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‘Reading the Scriptures is not an activity discrete from living the gospel but one integral to it. It means letting Another have a say in everything we are saying and doing. It is as easy as that. And as hard.’
(Eugene Peterson, Eat This Book, p. xii)

I was a nerd when I was a kid, well before nerds were geeky-cool. And I was nerdy in every sense of the word: bookish, indoorsy and excited by superheroes (what I wouldn’t give for an adult-size pair of the Batman gym boots I had when I was eight!). Shopping for school supplies at the start of each new year made me giddy and a library membership held as much promise for me as a limitless credit card. By the time I was fourteen, I had obtained the requisite large round glasses and shiny braces of the eternal dork. (Let’s pretend there aren’t any pictures of me from that era.)

I brought this bookish zeal with me to the quiet times I spent praying and soaking up Scripture. Because Bible study fit snugly with my personality, it wasn’t something I ever felt forced to do. It was easy for me to make it a priority, just as it was easy for me to create charts that I’d fill out when I finished reading a chapter or had memorised a set number of Scripture verses. I loved formulas and study plans, checklists with boxes to cross off each day, and helpful acronyms that broke down my prayer time into specific units allocated for praise, for intercessory prayer, for thanksgiving, for personal needs, and singing.

I was constantly trialing new methodologies. I dare say I read as many “how to study the Bible” guidebooks as I actually read of the Bible. If I fell behind in whatever Bible-reading plan I was using, I’d obsessively read extra chapters until I caught up, even if my brain started to get a little blurry on the details of what I was reading.

But somewhere between the ages of about 12 and 25, the nerdy joy in Project: Devotional Zeal was replaced by nerdy anxiety. I guess that’s the thing about continuously working a project: when you put that much energy into some illusory endgame or achievement chart, eventually you start looking for a report card. And I’m not sure just what straight A’s look like when it comes to Bible study. For me, success hovered indefinably in the feeling and the takeaway. If I felt close to God and I had a little tidbit of relevant knowledge or guidance to take with me into the day, wielded before me like a light saber, then I was happy. Mission accomplished.

What, then, of those days when I couldn’t feel close? Or when those long double-columns of words failed to offer up anything compactable into a cliché or a promise or a goal? On those days, I felt I had failed, that I wasn’t doing it right. Because of course devotion to God is quantifiable, and there is a right way and a wrong way of doing things – right? So I chased perfection, switching things up in the hope that somehow I’d get nearer to the ideal devotional time. What’s more, by doing things right, I was certain (even if subconsciously) that God was more likely to hear me, and that I’d have more magical breakthroughs in my faith life. It’s only logical, surely.

The thing about perfection, though, is that it is unattainable – perhaps even more so when you have created your own fantasy of what perfection looks like. And my imaginary perfect devotional time had a tendency to suck the joy out of spending time with God. Without realising it, I was once again making God’s grace something I had to earn for myself, in this case by working through my list of perfect methodologies. But when do we ever have to get it right before we approach God? When has His grace been contingent on our perfection?

One of the most wondrous aspects of the gospel is that it is God approaching us, perfection seeking out imperfection, the flawless seeking out the flawed. It’s precisely because I cannot get it right that God has made it right, through the imperfection-eradicating death and resurrection of Christ. I cannot study the gospel without bearing the gospel with me, the knowledge that without God working in me, I wouldn’t even want to know Him. It is all God.

This truth, the unforgettable truth that I’m actually quite good at forgetting, can change how I approach the study of the Scriptures. Once again I’m reminded that it’s not actually about me, and it’s certainly not about whether I get this right. This simple understanding, then, sets me free from unhelpful expectations or a sense of self-centred achievement. Yes, formulas can help me work through the Scriptures. Yes, reading the Word can make me feel closer to God. Yes, some days I will come across a text that is so right and so specific that I know the Holy Spirit has orchestrated that moment. But the Holy Spirit is at work in all of Scripture. It is the book, the book of God, the word of God to the humans buzzing about on this planet, and first and foremost I can read it simply because it is His.

