciated when read. There was nothing for it but to work my way through the book, searching for the verses that matched the pattern I have received. From memory, there were a few different verse readings that seemed possibilities at first sight, but when I compared them closely with the remarkably clear impression of what I was to look for, only one matched – and it was Psalm 37, specifically verses 3-4:
“Trust in the Lord and do good;
dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Delight yourself in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.”
I cannot count the number of times and ways that the promise in these few verses have guided me, reassured me, comforted me, and steeled my resolve. The Lord God is a loving, faithful Father, indeed!
Tips for How to Read Through the Bible
- Use a tried and tested aid. As a matter of fact, I had tried earlier – out of love and devotion – to read through the bible. I thought the thing to do was to start at Genesis, and read through. I tried a few times, but somehow always got bogged down in the book of Numbers or Deuteronomy, shortly after which I would give up. I know some people who have successfully read through the Bible in that way, but for me – as for most people, I suspect – this is not the easiest approach. Use a plan.
Some plans are better than others; it also depends on what you want, what appeals to your (appropriate) sensibilities: are you the orderly type – a plan that works through the Bible in chronological order may suit you. Are you a history buff: a historical arrangement may suit. Do you get bored easily and need variety – a daily selection of an OT reading, NT reading, and a Psalm and reading from the Wisdom Books for example may be just right, or maybe something with videos. Whatever you do, don’t overthink it. Do your prompt research (as to what version – if in doubt use the New King James Version NKJV (the King James Version translated from the archaic English of the original version) or the New International Version NIV. Just put your head down and get your nose (physically or figuratively) in the book. Keep it simple – this does not have to be complicated or hard. There are so, so many aids available from this disappearing breed – the Christian Bookshop (Family Christian) or online (use cautiously, as a lot of unsound material out there, traps for the sincere seeker.
Need specifics? You will likely enjoy the Bible-in-a-year devotional (BiOY by Nicky Gumbel – available for free in the Bible App, or for sale on the HTB website). I successfully completed my first attempt using a reading plan like this one. Most simple, is to follow an uncluttered reading calendar. There are also audio versions – ethnic and otherwise that you can listen to, even when you are on the go.
- Set yourself a modest objective: This does not have to be a daunting project, a medal worthy undertaking. It is so easy for this– if you are not careful – to become an overwhelming chore. Approach this instead as a pleasurable jaunt. You are going to read, at a leisurely pace, at the pace that suits you, the Bible, as a novel, as it were.
- Approach the content as a most delicious story: a gripping plot stretching over many generations/sagas, though reverently. Trust me – it has all the mystery, adventure, thrillers, romance, drama, horror, suspense, stranger than science fiction plots – you name your genre – you could ever want! If you have ever experienced the delicious expectation of a long awaited book, that is finally in your hands, available for you to read – the Bible approached with this mindset will not disappoint.
- Though approaching the text as a gripping novel, remember the nature of the text (sacred, living and active): deliberately approach the content with a reverent, if invited attitude.
- Remember that you are NOT trying to plumb the depths of these sacred pages in this particular readover. You are not trying to memorize verses. You are not trying to discern the rules, parse the culture, or confirm beyond doubt that it is true. Though this may occur in you, here and there, as an indirect benefit of your reading, do not let this become a deliberate objective.
- Read consistently, without allowing the reading schedule to become an harsh taskmaster. If you find that you are struggling to keep up with the apportioned readings for the day, slow down. Maybe read the passages for one day over two days instead. Its okay if you read it through in two, three [fill in your number] years. There is not rush, and you do not want this to become a dreaded chore. This can and is supposed to be an enjoyable experience.
- Do not get bogged down in trying to understand everything deeply, or to rationalize or comprehend how the books hold together, the background history and stories, etc – at least, not if it overwhelms you, or sends you on diversive goosechases, that take you away from continuing and finishing your read through.
- Suspend your disbelief – and you will come across much that will try your belief – for the time being. It will be a good thing to write your questions and matters for further investigation in any case, but it you find that your doubt and questions are becoming too insistent, definitely write them down so you can seek answers, or discuss them with a trusted friend, relative or minister contemporaneously, or at a later time.
- Read expectantly – expecting or hoping to hear from God in some way or other, but then remain flexible and accepting of if, how and when He will do so.
There are many benefits to reading through the entire bible. In addition to ‘priming the pump’, it gives you an overview of what is actually in there. The practical benefit is that you have some awareness of what is in there, that may be of assistance, in times of need, even if you have to go digging and researching (or ask) to find it. It also makes for a more solid foundation of knowledge – explanations based on a comprehensive overview, rather than a smorgasbord, selective reading of all time favorites – which is what I had previously – can only be more sound.
I found also that it sharpened my discernment. You cannot but acquire some sense of how God does His things when you read His Word. You know how they say the best way to spot a fake is to study the original – once you have read through the Bible, when you encounter counterfeit ‘wisdom’(e.g. words professing to be from the Christian God but are not), you will more readily sense that something is off, even if you do not know what exactly is wrong. It is also recommended in the Bible to be aware (understand) what it says, so that one can understand the times one is living in. If there was a time when discernment for the times was needed, its got to be our times right now!
Father God, as I search for You, I choose to believe and trust that I am doing so, because You have loved me first, and are drawing me near. I want to know more about You and Your ways. There are promises in the OT books of Ezekiel, and Joel, and the NT book of Hebrews, that You will pour out Your Spirit on all flesh (Joel 2: 28), give us a new heart and a new spirit, replacing our hearts of stone with hearts of flesh, putting Your Spirit within us, causing us to walk in Your statutes (Ezekiel 36: 26-27), and that You will put Your laws in our mind and write them on our hearts (Hebrews 8:10). Abba Father, I want this; as I step out – taking my courage in hands – to start reading through the Bible, please open up the way for this to happen in my life.
Father, shield me from flightiness, that I may persist with this desire. Let faith and trust in what I read grow, and overwhelm the unbelief and skepticism in me. Grow a new humility and a robust perseverance within me. If I am challenged in my time management, please show me and help me to better manage my time.
Father, I don’t want to approach this with a profane heart, a hard heart, a bitter heart, or a prideful heart. Please heal my heart of all it needs to be healed of, that I may deliberately fill my heart with Your Words, priming the pump of my personal responses to pour out wisdom that has been cured with the salt and light of Your truth.
I am expectant, and gently excited about the potential, about what You may choose to do through this in my life. Let it for good in my life, according to Your Will, for Your Glory. In Jesus Name, Amen.
The podcast of this blogpost is here.