Read the Bible to Know God

Our goal for bible reading determines whether we are going to be satisfied or not. The bible is written for us to know God, NOT (primarily) for us to know God's will for us specifically. So if we read the bible and expect what we read to be immediately relevant to whatever is worrying us at that point, we are setting ourselves up for a big disappointment. But if we read the bible and expect to get to know God better, more often than not, we will be satisfied.

Often we want to know God's will, but do not care about knowing God. If you take God out of God's will, you are left with swill. That is not God's way. God wants us to know Him and in knowing Him, will come to recognise His will.

What to look for when we read

As an example, let us use Matthew 6:7-15.

Firstly, bear in mind that our goal is to know God.

Look for:

  • Facts: For example when it says "Your Father knows what you need before you ask him." That is a clear fact. You learn a fact about God here.
  • Choices/Decisions: Do not be like the Gentiles. How? They think that God hears better when they us e more words. Or verse 14: If you forgive men their tresspasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you. Choose.
  • Patterns: If you read through Matthew 6, you will see that Jesus consistently speaks against hypocrisy. He speaks against doing something in order to be seen. He talks about having the spirit of forgiveness within us as we express a spirit of repentance. There is a pattern. The inward (and unseen) reality must be consistent with the outward expression. God desires integrity and hates hypocrisy, even though we may be doing something that is good and right (like praying, or asking for forgiveness).
  • Conflicts: Sometimes something that doesn't quite fit becomes an avenue for deeper understanding. For example, you may ask, "why pray at all, when God already knows what we need before we ask?" It doesn't fit. What it reveals is our misunderstanding of prayer. What is prayer? Does it mean that if God knows what we need, we then do not need to pray?
  • Rationale: Often the bible gives its rationale for its recommendations. The rationale is important because it reveals the thinking process that arrives at the conclusion. In Matthew 6 Jesus says, "I know how you think. You want to be rewarded by men for your acts of spirituality. And you think that God is like that as well! But really God looks for very different things. He sees in secret. He looks inside. He hears your inner thoughts much more than your beautiful phrases. He looks for your forgiving heart, past your plea for mercy."

Of course not every passage we read will give us substance in every category listed above. But the list gives us a framework on what to look for when we read the bible.

Interfacing with Reality

Reading the bible and gaining knowledge of God is only a part of the process of knowing God. In essence, we have only come to the stage of knowing ABOUT God, where the knowledge only exists in the head. What we know about Him we must transfer into the reality of our life.

Knowing God is a lifetime process. Not because there are so many facts to learn about God, but that every of those facts about God has a different flavour, a different feel, a different depth when it intersects at different times in our life.

Take for example the fact we learnt just now: God knows what you need before you ask him. When we are children in Sunday School it means just what it says. When we are weeping at the grave of someone we love, it takes on a different dimension.

It is this very truth that makes knowing God a deeply satisfying experience. There is a mystery that challenges our minds and hearts. There may come a time when the Bible is terribly familiar to us. We have read every verse and studied every phrase. Nothing is new to us any more. Yet it continues to be exciting and deeply relevant as our Bible reading intersects with our life experiences, cutting them open like a fine surgeon's scalpel and revealing deeper truths that we never realise exist.

And so bible reading, and bible study, must be brought into our lives for the truth to become alive.

What does this mean?

It means that we begin to live and relate with the God we are beginning to know. If He knows our needs, even before we ask Him, then we know that our well-being does not rest on our spiritual work (like praying long hours?) but on the goodness of his being. If he sees in secret our inner being then perhaps we better take better care of what we are inside. Perhaps we better think thoughts KNOWING that he hears every thought. And when we begin to admit to ourselves how sinful we really are (we are all unequal when viewed from the outside but on the inside we are all sinful, right?), when we actually really WANT to sin but dare not on the outside but do so in secret, then we need his forgiveness. Then he confronts us with the way we judge other people because we insist on comparing each other on the OUTSIDE, even though we know on the INSIDE we are equally sinful. Because when we examine from the outside we are better.

Jesus started by telling us that God knows our need. He finishes by emphasizing that He also knows our sin. And he cares about both. This is the reality. We do not need to tell him about our need. How wonderful. We cannot hide from him our sin. How awful. Both are the same truth about the same God.

What I am demonstrating here is that reading the bible helps us to know about God. And if we begin to live our lives in a way that is consistent with what we know about God, we will begin to know God. And in that knowing, we will begin to recognize His voice and know His will. This knowledge will change us and shape us in ways we cannot imagine.

This then, is what bible reading/bible study is all about.

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