What has God given us that will sustain and deepen our relationship with him so that we love and adore him more?
How will his love for us fill our hearts until it overflows to others?
God’s great gift is Scripture - the Bible - his word written. Scripture is full of information about God himself and his dealings with humanity. There’s also practical wisdom, commands, promises, prophecy, teaching and so on. But it’s entirely possible to develop a deep understanding of the Bible without any real engagement with God himself - and if we’re to be sustained, to grow, to overflow in love we need deep, personal engagement with Christ.
So how do we read Scripture in such a way as to interact with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in this way? How does Scripture bring Christ into our lives and our lives to Christ?
Let’s suppose that my Bible reading this morning included John 20:19-20
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
First, I’m going to remember where we are - it’s still “Easter Sunday” - the day the women and disciples discovered the empty tomb. Jesus has appeared to Mary and she’s passed Jesus’ message on to the disciples, ‘I am returning to my Father and to your Father, to my God and to your God,’ (v18). Now, afraid of the Jews, they’ve locked themselves in.
Now I pause for the first time to imagine. But imagination can be a dangerous thing if it’s allowed to run away into fanciful ideas, so I’m going to keep myself in check and firmly tethered to the Scriptures as I imagine the disciples’ confusion and fear: “When would Jesus return to his Father? What will the Jews do to us? What happens now?”. I begin to feel their uncertainty, anxiety and fear. I empathise with them in a small way: coronavirus has brought uncertainty; trying to lead the church family through these times brings me anxiety, questions and even the fear of getting it wrong or missing people out.
Now, back to the text with my fears. Despite the locked doors, Jesus comes and stands among them, ‘Peace be with you!’
And now imagine again… imagine the disciples’ faces and emotions as they see Jesus, his hands still marked by the nails and his side pierced by the spear. He really is alive! And he’s the same and yet he’s different. Frightened? Confused? Yes, probably, but more than anything, ‘overjoyed’ - that’s what John (who was there) tells us, so we’re on solid ground here.
It’s the Lord, Jesus, crucified-and-risen who stands there and offers his peace. Crucified: I sin, I fail, I’m not worthy, but Jesus stands before me in my imagination, ‘Peace be with you.’ Risen: I fear coronavirus finding Sarah - but I see (imagine) the risen Jesus standing before me, ‘Peace be with you.’ This isn’t mere history or Bible truth. This is Jesus offering me peace in the here and now.
But does Jesus really say this to me? Isn’t this just addressed to those disciples? Yes and yes! And no! “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” says Paul at the start of his letters. God’s peace is for all his saints - including me!
And can I really be overjoyed with the disciples? Again, joy is for all. But to enter into it I need to slow down, pause, imagine. Then, slowly, joy begins to assemble somewhere deep down.
And so I respond, ‘Lord, forgive me for locking you out of my life. Forgive me for thinking I can overcome anxiety with greater effort and skills. I hear you. ‘Do not let your heart be troubled. Trust in me.’ ‘I am the good shepherd.’ ‘I am with you. Always.’’ And I trust him afresh. I entrust the future of the church family to the head of the church. I entrust my own family to their true Father.
But is this all too fanciful? Am I playing fast and loose with Scripture? No, I don’t believe so because I’m always circling back to it. I don’t allow the tether to loosen or become too long. But I’ve allowed God’s word to move from the page, to my head, to my heart so that it affects my desires and my longings. It’s no longer merely a text, but the Lord’s word to me, now. And I’m different. My heart has turned to Christ. For now. Tomorrow, I’ll need to be reminded, but not as much - I’ll come back to Christ more quickly tomorrow.
[While my approach is somewhat different to that which Steve Midgley outlines, he’s helped me to clarify and put into words how I approach Scripture. See his talk, “Meditative Bible Readings” and Midgley, S., Meditating for a Change: Embracing a Lost Art, Journal of Biblical Counseling, 34:1 (2020): 20–39.]
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