THE BOOK OF BOOKS
I begin this month’s article with a confession. I am addicted to books. Not the digital ones. The ones with real pages. The ones you can smell the paper and the ink when you crack open the cover. Books you can feel the paper’s texture. The ones you can take notes in, with a mechanical pencil and nothing else of course, for future reference. The ones you can put on a shelf and consult whenever you need the information contained inside. I am woefully addicted to books, and I think that’s good.
I’m thankful for my love of books because God’s people are often referred to as “people of the book.” This tells me that Christians are to be readers. Yes, we can listen to someone else read the Bible to us on a recording, but there is something about reading and studying the words for ourselves that brings the pages of Scripture alive. Reading is hard work, and it’s getting harder with the innumerable distractions that we face on a daily basis. But reading is a necessary spiritual discipline. God’s word is to be carefully studied so that it can change our hearts and help us grow in the Lord. It’s been said, “Leaders are readers.” That’s true. But I also believe “Maturing Christians are readers.” Yes, we should read good Christian books that help explain Scripture to us, but that does not replace our need for personal Bible study. We must read God’s word if we are going to mature spiritually.
The Lord nourishes, guides, and teaches Christians from His written word. While reading the Bible can seem like a daunting task, hope and life are found within its pages. In our world of mountainous amounts of disposable information and the daily onslaught of material to be consumed, it’s tempting to approach Bible reading like we do the plethora of e-mails, texts, and Tweets we receive in a day. Even the biblically-based devotions that flood our inbox each day are quickly skimmed because we have so many other things demanding our perceived immediate attention. Unfortunately, if we’re not careful, the Bible becomes just another daily reading assignment we must get through to appease our conscience. But the Bible isn’t meant to be read from cover to cover as quickly as possible, only to be placed back on a shelf.
As I am writing this article, I am sitting in my living room. From where I am writing I can see several fiction books on our bookshelves that have been read one time and placed on our shelf likely to never be touched again. That’s fine for fiction (and I’m sure most of our fiction books have at least been read by multiple people). But the Bible is divinely unique and should never just take up space on our bookshelves. Sometimes we treat our Bible like the disposable fiction we may read. We skim it and put it back on the shelf. The Bible is the eternal word of God meant to be read again and again. It’s meant to be digested into our souls so that we can live a life of consistent obedience.
In Ezekiel 3:1-3 we read, “And he said to me, ‘Son of man, eat whatever you find here. Eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.’ So I opened my mouth, and he gave me this scroll to eat. And he said to me, ‘Son of man, feed your belly with this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.’ Then I ate it, and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey.”
These verses may seem odd to us, but there are some very simple, but life-changing instructions in these three verses. First, we learn that God’s word must be digested, that is, internalized, before it has any effect on our lives. Ezekiel was asked to “eat the scroll,” meaning he had to devour the words written on the scroll. Before Ezekiel could proclaim God’s word to the people, the prophet had to allow God’s word to sink deeply into his heart and nourish him. Second, we observe that God’s word was as sweet as honey to Ezekiel. While the pending message was one of judgment, it was sweet to the prophet because it was from God and it would communicate God’s holiness. Psalm 119:103 says, “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” The reading of God’s word should be like sweet honey touching our tongues. It should be like cold water on a parched tongue. The refreshment of God’s word is nourishment to our hungry souls.
Too often we scan the life-giving pages of the Bible the way we do a solicitation that found its way into our jammed inbox. E-mails are often quickly scanned and deleted. We move on to the next. Tweets are read and then forgotten. The digital culture is teaching us that the written word is to be consumed then discarded. But the Bible is an everlasting book that is of the greater value than any other book ever written. In the pages of Scripture, we discover God’s inexhaustible text that has eternal significance and relevance.
You may not be a book addict that visits bookstores on the weekends searching for a new book to read. But Christians are to be readers. If you read nothing else, you must consistently read the Bible. As a believer, you must regularly devour the sweet, life-giving, eternal words of your heavenly Father. The Bible is a letter from home. And your Father has much to tell you! You can’t live a spiritually mature life apart from Scripture.
Allow me to offer a few suggestions for consistent Bible reading:
1. Set aside time each day to read the Bible (I suggest a specific time every day along with a couple shorter sessions throughout the day).
2. Make a habit of reading (you should feel like you missed something if you didn’t read).
3. Purchase a good study Bible with footnotes (while the notes are not inspired, they will assist you in understanding the passage. I personally find the ESV Study Bible and the HCSB Study Bible to be very helpful).
4. Read in multiple translations (you don’t have to read Greek and Hebrew to know the Bible, but multiple translations allows you to see how different translators deal with the original languages).
5. Get a basic commentary to help you understand the text (The Moody Bible Commentary is a good one-volume commentary that can get you started).
I pray that as you build a habit of reading God’s word, your thirst for Him will grow!