(This post is Part 3 of the series Experiencing Jesus Opens the Bible. The other posts in the series are Introduction, Part 1 – Drawn by the Holy Spirit, Part 2 – The Word of the Lord Appeared, and Part 4 – Seeing Jesus.)
We come to the Bible with presuppositions about God. Typically, as we study the Bible, those presuppositions about God – no matter if they are right or wrong – are confirmed. However, when we truly experience the life of Jesus Christ, our presuppositions about God are challenged, overturned, changed. Then, when we go the Bible, we see this new perspective of God confirmed.
Perhaps you have heard of the B.I.B.L.E. acronym.
Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth
Earlier in my Christian life, that was my view of the Bible. The Bible was basically a rule book for me to follow.
Don’t do that.
Do these things and you are saved.
Do those things and you are a sinner, not saved.
Memorize what to do and work really hard to do it.
This is how you will leave the earth and get to heaven.
This is what I learned about God from those around me. This was how I heard other Christians talk about the Bible. So, this became my understanding too.
While the B.I.B.L.E. acronym above and summarizes how many Christians have learned to interact with the Bible, it isn’t very helpful. Particularly for someone like me who is a bit of an intellectual that wants to learn a thing inside out and struggles with perfectionism.
Actually, this understanding of the Bible was a disaster. It always left me feeling condemned and worthless for not living up to the dos and don’ts in the Bible. This even showed up in my desire to read the Bible.
I tried to read the Bible all the way through many times so I could learn its basic instructions. But, I failed every time. Something would happen, some distraction or unexpected event, and I would miss a day, or two or three, of reading, and my perfect plan to learn the Bible’s instructions would be thrown off.
So, I’d quit.
And, then I would get down on myself for not even being able to stick to a reading plan.
If I can’t even stick to this reading plan, then how am I ever going to be a “good” Christian?
Finally, in 2009 or 2010, I firmly made up my mind that nothing was going to stop me from reading the Bible all the way through. I created a spreadsheet with what I needed to read each day. I would be able to cross off what I read each day. If I missed a day, then I would double up the following day. I was going to do this. I was determined not to miss a day.
When I started this project, it flowed right out of the do this, don’t do that mindset. It was about the religious obligation to read the Bible. It was what good Christians were supposed to do – read your Bible every day.
But, I hadn’t fully considered why I was supposed to read the Bible every day.
Until I got a few months into this project and hit the book of Psalms.
Three or four years before I started this project, my wife, Dawn, was diagnosed with breast cancer.
For the first year, we tried to treat it with dietary changes. So, we became raw vegans. The cancer stopped growing, but the tumor wasn’t shrinking.
Dawn wasn’t happy with the slow progress, so she switched to more a more traditional treatment plan. She had a double mastectomy. She started chemotherapy. She had radiation. Then, the doctors found a spot of cancer on her lung.
For several years, it seemed like Dawn had a weekly appointment for a chemotherapy or a radiation treatment. She went in for these treatments so often I could no longer keep track of them. It was just a part of our life.
But, none of these treatments phased Dawn. She never stopped smiling. She never lacked energy. She never seem tired. She radiated joy and the love of Christ everywhere she went.
After several years of continuous treatments, Dawn was diagnosed with a brain tumor. This was quite the blow. No matter what treatment she underwent, nothing seemed to stop the cancer from spreading. So, we decided to get a second opinion at a nationally known cancer treatment center.
Of course, we, along with our church, had been praying for a miraculous healing for Dawn. But, we really stepped it up after the brain tumor was diagnosed. Dawn and I were sincerely praying and believing that we were going to get a scan of Dawn’s brain for the second opinion at this nationally known cancer center and they would not be able to find the brain tumor. We were filled with hope as we drove from Cincinnati to Chicago.
I can still picture the little room we waited in to talk with the doctor after the brain scan. He came in to give us the results. And, in what seemed like a split second, he confirmed that Dawn had a golf ball-sized tumor in the back of her brain. The doctor said he would step out so that we could have a moment to talk.
When the doctor stepped out, Dawn started crying. I mean really crying.
I don’t remember the doctor coming back in. I don’t remember us leaving the treatment center.
But, I do remember the car ride back to our hotel. It was 25 minutes. It was dark. It was drizzling. And, Dawn sobbed, I mean sobbed, the entire drive back.
What could I say to my wife who just had her hopes of a miraculously healed brain tumor crushed?
What could I say to my wife who was staring death in the face, knowing that she would not see her son graduate from high school or college, get married, have children, etc.?
I drove in total silence, listening to my wife sob for 25 minutes without stopping.
We finally arrived at the hotel and went up to our room. Dawn curled up on the bed in the fetal position and continued sobbing. Really sobbing.
I sat down in the chair. I had no idea what to do or what to say. I can’t recall another time in my life where I felt so helpless and clueless about what to do next.
