You reach for the phone. You’ve dialed Loola’s number even before you realize what you’re doing. The phone beeps about the same time you remember that Loola no longer lives in your neighborhood. You set down the phone and glance out the window.
Your eyes fall toward the kitchen sink, and across the counter where the Gardener’s Almanac waits. You haven’t touched the book since Loola gifted it. You move reluctantly toward the overly thick volume. It’s heavy in your hand as you thumb through its pages. The words are small, and there are fewer pictures than you like. With a deep breath, you set the book down and look back through the window.
Although you recognize that there is an immense amount of knowledge to be gained in the Almanac, you can’t help but resist. You don’t want to read that book. You want to hear Loola’s charm and wit in person.
“Come on,” you say to the book. “Let’s go.” Gathering the Almanac, you tuck it under your arm as you pass out the back door. You spend about five minutes staring at the tree before you take a seat in Loola’s old chair. You haven’t had the heart to put it back in storage.
You open the Gardener’s Almanac to the first page and begin with the words printed there. It’s only a few sentences before you realize your eyes are moving down the page, but your mind has wandered off. Maybe I’m not supposed to start at the beginning. Flipping through the pages, you pick a chapter in the middle of the book. This time, the attempt has the same effect. The book closes with a disgruntled thump, and you head back for the house.
As you enter the kitchen door and lay the book down, you speak as if Aunt Loola is there to hear. “What’s the point of reading a gardening book, anyway?”
She doesn’t magically appear, so you put it out of your mind. You have other things to do, anyway. Maybe you’ll find motivation later in the afternoon.
Why do we need Scripture? If you want to experience abundant life, you are going to need to get your mind in the right place. To maintain that fundamental mindset, you need to be taking in God's word.
The early church's believers devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching.1 The Apostle’s teaching is now collected in what we call the New Testament. They were committed to that teaching as a central part of their lives.
All through the New Testament, the apostles instruct believers to learn from God's word. Peter told some of his listeners when he said, as newborn babies, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby.2 Without growth, there will be no fruit.
Transformation is possible when you are aided by God’s word. The fully abundant life is going to require you to engage with Scripture in some way. Whether listening, reading, or reviewing memorized passages, you need to be engaging with God’s word.
This truth was explained by the writer of Hebrews. He said, God’s word is alive and working. It is sharper than the sharpest sword and cuts all the way into us. It cuts deep to the place where the soul and the spirit are joined. God’s word cuts to the center of our joints and our bones. It judges the thoughts and intentions of the heart.3
Your mind is a mixture of good and bad thoughts, valuable and filthy motives, intentions both useful and detrimental. There is something magical about interacting with God's word. It can divide the useful stuff from the mess. Scripture is like a scalpel specifically designed by God to sever the thoughts and intentions that will keep you from experiencing abundant life.
On your quest to gain abundant life, you will need a regular dose of God's word. Paul put it this way, Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.4 God’s word only dwells in us richly if we dwell on it regularly. For Christ’s word to dwell in us richly, we need to understand what the Bible is saying.
Scripture is designed to bring abundant life, hanging like fruit-laden branches, to the average man and woman. However, that doesn't mean that everyone comes to understand what is written in the pages of Scripture. Why is it that so many people misunderstand the Bible?
The writer of Hebrews gives at least one reason when he says, We have a great deal to say about this, and it is difficult to explain since you have become too lazy to understand. Although by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the basic principles of God's revelation [word] again. You need milk, not solid food.5
Did you notice the phrase too lazy to understand? It’s true that understanding God’s word is going to take work. It’s possible to be too lazy to understand. Reading the Bible isn’t always easy, and so many give up. Or instead, they simply do it out of duty, not really paying attention to what they are reading.
There is another reason why many people misunderstand the truths that can be found in Scripture. They suffer from what I call the I can do it myself, syndrome. My three-year-old son says, "I can do it myself," quite often. In fact, many times, he will cry if someone opened his cheese stick packaging when he wanted to do it on his own. This is despite the fact that there are things he just simply can't do. He needs help.
Gaining a grasp of Scripture is not something you can do on your own. There is this amazing story in the gospels where Jesus is talking to a few of his friends. The writer says that while they talked, He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.6 Why would they need their minds to be opened? Didn’t we say that the Scriptures are for everyone? They are, but this comes with a caveat.
We must approach the Scriptures humbly, seeking God's help to understand. We need Him to open our minds to the word. This is why I often find myself praying between the lines of my Bible, "Lord, what does this mean?" This is not so different from what the Psalm writer said when he prayed, Give me understanding according to Your word.7
Praying this kind of prayer, for understanding of Scripture, keeps my mind sharp and focused on finding the answer. Prayer is a vital part of understanding scripture. James said, If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.8 If you ask for wisdom and understanding, especially concerning God’s word, that is a prayer that pleases God to answer.
In addition to praying for understanding of the Scriptures, when I come to a difficult verse, I check my interpretation against other more clear verses I’m already aware of. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone back to old simple favorites like John 3:16, Ephesians 2:8-9, or John 5:24.
As I check Scripture against Scripture, I also talk with trusted friends who have more Bible knowledge than I do to gain a wider perspective. I listen for answers from Bible teachers and trusted preachers. In short, even if I’m reading my Bible by myself, I’m not really studying alone.
It should be said that wisdom and understanding rarely comes in a magical moment of revelation, at least for me. I'm leary of anyone who says God spoke to them. I'm even wary of people who say God communicated to them through their impressions or feelings. What I've noticed is when I pray for understanding of Scripture, most of the time, God answers my "what does this mean?" prayer by allowing me to cross paths with a Bible teacher, or radio sermon, or preacher who answers the questions I'm looking for. That is an answer to prayer, even if it doesn't seem nearly as miraculous as lightning to the brain would. The prayer is critical, though, because it both aligns my mind with the goal of finding the answer and invites God to lead me to the place where I will find the answer.
Unfortunately, many have come up with some strange and faulty conceptions of what God is saying in the Bible because they have approached Scripture with an I can do it on my own, approach. Keep praying, keep believing that you can understand, and I'm convinced God will allow you to cross paths with the answer you seek.
Now, remember, we're not doing this because it's the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is to have abundant life. We achieve abundant life by keeping a Godly mindset. Scripture study is a habit that can help us accomplish that very thing. In the next chapter, we're going to take a look at some ways to make scripture study less laborious and boring.
1 Acts 2:42
2 1 Peter 2:2 CSB
3 Hebrews 4:12 ERV/NKJV
4 Colossians 3:16
5 Hebrews 5:10-12 CSB
6 Luke 24:24
7 Psalm 119:169
8 James 1:5 NIV