Reading and Being Read by the Bible

A view of the Treasury in the ancient stone city of Petra from the end of the Siq (from our recent trip to Israel & Jordan)

A while back, I wrote a note to a friend who had been talking about how many Christians seem to “use” the Bible instead of listening to God in it. Here’s an edited version of my letter:

John,

I so resonate with your experience. I think it could easily be reproduced around the world. It’s certainly true here where I live. We have a funny way of “using” the Bible to “live better lives” instead of letting Jesus personally guide and transform our lives through the scriptures. These “biblical principles” seem to take on a strange life of their own. And certainly the Old Testament was chock full of principles when Jesus came to fulfill them. My main problem hasn’t been that I don’t know the right thing to do (or the wrong thing not to do). My trouble has been not having sufficient resolve, intention, desire and power to actually live that way. This I find in deepening communion with Jesus Himself. So simple. So deceptively simple.

And I keep seeing how this simple focus has such power, especially in Christian leadership settings. I recently had another in sequence of conversations with the leader of a large Southern California ministry. We talked about a planning retreat I’ll be leading for the core leaders in which we’ll spent most of the first day postponing the work of planning. In that day, we will give time to:

  • Reflecting on scripture individually and together
  • Offering a few hours individually in solitude and silence.
  • Coming back together to share with one another whatever it is that God seems to be doing or saying.
  • Giving thanks to God in community.
  • Praying for other key leaders in the ministry.

It will be on the second day of the retreat that we will then address issues of long-term, strategic planning. Our experience is that we will find that having spent our first day as we will, there will be far greater commonness of heart and mind, encouragement, creativity, energy, discernment and hopefulness than if we’d started in on the work after a brief opening prayer on day one. We will probably get more work done and it will be better than what would have been produced in two days of solid work. I can’t wait! (A later note—what I had hoped for in the rhythm of this retreat was far exceeded in the fruit of what actually happened among us).

I recently received an email from one of our Journey alumni from Nigeria asking if our team would come there six times in the next two years to launch a Journey retreat especially focusing on rural pastors in that nation. Wherever we as North Americans have sent missionaries, our ideas about “principles” and such have gone with us, almost like a virus. It’s this strange sort of devotion to Jesus in name that so often seems to have so little spiritual reality to it.

My work, more and more, appears to be focused on coming alongside Christian leaders in many different settings to help them develop holy and healthy rhythms of spiritual formation and leadership. I find that many younger leaders, especially gifted ones, have great gifts but sometimes little practical experience in living and leading from deep communion with Jesus. They are so able to survive (and thrive) on their musical skills, speaking abilities or  bright personalities alone. Lord, be with us.

I’ve appreciated Paul’s prayer for the Christians in Thessalonica. “With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Thess 1:11-12 NIV)

Alan

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