28.5.17 – Bible Reading: Where Do I Start? – Peter Cheyne

The preacher had been saying that we should read our Bibles. Oh dear! Of course, he was right. I wanted to know more about the Bible – you know, understand properly about the stalactites and parasites and Vegemites, and be able to tell the difference between an apostle and an epistle – and according to him, God speaks through the Bible. I wanted to hear God talk. So, I thought, “I really must read this thing.”

So I found my Bible. It was propping up one corner of the piano. And I thought, “Right, where do I start?”

Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it? Page 1. Genesis. What did that mean? The first jolly word and I couldn’t understand it. There had to be thousands of long words in this thing. How was I going to manage this? I wondered if there is an easier part and opened it at random. People do that, apparently.

Isaiah 17:10        Because thou hast forgotten the God of thy salvation, and hast not been mindful of the rock of thy strength, therefore shalt thou plant pleasant plants, and shalt set it with strange slips:

I wasn’t sure I was hearing God talking! “Shalt set it with strange slips”? This was impossible!

Sam, I’m really struggling here. What does this verse mean? [Pause] What do you mean, what translation is it? I don’t know. I thought there was only one Bible – the authorised one. I don’t want to read an unauthorised Bible. [Pause] Really? Dozens of translations. I can choose one I like? Cool. Is there one that doesn’t mention sin? [Pause] Oh, that’s a pity.

Should I go to the Bible shop and have a browse and get back to you? [Pause] You’re kidding me! I can get it on my phone? Any translation I like and probably free. This is amazing. God will talk to me on my phone! I remember the preacher comparing prayer to having a phone line to God but I thought it was just an illustration. You really can use your phone and hear God talking? You’re not having me on? OK, which apps are good? The YouBible or the Logos Bible. Thanks. I’ll check it out.

So, I got the YouBible. Strange name but it seemed pretty good. I could just dial up any part of the Bible in any translation and it would even read it to me. I’ll show you that in a minute.

One of the best things though was that it had devotional reading plans. Apparently, with the Bible, you don’t have to start at page 1. If you don’t know what to read each day, the reading plan tells you. There were heaps. I read one on ‘how to read the Bible’. It was just for 7 days but each day there was a 3-minute video and a verse or two to read. It was only short but it was really convenient and it gave me an overview of the Bible. Or there are plans, for example, that will lead you through the whole Bible in a year. There’s heaps of options.

I discovered one problem though. I ran out of money on my phone and wasn’t going to get paid for another fortnight. I told Sam and he gave me some of his old Scripture Union notes. Apparently these Bible reading plans come printed on paper too. It was just as good. They last for two months and you can subscribe and have them sent to you. Sam suggested that, when I get my phone working again, I choose a plan on the biblical principles of financial management. I’m not sure what he is driving at.

Anyway, I found these devotional things pretty good but Sam said I shouldn’t rely on them too much. He said they are great but I might find I want something more. It is good having someone explain the Bible passage to you but Sam said I need to learn to hear God myself. I needed to read the Bible, not just someone’s comment about the Bible. And also, he pointed out that some of these devotionals have precious little Bible in them – maybe only one verse. He said, if I was super-diligent and did my reading every day, it would take me 2,054 years to get through the Bible one verse a day. I haven’t got that long!

So, I decided I was a big boy now and could do this by myself. But Sam said, “Best to start small.” I googled “shortest book in the Bible”. That’d be a good place to start. 3 John apparently. I’ll read it to you.

READ 3 John

I read that and I didn’t have a clue what God was saying to me. For a start it was addressed to some guy… us. So I felt a bit weird. It was like secretly reading someone else’s mail. And I didn’t know Diotrepehes and Demetrius. I imagine they are dead by now anyway, so what point is it?

Sam, it’s all gobbledygook. Why do I need to know that John hoped Gaius was enjoying good health? [Pause] Have I prayed? It’s a spiritual book and I need spiritual help to understand it? Really? I thought I was a big boy now and could do it all myself.

Sam said I should pray, read, pray. I needed to pray first for ‘illumination’, he said. Well, I wasn’t trying to read it in the dark! I’m not that dumb! But he said that was like God shining a light on the page that would show me what was really being said. And I needed to pray afterwards to respond to what God had said.

So, I tried it. Sam suggested Psalm 119:18 was a good prayer: “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your Law.” I prayed that then read the passage again.

