Have you ever read a book at just the right time? Every now and again, I come across a piece of fiction that speaks directly to me. The themes and characters give me insight and wisdom. The writing challenges my presumptions, prompting me to take action. It answers my questions and raises new ones. I finish grateful to the author for accompanying me on this leg of my journey, helping me understand my life in light of what I read.
As a literature lover, I am constantly amazed at the ways the Bible plays a similar role in my life—far beyond any other book. It shapes my perspective and offers wisdom and insight in light of God's story. It helps me act, think, and become like Christ.
The Bible is both "sweeter than the purest honey" and "useful for teaching the truth, rebuking error, correcting faults" (Psalm 19:10; 2 Timothy 3:16-17). It sustains and transforms me. In "Cultivating the Practice of Reading Scripture," Joel B. Green reminds us that "The Bible does not present us with texts to be mastered…but with a Word intent on shaping our lives, on mastering us."
How can we join in this process of transformation? How can we read Scripture in a way that builds on what it has in common with other literature, but also celebrates its unique character? Here are four tips I have found helpful in letting Scripture transform me:
I can pick up a novel anytime, anyplace and jump right in. But I will catch more nuances, details, and personal implications when I am calm, focused. I get more out of the story when I have created space to enjoy it. The same is true with Scripture. When I have readied my heart and mind to receive God's Word, I can settle into my reading. I am not distracted by my list of tasks or my environment. At times, I prepare to read through praying or journaling. Sometimes I find a quiet room or place to sit outside. I try to remember that what I am reading is holy, that I am getting ready to encounter a holy God.
I love poetic language. It slows me down, giving the words and their meanings time to sink into my being. Poetry gives me a different way of framing my experiences. It gives me new images and unexpected comparisons. Scripture—especially its poetic books like Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, or Song of Songs—also invites me to slow down and let the words sink in, giving me a new perspective. Sometimes I spend time meditating on a word, phrase, or image. Sometimes I read a passage out loud, to hear how it sounds. As I take time to soak in Scripture, I let it come live inside me—where it can shape me and the way I interpret the world.
A good novel will let me identify with the characters and story so deeply that it influences my actions. I may witness a character taking risks and find courage to act more boldly. I may understand the motives of a villain, fostering empathy towards people in my own life who have acted unjustly. The Bible is also meant to move beyond the page and into our daily lives. As I read Jesus's teachings and see how he carried them out, I can follow his example. As I read the epistles, I can implement some of their lessons. I may choose to say an uplifting word rather than a critical one (Ephesians 4:29). I may find strength in the witness of biblical characters during a stressful situation. God went with many faithful before me; God will go with me too (Hebrews 11—12:1).
There is nothing like discussing a good book in a literature class or book group. I glean insights from peers that I couldn't on my own. I consider things from different angles, re-reading excerpts as if for the first time. The Bible also comes alive in new ways as we read it together. After all, it is a relational book! It is intended to be read, shared, and lived out in community. Jesus promises, "For where two or three come together in my name, I am there with them" (Matthew 18:20). For me, this is studying the Bible in small groups at church. It is reciting Scripture during the Sunday morning liturgy. Or it is as simple as sharing a meaningful verse in an email to a friend.
As we read the Bible intentionally, slowly, actively, together, we are transformed by its words. This is a dynamic process, moving us beyond the page. Its message becomes alive in and through us. More than any other book, Scripture offers an opportunity to be formed into Christ's image.
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