Now, remember, I had started this Bible reading project several months ago. And, I had continued it on this trip.
As I sat in the chair, I heard this small voice, a low whisper, say to me, “What did you read this morning?”
This inaudible voice sort of stunned me. It took me a second, but I got my reading sheet out and went back through it.
And, I hit Psalm 13.
“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
“Consider and answer me, O Lord my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, ‘I have prevailed over him,’ lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.
“But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.”
My mind was blown.
Those opening questions were exactly what Dawn and I were feeling right at that moment.
I read this psalm the morning that our hopes for a miraculous healing were dashed.
Was God even listening to our prayers?
Had God forgotten us?
I had put this reading plan in place months ago. A reading plan that I had failed to stick to several times before. But, on this day, I read psalm 13. On the exact day that my wife and I were wondering if God was listening, if he had forgotten us, I read this psalm.
“What did you read this morning?”
The exact word that Jesus wanted to speak to my wife and me in that situation.
I told Dawn I had something that I wanted to read to her. So, I read psalm 13 out loud to her.
As I read, Dawn stopped crying.
It may have seemed like God had forgotten her, had hidden his face from her. But, Dawn trusted in his steadfast love, and she would rejoice in her salvation.
Those words spoke life to Dawn. They were the exact words what she needed to her in that moment. Words that I just happened to read that morning because I put a reading plan in place several months prior.
After I finished reading Psalm 13, Dawn asked me to read Psalm 23 to her. Then, she asked me to read Psalm 91 to her.
The atmosphere in the room had completely changed.
The circumstances were the same. Dawn still had a brain tumor. But, our hearts had been changed. We had experienced the life of Jesus.
Life had kicked death out of that room, out of our hearts.
Dawn never cried about cancer again.
I had begun my reading project out of a religious duty or obligation. I wanted to know the rules I was to follow. If I could just read the Bible all the way through, then I would have the basic instructions I needed to be a Christian.
But, that night I heard a still, small voice. I heard a low whisper.
“And he said, ‘Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.’ And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it…” (1 Kings 19.11-13)
I heard that same “sound of a low whisper.” An alternative translation of that is “a sound, a thin silence.” Not a loud, booming voice. Not a series of cataclysmic events – great winds, earthquakes, fires. “A thin silence” in my heart and mind that subtly prompted me to look into something.
And, that sound, that low whisper, that thin silence, reminded me of what I had read that morning. Psalm 13 didn’t have any rules or instructions in it. There wasn’t anything for us to do or obey. But, it did have a feeling. That night there was a revealing of God’s empathy toward us and solidarity with us in the struggle and the suffering. There was an assurance of his love.
That still, small voice spoke the precise words we needed to hear at the precise moment we needed to hear them.
What if I had started my reading plan a day earlier or a day later?
Was is it actually my decision to start the reading plan? To finally commit to it?
Was God behind it all, keeping me diligent along the way?
How was it that we experienced the life of Jesus, restoring our hope and trust in him, in Psalm 13 that night?
I can’t answer these questions.
But, I do know that God has a mysterious way of working things together for good.
I have continued that reading plan ever since, for seven or eight years. Sometimes I go through the Bible twice in a year. Once I went through the Bible four times in one year. But, no matter the pace, I have kept reading through the Bible day after day.
But, it is no longer a religious duty or obligation. I am no longer seeking rules to perfectly follow. Now, I let the Bible point me to the mysterious of Jesus – his suffering, cross, death, and resurrection – on a daily basis.
I cannot count the number of times that I have read a passage of scripture in the morning that Jesus would bring to life later in the day. Sometimes it is something I need to hear. Sometimes it is something I share with someone else that they need to hear. I can’t recall it ever being about rules and dos and don’ts though.
This is has happened so often now I just joyously laugh.
I had a presupposition that God wanted me to read the Bible for rules and instructions to follow. If I just knew the right rules, then I could follow them.
But, “the letter kills.” It is “the ministry of death.”
God isn’t rules and instructions as I thought prior to this experience with the life of Jesus.
However, when I experienced the life of Jesus as a low whisper, the Bible opened up to me.
“The Spirit gives life.”
Life isn’t rules and instructions to be rigidly applied in every situation.
I needed the veil of rules and instructions to be removed from the Bible.
“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” (2 Corinthians 3.18)
Life is beholding the glory of the Lord. Meditating on it. Gazing at it. Pondering it. Basking in the essence of it.
That still, small voice of Jesus showed me to look for the glory of God, his essence, his life, in the scripture.
Don’t try to capture the glory of God in a rule or an instruction to follow.
Instead, let the Bible lead me to Jesus so as to behold his glory.
Let the Spirit in a low whisper, in a thin silence, lead me to behold God’s glory
Behold God’s glory and be transformed.
This is when the Bible is truly opened to you.