I don’t read the Bible. Now, I know that right now one of you is thinking to yourself What? Some of this guy’s posts have so many links to Bible verses that every other sentence has a link in it. And he says he doesn’t read the Bible? I get the confusion. I am indeed quite familiar with the Bible. So familiar, in fact, that almost anything someone says to me will remind me of a Scripture passage. For example, after church this past weekend: “Hey, do you want to come with us and go knock on doors and give out literature?” “Sorry, I don’t believe in that.” “Why is that?” “Because Jesus said not to go from house to house.”* But this familiarity does not come from reading the Bible. Let me back up a little. About ten years ago, one of my brothers and I participated for several years on a youth team that competed in rote Bible memorization challenges. Each year a different book of the Bible would be chosen, and we would prepare all year for several rounds of competition. Knowledge had to be exact: if you had a fill-in-the-blank question and you put “reprove” when the answer was “rebuke,” you got it wrong. Here are two questions I still remember from the year we did Revelation:
In Revelation 14:20, how high did the blood rise?
Revelation 21:18-20 List the 12 gemstones of the 12 foundations, in order.
The challenge was not about understanding Scripture, but simply about memorizing it. We quickly learned that the best way to memorize large chunks of text (the year we did Proverbs I could recite chapters 1-20 verbatim, and he could recite from 10 or 11 through 31 verbatim) was to listen to an audio-recording of someone reading it. After hearing a chapter many times, we would start to attempt to recite along with the tape, until we could easily recite the chapter. Then we would add the next chapter, reciting the first with the tape, and then stumbling along with the second. Each additional chapter was added in like manner. What was particularly interesting about all of this is that at the time my sister was not able to read. Nor did she sit down to purposefully memorize the chapters as we did. Yet she knew both of our chapters better than we did, and could probably have won the competition against 4 and 5 man teams completely on her own had she been old enough to compete. She simply heard the tapes being played, and it stuck. This is how I learned the value of listening to Scripture. There is no better way to familiarize yourself with the Bible than to listen to large chunks (for broad context) over and over again (for rote memorization). Because you are doing other things while you listen, your mind associates those things with what you are hearing, so the next time you wash dishes at someone else’s home you are likely to have the passages that you listen to while washing your own dishes come to mind. Faith comes by hearing, but listening to Scripture is not the end-all and be-all. While it will hide the word in your heart, sometimes more is necessary for complete understanding. This is where the next step comes in. This step involves reading, but is far more than merely reading: study. When I am listening to Scripture and I hear something that I do not understand or that I feel I need to look into deeper, I make a note of the book, chapter, and a few words from the verse. Later, I get out my Bible, a pen, some paper, and often my laptop to refer to various translations and to search for related verses, and I dig into it. I’m not really reading–I got the overall context when I was listening–rather, I am parsing, comparing, making notes. As C.S. Lewis would say, I attack it with a pen in my hand and a pipe in my teeth. Then once I have gained understanding, I go back and listen to the larger context of the passage again a few times. If all you’ve ever tried is reading the Bible, I would encourage you to try listening to it instead. (And of course, studying it at well.) BibleGateway has a plethora of audio-Bibles free online, in many versions and even several languages for those of you who are polyglots. They also have a free app for computer-phones that gives you access to the same audio-Bibles wherever you are. Check it out.
So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. —Romans 10:17 (KJV)
*Yes, I understand that the immediate context of this verse is lodging. However, the larger context is witnessing. This is part of the instructions given to the 72 when they were sent out. We have no record of Jesus or His disciples going from door to door like snake-oil salesmen. Rather, they preached and taught in public areas and let the people be drawn to them. Jesus draws all men to himself. If Christ is within us, then that drawing power is all we need to attract those He is calling. Hawking salvation like a door-to-door peddler shows either a distrust of Christ’s power to draw, or an acknowledgement that we fail the test of having Christ indwelling in us.