There is a dangerous tendency in the life of any Christian, and especially among those who labor to teach the Word, to read the Bible for the sake of someone else. I experienced this recently as I was teaching on the glories of the cross of Christ. Admittedly, my spirit was not exulting in the doctrines I was teaching as much as I was encouraging others to exult in them. Like a dutiful usher, I was leading others to find room at the table, but I was too busy to sit down myself.
It is a scary thing when we lead others to see the glories of God, all the while failing to enjoy them ourselves.
Read as Hungry Children, not as Light-hearted Tourists
Flowing from the duplicity of our hearts, it is far too easy to encourage others to walk in the way, to delight in the Lord, and declare the goodness of God in ways that we are not (in the moment) enjoying. When that happens, repentance is the only step, repentance and prayer that God would restore to us the joy of our salvation. Still, repentance must be followed by another step if it is to bear fruit. And it is this step that I seek to address.
In moments when our hearts are “dry,” we must return to the Bible as a drinker and a feaster—quite literally, as a glutton for grace. Especially for those who expound the truth of God “for a living,” we must remember the words of Jeremiah Burroughs, who, when discussing the way in which Christians find contentment, said that we must make God’s promises our own. He writes,
Therefore when you look into the book of God and find any promise there, you may make it your own; just as an heir who rides over a lot of fields and meadows says, this meadow is my inheritance, and this corn field is my inheritance, and then he sees a fine house, and says, this fine house is my inheritance. He looks at them with a different eye from a stranger who rides over those fields.
A carnal heart reads the promises, and reads them merely as stories, not that he has any great interest in them. But every time a godly man reads the Scriptures (remember this when you are reading the Scripture) and there meets with a promise, he ought to lay his hand upon it and say, This is part of my inheritance, it is mine, and I am to live upon it. This will make you contented; it is a mysterious way of getting contentment. And there are several other promises that bring contentment (Psalms 34:10, 37:6; Isaiah 58:10). (The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, 83)
Friends, when we come to the Bible we can read it as impressed strangers or as grateful sons and daughters. To read it as strangers means that we appreciate its beauty but only as a tourist enjoys the Alps—content to visit, but unpersuaded to stay. In the hardness of our hearts, it is fully possible to read the Bible as a respectful stranger and not embrace it as a loving child. To do this is to invite spiritual death. Or more precisely, it is to expose a kind of spiritual lifelessness that hides under a thin veneer of Christian activity.
By contrast, the children of God will approach the promises of God like that of a king’s child. And they will repent when, convicted by the Spirit, they recognize their own malaise. When the children of the king walk through their Father’s land they know that this land is both his and theirs. Because it is his, they treat it as holy. But because it is theirs by kinship they adore it with gratitude. In Christ, we can claim God’s promises as our own. Indeed, we must claim them as our own if we are going to go on living in the land (cf. Ps 37:3-4).
Read with Care
The reading of the Bible and teaching the Scriptures is a glorious thing, but it is also dangerous thing. And the more we labor in the vineyard, the easier it can be to treat the Word of God as a customary object, instead of the gracious word of God that it is. Recently, I was convicted of this fact, and Burroughs perspective brought great correction and refreshment. I pray that it might do the same for you.
Father, let us treat the holy word as holy (Lev 10:3). Let us walk through the fields of your word remembering that in Christ these promises are ours. May we slow down to consider our need and your bounty. May we stop delivering the mail to others and neglect to open the envelopes that you have intended us to read. May we taste the grapes, pluck the wheat, and eat the corn of your Word, that our souls maybe nourished. Your word is not a trifle. It is our life. May we live on it as heirs delighting in your gracious gift, our inheritance.
Soli Deo Gloria, dss