I was sitting at a lunch table with some acquaintances. Acquaintances, not friends. I admit we sat there for a while staring at our food and waiting for the awkwardness to subside.
Kind of like me and my Bible sometimes, I’m sad to say.
But then, at that lunch table, I happened to mention a little something called “soccer.” I’ve never seen people light up so quickly, or go from conversational zero to 60 in such a short time.
The problem is that I don’t care much for soccer.
Please don’t hate me; I recognize that the fault lies with me and my narrow hegemonic American athletic chauvinism. I’ve enjoyed a few Lionel Messi highlight videos in my time; but a game where you can’t use your God-given hands, where a high score is 4-3, where “flopping” is encouraged—it just doesn’t seem right to me, and no amount of cultural re-education, including my presence in the beautiful land of Germany during the 2006 World Cup, has been able to dislodge this sensibility. Pile on, lovers of the beautiful game. I know I deserve it. Tell me how wrong I am in the comments. Just don’t fake an emotional injury.
I must say, however, that at that table the interest in soccer was so strong that I couldn’t help but be kind of interested, too. Out of the abundance of their hearts their mouths spoke (Matt 12:34), and some of their excitement spilled onto me. I found myself plying them with soccer questions despite my prejudices. And they were impressively ready with answers.
Soccer-fan passion for the Word of God
Can the same thing happen with the Bible? How can you get so excited about the Bible that you can’t help but make other people excited, too, even those deeply prejudiced against it? How do you turn your own boring Bible reading (admit it, we’ve all been there) into something enriching and engrossing?
In classic rhetorical fashion, I will offer three biblical answers.
Get a new heart
Theologically speaking, a heart for the Bible starts with repentance from sin and faith in Christ’s death and resurrection (Mark 1:15; 1 Cor. 15:1–6). It starts with God making you a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). Scripture will not fill your heart until you get a new one. I constantly go back to the new covenant promise of Ezekiel 36:
I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
When the Bible walks into the room, a heart of stone doesn’t beat any faster. It doesn’t beat at all—not about God’s words, anyway. A heart of stone responds to Scripture the way I respond to telemarketing recordings promising me easy approval on a business loan: “Click!”
But a heart of flesh is responsive to God’s words. When the Bible comes into its field of vision, it beats faster. It starts to get full, and then out come words of praise, appreciation, thanksgiving, even exegesis and exposition.
I didn’t get independently excited about the Bible until I was a teenager. I say “independently” not to denigrate the AWANA badges that had previously motivated me to learn verses as a child, but to thank the Lord that (only by his grace) I eventually put away those childish things. I don’t remember that putting-away being a “choice,” exactly. I couldn’t say then why I gradually began to take personal interest in the words of Jesus, Moses, Paul, and David. Looking back, however, I believe God performed a spiritual heart transplant.
That’s step one—though to call it that sounds glib. This isn’t really a step at all; it’s a new birth one cannot perform on one’s self. As Jesus says in John 3, we are “born of the Spirit,” a birth which often comes with complications. Nonetheless, it’s “step” one because there’s no true love for God’s words without it.
Get good teaching
Famous evangelical scholar J.I. Packer had a conversion experience as a college student but spent the first six weeks of his Christian life reading the Bible the way he used to read it before his conversion, as a collection of fallible but valuable human thoughts inspired by experiences with the divine.
I was assuming that though the substance of the Scripture was certainly true and we believed [it] . . . . But I took it for granted that educated people nowadays don’t believe every jot and tittle.
His study was still enriching, he says, but it lacked an essential spark.
But then he heard a sermon. It wasn’t even, he said, particularly great. But it had a major impact on young James Imel Packer:
I think it was the reverence with which this curious old gentleman had handled Revelation 13. Not what he made of it, but it’s the way that he squared up to the text—squeezing wisdom out of individual verses and phrases and studying the texts in the context and flow of the argument. . . . Something had triggered in me unawares. The Bible makes an impact on me which assures me that it is the Word of God pure. And being so it is bound to be all true and all trustworthy because God is. I think that is the way to say it—it’s what Calvin called the witness of the Holy Spirit which I’d been enjoying for those six weeks but hadn’t got around to verbalizing (pg. 2).
I had an analogous experience. The first time I remember hearing truly deep and rich Bible teaching as a teenager, I was hooked. I remember literally sitting on the edge of my pew and being shocked when the hour-long sermons were finished. I was being fed; that’s what shepherds are supposed to do for sheep. And my excitement about the Bible grew as I was helped to see its depth and its relevance by a gifted individual. Christ gave us “shepherds and teachers,” Paul explained to the Ephesians,
. . .to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
If you want to be more excited about the Bible, don’t neglect the gift God has given you: go to a church where the shepherds and teachers do all these things through the Word. A good preacher will teach you how to read your Bible well almost by osmosis; a good preacher will model good reading for you.
Study for yourself
But the most exciting insights I have had into Scripture have often come from my own study. Not because I think more highly of my own ideas than of other people’s, but because we all tend to value the things we paid a lot for.
And insights from Scripture really are worth a great deal, no matter how much you pay for them.
If you want get to excited about the Bible, I recommend that you focus on the text of Scripture before reading the works of gifted teachers. I’m not contradicting what I just said in point two; I’m saying that your own study should reflect where the real authority lies: in Scripture, not in people.
No matter your skill level, you can and must work hard to understand what God is saying, while relying on the Holy Spirit who breathed out the Word, and making judicious use of the means he has put at our disposal. I do not believe we are so bound by our human perspectives that finding the meaning of Scripture is a fruitless task. As Mark D. Thompson says in his excellent book A Clear and Present Word, scriptural clarity is often “hard-won.” But it is available.
I’m haunted and encouraged by Jesus’ words to the Pharisees: “Have you not read . . .?” (Matt 22:31). He expected them both to have read and understood their Bibles—in a day, most archaeologists agree, in which there was no Bible software. Jesus’ expectation doesn’t necessarily imply ability, but it does imply responsibility—one I’m motivated to take up.
I have found that motivation for Bible study is circular: You can’t get excited about the Bible until you do some serious study in it. You can’t do serious study unless your excitement about Scripture motivates you to do so. Sometimes my circle breaks down. I don’t maintain a constant excitement (or study) level. I get tired. I get sick. I get busy. I drift. But because I have a new heart, good teachers, and the continuing grace of God, I can never stop trying to enter the circle again. In my best moments, all I can say for myself is that I “hunger and thirst for righteousness” as Jesus described in the Sermon on the Mount. And I have a promise from that same sermon: I will be filled. Filled to the brim. My cup runneth over. I’m privileged, I’m excited, to study the Bible.
As the annual day of resolutions and high hopes for Bible reading nears, what are you going to do to stir up your love of the Bible? Let me know in the comments.
Mark L. Ward, Jr. received his PhD from Bob Jones University in 2012; he now serves the church as a Logos Pro. He is the author of multiple high school Bible textbooks, including Biblical Worldview: Creation, Fall, Redemption.