Read God's word to have a purposeful life.
"I cry out to God Most High, to God who will fulfill His purpose for me."
If your best friend gave you a letter before leaving on a trip and said, "Read this before I get back," you would read it right away. God has left you not just a letter but a book and has said, "Read this before I return, because it tells you exactly what you need to know to have a purposeful life." Will you read it?
Hmmm….I’m not loving the analogy above because I believe God’s Word is living. It’s not just something to read once and then done. It is active and the Holy Spirit works through it regularly to transform those who open its pages.
It’s impossible to count the number of ways I have been changed by God’s Word. As a child it was about memorization and reading stories. All the stories of Moses, David, and Paul. Looking back, I’m a little surprise that as a 4th grader I read things like the story of Samson and Delilah for Sunday School. But, you know, I supposed I learned something about God then too. Or perhaps it was a moral lesson. I just couldn’t even understand how Samson couldn’t just say no. Sheesh, dude, you know what God said, right? So don’t do it. Don’t cut your hair!!
Memorization was, of course, part of AWANA, summer camp, and Christian school. Then, there was also the push to have daily devotions. We did them every year for summer camp in our little booklets and mom would take me to The Lord’s Vineyard to buy elementary age devotionals. (The Lord’s Vineyard was an 80’s Colorado Springs thing, around long before all the ministries landed in this town. Think Christian bookstore pre-Mardels. That place was great. It’s where we bought Psalty records and cassettes of Sandi Patty’s Friendship Company. I even once saw a picture of Chuck Swindoll dressed up in some sort of leather outfit not long after the movie The Terminator came out. The poster said “The Serminator”. Haha!)
Sometimes I loved reading the Bible for fun. Sometimes it was just the thing to do. It was what you were told was good. But along the way, whatever the motive, I fell in love with God’s Word. I wanted to teach it to everyone I could. I even taught my stuffed animals as a child when I would hold Sunday School in my room and use a flannel blanket for flannelgraph. God’s Word gripped me early.
The only time I can remember not really wanting to read it regularly was a couple years after Bible college. I had dissected the Bible to the point that it became a textbook. I think that kind of learning was necessary. In fact I know it was but it left me in a bit of a funk around my senior year of college. I believe there was incredible grace from God in that time. He understood. He knew I would be back.
One of my most prized possessions is my Bible that I received on my 17th birthday from my parents. This was in a time of turmoil in their marriage so the fact that they gave this Bible to me together means a lot. It’s also the Bible where I marked up Psalms and Isaiah as I read while my parents were separated for two years, prior to their divorce. My dad marked Colossians 2:4–12 for me the week before I left for college. The margin there says “From Dad.”
A couple lines above it I marked Colossians 1:28–29 with the words “Good for CE” (or Good for Christian Education):
He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.
I don’t use that copy of the Bible too much anymore. Can’t carry it to church or anything. When Kyla was a (very strong-willed) baby she ripped out the maps in the back when I wasn’t looking and the first page of Jonah while I was prepping a youth group lesson. I don’t know what she had against Paul’s missionary travels or Jonah and the big fish but she made her feelings known, I guess. Yes, that Bible has so much character and holds a lot of God’s work in my life in between its pages.
Most recently I’ve come to enjoy reading the paraphrase The Message. What’s so great about The Message is that verses I’m tempted to kind of skim or say, “yeah, yeah, I know what that says already” become a whole new thing for me. I slow down. I pause. I see Scripture in a new way. I believe God gifted Eugene Peterson very specifically to complete this paraphrase. (If you’re curious how Peterson started writing it, check out Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading where he shares the story. It was originally meant for the church he was pastoring and it morphed into something that has changed many, many lives.)
I always, always read The Message alongside the NIV. I have loved NIV for many years as well since that’s what I used at my Christian middle school and high school. It is familiar to me. This last May, Jeff bought me a parallel NIV/The Message. I love it so much. I wanted to carry it everywhere with me for at least two weeks after I received it.
There is no way around it, God’s Word is special to me. I love it. I love it because I love Him and I believe I love Him more because of His Word. I’m beyond grateful to have access to Scripture, to read it, and to share it with others. When I open my Bible I almost always feel a sense of excitement, even when I’m just doing it as part of my job. I sometimes open just to check that a passage is stated correctly but that doesn’t make a difference. I simply love the possibility of what can happen when God’s Word is open and how He will work through His inspired Word as it inspires me.