Liberated Devotion

In this way, reading the Bible becomes not a chore, an item on the to-do list, or a rung on the ladder that will eventually make me good enough to approach God. Rather, at its most basic, it is an act of worship. Psalm 103:13 reminds us that God is like the father of little children; He has compassion on we who fear Him, and He remembers our mere humanity.

This is a liberating truth. The Bible is God’s word to us. Let’s study it, yes. Let us use it as our guidebook for living. Let’s rely on it to draw us closer to Him. But first and foremost, let us worship Him by sitting at His feet and listening to His stories. We don’t have to be or achieve anything in order to do this. The duty is its own reward.

12 Comments

  1. Wow! This was so what I needed to hear. Just to refresh what time with God really should look like. I can relate with Danielle so much, wanting to be “good enough” and being a perfectionist. But it’s all God, not us, I love that she said that. While I was reading this I thought, “Wow, the kind of things that she’s saying sound so ESFJ.” We want to do things right.

  2. “One of the most wondrous aspects of the gospel is that it is God approaching us, perfection seeking out imperfection…” Powerful, Danielle. Thank you.

    I’ve so struggled with having a consistent “quiet time” since I got married last summer. Before, when I was single, it seemed so easy (perhaps not at the time, but comparatively. Oh, hindsight.), but now schedule changes and, ahem, another person in our 650-square feet makes finding a dedicated corner tricky. And thus I’ve grown Pharisaical about it in an effort to regain control.

    But it’s not about that (control) at all. Thank you for reminding me of that today.

  3. Amen! I can relate to so much of this, Danielle, and I thank you for writing it so eloquently! During my homeschool years, I spent so much time in the Word, but sometimes it wasn’t “in” time so much as “there” time, if that makes sense. It’s only since this #collegegirl has discovered just how quickly 24 hours can rush by that Bible Study has become a discipline, a duty, and a joy…and, oh, that part about the Flawless reaching for the Flawed!! I remember sitting straight up in Sunday school one day and declaring (in response to the teacher’s introductory question “What makes Christianity different from other religions?”), “Other religions are man reaching up to God. Christianity is God reaching down to man.” Oh, the awe!

    1. Other religions are man reaching up to God. Christianity is God reaching down to man.

      And what a difference that is! Amazing grace.

  4. This truth, the unforgettable truth that I’m actually quite good at forgetting, can change how I approach the study of the Scriptures. Once again I’m reminded that it’s not actually about me, and it’s certainly not about whether I get this right.
    It’s uncanny that I read this today, and I wish I could express how much I needed it. Like the Holy Spirit orchestrated moments you mentioned, I really, really needed this. Just yesterday, I wept at how the words on the pages of my Bible were just words. My heart just wasn’t receiving it. I resulted to listening to a sermon–it was much easier to take notes whilst someone preaching at me. I ended up getting incredibly blessed by the sermon, and read better after. But I needed this reminder that God is sovereign over ALL of Scripture, and over ALL of my heart no matter how easy it feels to read it.

    1. God is sovereign over ALL of Scripture, and over ALL of my heart no matter how easy it feels to read it.

      YES. Excellent.

  5. I loved this! I’m starting a new season of “Bible time”, so this is a goooood reminder to keep it real. Thank you!

    1. I can SO relate to your studiousness. And I think that a passion for linguistics/charts/highlighting, etc. can certainly enhance the Bible study experience, but if the passion for the Lord isn’t there, I guess it all falls flat. Every once in a while, I don’t let myself use any study tools BUT the Bible, so I can learn out to listen to His voice again.

      1. I think that’s an excellent discipline, Elizabeth. You’re so right: all those tools can enhance the experience, but if they -become- the experience, then it fails to be genuine worship.

    2. I’m so glad these were timely thoughts for you, Jessiqua! Blessings as you relish God’s word for its own sake. And yes, high fives to keepin it real!

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