Off the back of finishing John Piper’s Reading the Bible Supernaturally (a book which was so helpful that I listened to the audiobook and also read the Kindle edition) I have been challenged to thoroughly re-evaluate the way that I approach not only my reading of Scripture but to overhaul the way in which I structure my devotional times. Typically, we are taught to read the bible and pray. Read the bible, then pray. This has been my practice for a long time, only changed in recent years to praying both before and after reading. But Piper’s book has turned that upside down and inside out in a remarkably helpful way; it’s one of those experiences where you can’t possibly understand how you were doing things the old way now that you’ve been shown a better way. For a full treatment of this radical overhaul, you’ll need to grab the book (because chapters are dedicated to each of these things, and much more) but to summarise, I want to share the main thing I’ve learned from Piper, and mention the first amazing thing that came out of this shift in my life.
This method of prayer and bible reading—while not as catchy or roll-off-the-tongue-ish as something like ACTS—has been nothing short of transformational for me. Here it is in brief, taking place before, during, and after reading:
Admit that without Christ I can do nothing, least of all rightly understand scripture and apply it. Reading begins with the renunciation of pride. We must be humble and realise how depraved our minds are, and how our hearts desire other things more than God. “He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.” (Psalm 25:9)
Pray for God’s help, whatever form of help I need. Piper says “how much light have we forfeited by failure to pray over the word we are reading!” Pray before. Don’t simply invite the Holy Spirit to join you as you read, cast your full dependence on him as the one without whom you can achieve nothing lasting. What is the help I need? To see the supreme desirability of all that God is for me in Christ, in all my circumstances.
Trust a specific promise of God that is tailor-made for my situation or a general promise that applies. “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)
Act in obedience to God’s word, expecting God to act under and in and through my acting, so that the fruit is decisively from his acting. I act the miracle, but God is the decisive cause. “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. (1 Corinthians 3:6–7)
Thank God for whatever good comes. I give him the glory. “…giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20)
Remember that each of these points was an entire chapter in the book (with surrounding chapters that provided additional thoughts, tools, and practical instruction. It’s well worth grabbing the book in order to dive deep into the waters of what each step holds.
Let’s Get Started
So on a quiet Saturday afternoon, while my children slept or played quietly and chores were under control, I picked up my bible to meet with the Lord in this new way. I had recently been listening to Jen Wilkin’s In His Image and was remembering the reference she’d made to a passage in the book of Nahum to support her (very good) point. I haven’t read Nahum since it rolled around in 2017’s bible reading plan, and my fingers aren’t as fast to find it as Romans or Psalms, so I thought I would break from the plan for this moment. But before I pick up my Bible, I pray. I plead with God to encounter me through the word; to reveal, to edify, to transform. Not a long prayer, but one that covered as many things from Piper’s example as came to my mind. Then I take up and read. Nahum chapter 1.
1An oracle concerning Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum of Elkosh. 2The Lord is a jealous and avenging God;
And that’s it, I’m done. Undone might be more apt. Immediately I’m floored by all of the things that I give more time to than God. I’m flooded with thoughts of things that are looking dangerously close to being idols, considering the anticipation I have when I look forward to them, and the withdrawal I feel when it’s been too long. When I read this, I remember that God isn’t jealous the way people are jealous. We should never ascribe to God the definition of a word in the same way we ascribe it to human beings; for God is the only one for whom jealousy is perfect, true, and the complete opposite of sinful—because that’s exactly what he is. So my bible reading reaches an abrupt halt and in repentance, I pray that God would continue to remind me of his ultimate worth. That when I consider how to spend my time and where to invest my resources, that he would be my supreme treasure, and that I am never wholly satisfied until I am satisfied in him.
I didn’t read much that day, and my reading wasn’t the same.
And I know that’s a good thing.