This time I saw the issues in the letter. John was encouraging Gaius to live a faithful Christian life. Firstly, he told him how much joy he was giving John by being faithful to the truth. That was perseverance. Then John told Gaius that he had heard reports of his hospitality towards fellow Christians – even those who were strangers. So, perseverance, hospitality. But there was someone in the church – Diotrephes – who was not being hospitable. He was selfish. He loved to be first and so he was ignoring Paul and was not welcoming other believers. And, if other people did welcome them, Diotrephes even expelled them from the church

Then John urged Gaius not to imitate evil – to continue doing what was right and not to be influenced by Diotrephes’ example. Anyone who does what is good, is from God. Anyone who does what is evil is not from God.

Pray. Read. Pray. Dear Lord, I want to be faithful in doing what is right. Please help me to avoid bad examples and to be a good example. I see that my actions reveal whether I have a relationship with You. Thank you for your help. Amen.

Then Sam asked me if I really wanted to be a big boy. I sure did. So, Sam said that as soon as I could remember that sequence “pray, read, pray” I could graduate to stage two of personal Bible reading. I was highly motivated now. Three months later I had mastered it.

I’ve got it, Sam. Test me. [Pause] Yep, I’m pretty confident. Ah, let me see: pray, read, pray. Is that right? [Pause] Oh, thanks, Sam. It’s not all that clever. So, what is stage two?

Whoa! Seriously? That’s a 33% increase. Give it to me slowly. [Pause] Pray [Pause] Read [Pause] Question [Pause] Pray.

Sam said that I would get a lot more out of the passage if I asked questions of it. For example, what does it say about God?

Hmmm, I hadn’t really noticed anything but when I looked back over it, I noticed there were some hints. John exhorted Gaius to send these strangers on their way “in a manner worthy of God”. I asked another question: what is God worthy of? I realised that John was saying to treat these people exceptionally well because God is worthy of our very best.

Also, when John said that those who do good are from God, it suggests that God is good. God is good and those who know Him become like Him.

The second question Sam suggested was “What does it say about people?” Well, that was easy. Gaius was an example of good. Demetrius was an example of good. Diotrephes was an example of evil. Good comes from God. Evil comes form not knowing God.

The good in Gaius that John rejoiced in was his faithfulness to the truth. He continued to walk in the truth. And he was faithful in loving and welcoming fellow Christians.

Diotrephes was the opposite: not welcoming; arrogant, aloof, a gossip and slanderer who, far from helping and supporting traveling Christians was undermining other Christians. John made an interesting comment about him: he loved to be first.

I noticed the difference. Gaius cared about others. Diotrephes cared about himself. His self-centredness revealed the fact that he had not seen God.

Maybe there were other lessons but that struck me and became my prayer: “Lord, please help me to not be self-centred. Please help me to forget about myself and to genuinely love others. May my life show that I know You.”

Then I remembered that I hadn’t yet asked Sam’s third question: What is God asking of me? I too wanted to be hospitable. I went to my pastor and said that, if there were missionaries coming to our church, I would love to host them in my home. I have to say I have been hugely blessed by having them. Thank You, God. You spoke to me through Your word.

I told Sam that I was starting with the smallest books and working my way up. He laughed. He said that was fine but it was a little unconventional. I was surprised and asked him what he advised for people who were developing a habit of Bible reading. Where should you start?

He said he normally advises people to start with one of the gospels. There’s lots of cool stories there so they are easy to read and it means the person starts straight away by learning about Jesus.

Yeah, Sam, but there are four gospels. Which one?[Pause] Mark is fast-paced and full of action? OK, so people often like that. [Pause] Or John – more of a focus on Jesus’ teaching. OK. Thanks. Then what? [Pause] Why Acts? [Pause] Again, full of action and telling the story of the church and the spread of the gospel. Then what?

Sam said I shouldn’t get too far ahead of myself but sometimes people then read Genesis and Exodus. I know what Genesis means now so it is not nearly as scary. It’s a power company. I guess it is because of the power of the Bible. Genesis and Exodus are again narrative (or story) and so are easy to read and they lay the foundation for what the rest of the Bible is about. Sam said maybe read a psalm each day as well. Then he suggested Romans – good meaty teaching about salvation.

He gave me a Bible handbook too. That was very nice. We had them on sale at church one week. That gave me the background to this letter and provided more understanding.

And you know what? One of the best things he said to me was “write it down”. I now use an exercise book and each day (well, I can’t say that it is absolutely every day, but most days) I write down the answer to those questions: What does it say about God? What does it say about people? What is God asking of me? Writing it forces me to slow down, to look at the passage carefully and to clarify my thinking. It also means I have a record of what God has said to me. I forget some stuff but it is fantastic being able to read it again and be inspired once again.

Well, I’ve got a long way to go but I’ve also come a long way from when I didn’t know where to start. I have to be disciplined. I’ve had to set aside a particular time each day and find a place where I am not distracted, but, you know what? I’m loving it. And I am hearing God talk.

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