The following is the content of an old post I wrote near the end of my first year in seminary. After a recent conversation with a young man on the topic, I thought this might be helpful for others.
I am a whole-hearted advocate of Bible reading plans. But as we all discover, not only is it hard to keep on track, but after 4 months of reading it becomes very difficult to read with any sort of vigor and depth. Our eyes begin to haze over stories of the Old Testament and fly past the familiarity of the New Testament.
One of the most helpful pieces of practice I’ve received in combating this inevitable tendency is to ask three simple questions anytime I read a text, especially of the Old Testament.
- What is this text saying about God?
- What is this text saying about me?
- What is my response in light of these two realities?
Here is a small example from my reading in Isaiah yesterday.
‘Do not fear,
for I am with you;
Do not anxiously look about you,
For I am your God.
I will strengthen you, surely I will help you,
Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’
I’ve kept all the statements asserting something about me to the left, and all the statements regarding God, I’ve indented. The first thing to notice is this. In this small verse, there is way more being said about God than me. This should give us a clue as to what our focus should be.
As a side note, this is the lens through which we should read the entire Bible. There is always way more being said about God than we think, and we should make it our duty to have an eye for those things. Understanding God first and fully, as he has revealed Himself, is the only way we will be able to make sense of our condition and what our proper response should be.
Notice the first two lines. First, what is God saying about Himself? He is with us. Second, what does the text say about me? It asserts that I am fearful—“Do not be afraid.” These two lines form a small argument. God is with us and therefore we should not be afraid. In other words, the ground for not being afraid is the knowledge that God is with us. Notice, it’s not a promise of delivery. It’s a statement of reality. God is presently, actively with us, and this is the reason we should not be afraid.
So when I’m sitting in the back of my Greek class with an intensely large knot in my stomach and a pounding heart because I am about to go up front and give a 45 minute presentation in Greek, the command I have from God is not to be afraid. Why? Because He is with me. Though my hands will still shake, my voice will still waver, and the class will notice, God is with me. I don’t have to be afraid.
The second statement made about God is that He is our God. Meanwhile, the second statement made about us is that we anxiously look about ourselves. It is an interesting argument. Apparently, the cure for anxiety is the reality that “God is our God.” On the surface this seems unhelpful. God is no more my God now than He was five minutes ago. So by this reasoning I should never have been anxious in the first place. Was not God still my God five minutes ago?
I think the answer is this. The subsequent statements supporting the claim that “God is my God” give the rational for the command. As such, the command is to believe that God is able to strengthen, help, and uphold. And this God is my God.
Without becoming too tangential, the God who is saying, “I am your God,” is the same God described in the rest of the Old Testament. If we would even begin to understand the “I AM” statements of the Old Testament when we hear God say, “I AM your God,” then it takes on a whole new meaning. Therefore the force with which we understand God’s ability to strengthen, help, and uphold are significantly exponentiated. When we truly begin to see and believe His ability to strengthen, help, and uphold, we should rejoice. We are starting to understand “I AM.”
Given the context of Isaiah, my anxiety of public speaking is rather minute. But in accordance to the book of Romans I am a beneficiary of these promises. So as insignificant as a 45 minute Greek presentation is in the basement of a chapel in Deerfield, Illinois, He is no less MY God and no less the “I AM” of the Old Testament. He is faithful to His promises. He will strengthen, help, and uphold this anxious student.
Did you forget this was about Bible reading? Here’s the point. I have found it very helpful in Bible reading plans to take the time and ask those three questions. We don’t have the time to do an in-depth word study and syntactical diagram while throwing back the milk from our cereal bowl before rushing off to work. This practice does not and cannot replace rigorous Bible study, but when in a crunch I have found these three questions to be insightful and helpful. I hope you do too!