Thursday, May 17, 2012

Attitudes for Reading Scripture

Attitudes for Reading Scripture

Learning to read the Scriptures well involves nurturing attitudes conducive to study and gaining technical skills to facilitate close reading. Both elements are necessary to become skilled and inspired readers who are able to engage the Bible as Christian Scripture. 

Study the Bible prayerfully. Prayer can enhance our study by putting us in touch with the subject of the Bible—God.  Prayer can help to shape and forge in us the proper mindset for engaging the Scriptures as the word of God. Pray a prayer for illumination such as “Lord, astonish me anew with the beauty and power of your Word” or “God, rather than asking you to help me master the text I am asking that you allow the text to master me.” The word “astonish” captures the potential power that we readers may find in the Bible. When we come away astonished, we know that we have touched the divine. When we pray for astonishment rather than mastery of the material, we learn a key truth about reading the Bible as Christian Scripture: It is less important that we master the text and more important that the text masters us. Beginning with prayer helps us to ground ourselves in the posture of a learner.

Study the Bible expectantly. We read the Bible as Christian Scripture in the expectation of encountering the living God through the words of the text. Open the Scriptures not merely to learn but to be shaped and transformed by the words that you find. We come to the Bible to gain wisdom and to be shaped by its message. It yields its fruit to those who come hungry and ready for the feast that it offers. When we read, be grateful for the opportunity for study and anticipate the life giving insights that we will find in the Bible’s pages.

Study the Bible persistently. Learning to read the Bible well is a habit to be nurtured over the course of our lives. Wise interpreters are not born but forged in consistent times of careful study. In other words, if we find ourselves struggling with reading the Bible, give it time. Like the farmer who systematically prepares the field, sows seeds, waters, pulls weeds, protects the fledging plants from insects, and applies fertilize—all in the hope for a bountiful yield at the harvest—so we as readers must be patient and persistent in doing the work necessary to receive the benefits of the Scriptures. Think of Scripture study as a faithful habit to practice rather than as a skill to be mastered.

Study the Bible intelligently. Christians read the Bible as the word of God, but we cannot forget that it was written by other human beings in the living languages spoken by the people of God in the ancient world (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek). The Bible is not a code to be deciphered, but it is literature crafted carefully and intentionally to communicate its message clearly to its audience. As modern readers, we must use all of the tools available to us for understanding it including our minds. The biblical message may challenge our fundamental assumptions about life and question the status quo of our existence but it will not be illogical or run contrary to reason. We affirmed the need to read prayerfully, but this does not mean that we should turn off our own intellect. As thoughtful Christians, we affirm the need for prayer and the importance of close and critical study of the text. In doing so, we will not only gain fresh and profound insight from the Bible, but we will also learn the meaning of Jesus’ command to love God with our minds (Matt 22:37).

Study the Bible confidently. Bible study can sometimes be intimidating. On occasion we may not feel worthy or qualified to make interpretive decisions about the meaning of the text. Yet as generations of faithful and persistent readers bear witness, the Scriptures remain vital, offer profound insights, and speak words of life. The God of whom the Scriptures speak will bear fruit through faithful study. Bring a sense of anticipation and expectation to our reading of the Bible and we will not be disappointed.

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