Does Scripture Read Me?

Brian D. Russell

I’ve read the Bible regularly since my conversion to the Christ-following movement during my sophomore year of high school. It’s been thirty-eight years since I prayed to God: “God if you are real, reveal yourself to me in your Word. Amen.” I started reading the Bible after praying that prayer. My youth pastor, Steve Miller, had encouraged our group to read through the New Testament in 1985. I was struggling enough personally that I decided to listen to his advice. God answered that prayer and Scripture has since been my companion. I’ve read it, memorized it, learned exegesis, written books about it, preached hundreds of sermons, and instructed well over a thousand students on how to interpret it.

Yet I still find myself pondering a crucial question: I read the Scripture, but does Scripture read me?

Joshua’s Call and the Power of Scripture

Recently, I had the privilege of reading Joshua 1:1–9 with a group of students. In Joshua 1, we encounter God’s call to Joshua to lead God’s people into the promised land of Canaan. God repeatedly commands him to be resolved, strong, and courageous (vv. 6, 7, and 9). Joshua’s primary focus was to study Moses’s gift of the Torah (1:7-8) and then model faithful obedience for the community. Thus, it was not physical courage that Joshua required. Instead, it was the courage to read, internalize, and live out the Scriptures faithfully. This commitment was the key to leading God’s people to inherit the land and be mediators of God’s blessing to the world.

Meditation and Internalization of Scripture

God commands Joshua not to allow the word to depart from his mouth (1:8). He is to meditate on it constantly. While meditation often brings to mind silent introspection, the word used in 1:8 (see Psalm 1:2) suggests an audible element as well. It implies an engaged, whole person grappling with the text. In his classic Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading, Eugene Peterson likens this audible meditation to the delight he observed in his dog when it loudly enjoyed chewing on a bone. “There is a certain kind of writing that invites this kind of reading, soft purrs and low growls as we taste and savor, anticipate and take in the sweet and spicy, mouth-watering and soul-energizing words–‘O taste and see that the Lord is good!’ (Ps. 34:8)” (2).

So, what can we learn here? I think Joshua 1 and Peterson are pointing to our need to read Scripture beyond a desire for mere knowledge. It’s not about mastering the content of the Bible, but allowing the Bible to master us. Although we can learn to dissect and analyze the Bible skillfully, the deeper issues turn on whether our reflection on the text truly permeates and transforms our lives. In other words, do we open ourselves to allow the text to read us?

A Journey of Transformation

Let’s ask the question again: Do you read Scripture, or does the Scripture read you? Our commitment to let the text read us requires an openness to transformation and astonishment. The true goal of reading the Bible is our conversion to its message and its ongoing shaping of us.

When we approach the text with an open heart and mind, we begin to discover deeper insights. Instead of merely seeking proof texts for our preferred ideological commitments or observing critiques of persons with whose way of life we disagree or finding interesting things about the Bible, we discover that the Bible desires a different type of conversation with us. It wants to ask us questions: What kind of person does this text assume that I am? How does this passage shape me and my community for a life of loving God and others?

The Challenge

Take a moment to consider what it would look like if you made a commitment today to open yourself up a little more to the Spirit’s work as you read the Scriptures. Such an intention is critical for seminarians as well as seasoned pastors and spiritual leaders. It’s easy to substitute our “work” with the Bible for others (professors and parishioners) for the work that God wants to do in us.

The journey of letting the Scripture read you requires an ongoing commitment. It is not a one-time event. Cultivate a regular practice of engaging devotionally with the Scriptures, whether through daily reading, meditation, or study groups. Then find ways to integrate its teachings into your daily life, allowing the message to permeate even the hidden places in your soul.

I invite you to reflect on your own relationship with the Scriptures. What would it look like for you to become like Joshua and let the Scripture read you?

Embrace the journey of self-discovery, allowing the ancient wisdom of the Bible to shape and guide your life. Let the Scriptures be your trusted guide for inspiration, comfort, challenge, and guidance as you navigate the complexities of our 21st-century existence. You’ll be glad you did. Just as importantly the souls (present and future) whom you’ll have the privilege of serving will be glad you did too.

Posted Jul 17, 2023

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