In the past 7 years, I’ve lived in 5 homes across 3 states — from a shared 250 square foot apartment in Manhattan’s East Village to a sprawling 5 bedroom ranch house in suburban Texas. I’ve gone from blonde haired and blue eyed back to brown haired and brown eyed. And while I once spent 300 days a year on tour, I now spend most of my days doing the deep ministry of day-to-day discipleship through D-Group. My life has shifted in ways I never imagined.
Of all the changes, the one that changed me most wasn’t dramatic. It didn’t involve a moving truck or four hours in the stylist’s chair. It was subtle and life altering all at once: I learned how to read the Bible. (I say that with a great deal of pause, because I certainly don’t know all I’ll someday know, and I’ll never know all there is to know, but I do know more than I once knew.)
For most of my life, I looked for myself in the Scriptures. I wanted to know what verses would encourage me, shape me, give me rules to live by. Which texts were most frequently quoted? Which ones should I highlight in my Bible? Surely those were the very best ones to help me figure out God’s will for my life.
I treated the Bible like it was a book about me. It was like insisting my boyfriend always wear mirrored aviator sunglasses — denying myself the opportunity to look deep into his eyes or learn the nuances of his expressions, because I preferred staring at my own reflection.
Justin Timberlake pegged my perspective when he sang: “You reflect me, I love that about you….” (although he somehow managed to make that sound romantic instead of arrogant). I used God to feed my narcissism and called it the pursuit of holiness. It wasn’t until I stopped looking for me in the Bible and started looking for Jesus that I actually grew in relationship with Him. Because I started seeing Him EVERYWHERE.
Here’s a brief example from Luke 10:25-37, illustrating the difference in what I used to read and what I read now:
The Good Samaritan: ME VERSION
This is a story about a person who helps others, even if that person is their enemy.
I should help people, even if they are my enemies. I can be like the hero of this story. (I focused mainly on the last verse, “You go, and do likewise.”)
The Good Samaritan: GOD VERSION
The Samaritan, who was despised by the Jews, rejected for being a “half breed” of impure lineage, sounds a lot like Jesus.
v.31-32 – The Samaritan did the opposite of the religious officials. Jesus did this too. He was known for exposing the piety of the religious rulers of His day. (Matt 23:27)
v.33 – The Samaritan had compassion. This trait was one of the defining marks of Jesus. (Matt 9:36, Matt 14:14, Mark 6:34, Luke 7:13)
v.34 – The Samaritan went to the wounded man. Jesus pursues the wounded. (Mark 2:17, Luke 19:10)
v.34 – The Samaritan bound up his wounds. Jesus does that too! (Psalm 147:3, Isaiah 61:1)
v.34 – The Samaritan poured out oil and wine on the man. In Scripture, oil is symbolic of the Holy Spirit, and wine is symbolic of Christ’s blood. These are things Christ made possible for us. (John 15:26, Luke 22:20)
v.35 – The Samaritan put him on his own animal. This sounds like Christ carrying us through the burden of what He took on in His own flesh. (1 Peter 2:24)
v.35 – The Samaritan took him to an inn and cared for him. Historians record that, for early believers, an “inn” was a symbol of the church, open to all for care.
v.35 – The next day, the Samaritan took out 2 denarii (2 days’ wages) and gave them to the innkeeper. The one day of his own sacrifice plus the 2 days of wages = 3 days of provision for the wounded traveler. Sound familiar? The cross, the tomb …
v.35 – The Samaritan said, “Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.” Christ promises full provision for our care (1 Peter 5:7). And He promises to return (John 14:3).
Before Jesus ever tells us what to “do” in verse 37, He has shown us who He is. HE is the hero of this story. I can’t do anything good in my own strength. But I find hope in fixing my eyes on Christ and the beauty of who He is, knowing He has already accomplished this. I am both challenged and strengthened to meet whatever challenges of love and compassion I face.
Under every cape of everything we long to be and will certainly fall short of, CHRIST IS. (Luke 24:27) Knowing God does inform how I live, but when I treat Scripture as a handbook to prop up my own self worth and glory, I deny the beauty and joy of relationship with the real hero. It becomes nothing more than a self-help book.
I feel the distinction in my bones. It’s the difference between asking Siri to give me directions to my destination OR getting in the passenger’s seat to ride there with a friend who knows the way. If my goal is just a destination, either option seems to work fine. But if my goal is relationship, only one option suffices. (Phil 3:10)
One thing that has helped me read Scripture is asking these questions as I read:
– What does this passage reveal about God’s character?
– What does He love?
– What does He hate?
– What motivates Him to do what He does?
Yes, there’s a time for application; we can’t be just “hearers of the Word” and not doers of the Word. (James 1:22) But in order to do well, we must see it as done. (John 19:30)
I want to spend my life getting to know Him, because as John Piper says, “I will become what I behold.” (2 Cor 3:18) And if I know anything about our Hero, I know this: He’s where the JOY is! (John 15:11)
What things have helped you in getting to know Him better or learning how to read Scripture?