Reading the Bible Contextually: An Experience I Will Never Forget

hondurasWhen you zoom out from single verses and begin to read the Bible in more meaningful wholes there are several things that will begin to notice that you may never have noticed before. This can be true from reading a whole chapter to reading hundreds of pages. The benefits of reading larger pieces of scripture are worth considering.

When I was in college at Harding University I went on a spring break campaign to Honduras. I was trying to read through the Bible in a year, it was March and I was dreadfully behind. During that week I spent as much time as I could catching up and ended up getting pretty far ahead of schedule.

I remember a few things about that experience that I would like to pass on. Up until that point in my life I had never read so much scripture in such a short amount of time. I had also not been accustomed to reading things all the way through. I was very familiar with finding verses for arguments but not as familiar with reading the text for the text to actually be heard. It was breath taking. There were connections everywhere.

When you read large amounts of scripture in a short amount of time you begin to realize just how many connection points there are throughout the Bible. When you read Samuel and Kings one day and Psalms and proverbs a few days later there are things that had just never stood out to me before that I could easily remember and take note of. And I did. I relentlessly went back and forth between books making notes on each end of the connection for future reference. Now, that was much harder and time consuming in the days without all the internet tools we have today but all that work even further solidified what I was reading in my mind.

Second, I was struck by the rich variety of scripture. It didn’t all read the same. That is less obvious if you spend time in one verse or chapter or book at a time but it really stood out reading various genres back to back to back. I hadn’t read Gordon Fee’s outstanding book “How to read the bible for all it’s worth” yet and didn’t quite get all the nuance at that time but I gained a great appreciation that not all scripture read the same. It was of the same authority but had to be read and understood for what it was. It was the first time I had an inkling of an idea that the Bible was not flat. It has peaks and valleys, crescendos and decrescendos! It had rhythm, symmetry and asymmetry. And where the words skipped a beat it paid to take notice that the unaligned or seemingly misaligned pieces were usually that way for a reason if one had ears to hear. When the music skips a beat, that is where the experience is enriched…find out why. Why does Jesus have to heal the blind man twice and what does that have to do with disciples who do not yet see Jesus clearly for who he is?

Third, filling my mind with scripture on a daily basis helped me see just how much God was involved in my life. I could see his work everywhere because I was expecting him to be everywhere. He informed my decisions because I was reading how he informed the decisions of those who had gone before me thousands of years ago.

Last, it was personal. I felt close to God in a way that I don’t think I had ever felt before. I needed to hear something from Him. I couldn’t wait to pick it back up again and read something new…even things I had never read before in the prophets. The dirt on the spine of my Bible began creeping from the New Testament back into the Old and I was proud of that ever creeping, ever expanding black mark on the edge of those white pages. God was omnipresent…I had known that in theory for a long time…but now God was immanent in a way that I had never known or felt before. God is near. I just needed to get in tune.

5 Responses to Reading the Bible Contextually: An Experience I Will Never Forget

  1. Hank says:

    Thanks, bro!

    I remember reading “through the Bible” just as you explained above (1998), and I remember feeling practically all of the things you’ve described! I remember seeing God everywhere, thinking about him all of the time, being excited to read the next new (to me) or forgotten thing. Cinnectikng one passage to others, loving “dirtying” the untouched sections and chuncks of his word, and just feeling totally filled with the Spirit!

    I disagree with those who oppose reading the Bible as a challenge or duty or as a “notch in the belt.” The word of God is powerful. It makes skeptics into believers. It does not return void. Its how God works in and changes us. I need to read more…

    Thanks for sharing the above.

    “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.”

  2. Eric Brown says:

    I’ve been wondering if anything is lost when I read scripture from my smart device. I’m not talking spiritually (I’m not against technology) it’s the same question people are asking concerning ereaders vs paper books. Do I retain as much info? Am I able to see the context when there are so fewer verses on a screen than there are on two pages of an open book? Does it make a difference in reminding me of the sacredness of the text when I’m reading the Sermon on the Mount on the same screen I read Facebook from? As many of us that are bringing our electronic bibles to church…seems said these are questions we should discuss and find research on.

    • Hank says:

      Great questions, Eric. I believe that there are many advantages to primarily reading Gods word out of an actual book. And I had never thought about the potential loss of “sacredness” by reading the word of God from the same device that gives us the latest news and gossip (and worse).

      “Out of the same (smart device) proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.”

      Interesting…

  3. […] is one of those moments of assymetry in the text that I mentioned in the previous post…a moment where the words skip a beat. It pays to take great care and give great attention to […]

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