This is the twenty-sixth lesson in author and pastor Mel Lawrenz’ How to Live the Bible series. If you know someone or a group who would like to follow along on this journey through Scripture, they can get more info and sign up to receive these essays via email here.
Just released: A Book of Prayers for Kids by Mel Lawrenz (a perfect gift for the kids you know and love).
We will not know how to live the Bible unless the truth and life of God’s word shapes the spiritual muscle tissue of our lives. And we will not be shaped unless we are regularly reading Scripture with an attitude of openness and faith and reverence. This will never happen if we read short snippets of Scripture or lists of verses. We need the wholeness of God’s word to get into our minds and hearts, and to apply it, without delay.
One of the great spiritual revivals of all time happened in England in the 18th century in the so-called Wesleyan revival. John Wesley, as a young man and then a pastor and a missionary, desired deeply to find the holiness of God and knew that plunging himself into Scripture would be essential. But it was only later in his life that he came to understand the way of faith, and was able to take in the content of Scripture in a way that was transforming.
John Wesley was practical and methodical. In one of his writings he gave specific advice on how to read Scripture in ways that ensured it would get into people’s minds and hearts. The method involves reading the Bible devoutly, regularly, and effectively. Here is his advice:
If you desire to read the Scriptures in such a manner as may most effectually answer this end, would it not be advisable,
- To set apart a little time, if you can, every morning and evening for that purpose?
- At each time, if you have leisure, to read a chapter out of the Old and one out of the New Testament; if you cannot do this, to take a single chapter, or a part of one?
- To read this with a single eye, to know the whole will of God, and a fixed resolution to do it? In order to know His will, you should,
- Have a constant eye to the analogy of faith, the connexion and harmony there is between those grand, fundamental doctrines, original sin, justification by faith, the new birth, inward and outward holiness:
- Serious and earnest prayer should be constantly used before we consult the oracles of God; seeing ‘Scripture can only be understood through the same Spirit whereby it was given.’ Our reading should likewise be closed with prayer, that what we read may be written on our hearts:
- It might also be of use, if, while we read, we were frequently to pause, and examine ourselves by what we read, both with regard to our hearts and lives…. And whatever light you then receive should be used to the uttermost, and that immediately. Let there be no delay.
Whatever you resolve begin to execute the first moment you can. So shall you find this word to be indeed the power of God unto present and eternal salvation. [From Wesley’s Notes on the Old Testament]
We should take this advice and these methods seriously because the Wesleyan revival had a historic influence in England, America, and beyond, and central to that revival was the content of Scripture and its application to everyday life.
Just a few comments on Wesley’s advice:
He suggests a personal pattern for daily reading. It is very doable—one chapter out of the Old Testament and one out of the New. Do that regularly and thoughtfully, and the truth of Scripture will have an effect.
He says we should “have a constant eye to the analogy of faith” and then explains this as the connection of every bit of the Bible with the rest of the Bible. This is essential. The Bible is its own best interpreter. When we read something about righteousness or sin or God’s nature in one passage of Scripture, we must be thinking about where else in Scripture that very same point is addressed. We get a good, solid, livable theology when we understand all the connections throughout God’s Word.
Wesley connects prayer with reading Scripture—before and after. This gets us beyond mere reading to a spiritual connection with God as we read.
Finally, notice that his closing thought is that we should take whatever we glean from Scripture and apply it to real life—immediately, without delay. Go back and read Wesley’s sixth point again. Notice the urgency Wesley communicates.
It is just too easy for us to read the Bible, notice real-life truths, and walk away feeling as though we’ve done our duty by reading. But at one point after another Jesus and others in the New Testament urge us to live out the truths we learn without hesitation, without delay, and without doubt. When we do the truth of Scripture shapes us—and that is the whole point.
Eva Helen Lawrenz, 1987-2017. “Eva” means life, “Helen” means light. In order to bring something purposeful out of loss, a memorial fund in Eva Lawrenz’s name is now funding translations and printings of How to Understand the Bible, How to Study the Bible, How to Live the Bible, Prayers for Our Lives, and other books. “Life and Light Books” exists to bring helpful literature to needy parts of the world, presently including Haiti, Ethiopia, Russia, Indonesia, Latin America, Nigeria, Pakistan, Iran, and more. To learn more, go to www.LifeAndLightBooks.org. All contributions are tax deductible in the USA.
Available now: Knowing Him: Devotional Readings About the Cross and Resurrection by Mel Lawrenz. Get it now.
[If you believe this series will be helpful, this is the perfect time to forward this to a friend, a group, or a congregation, and tell them they too may sign up for the weekly emails here]
Mel Lawrenz (@MelLawrenz) trains an international network of Christian leaders, ministry pioneers, and thought-leaders. He served as senior pastor of Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin, for ten years and now serves as Elmbrook’s minister at large. He has a PhD in the history of Christian thought and is on the adjunct faculty of Trinity International University. Mel is the author of 18 books, including How to Understand the Bible—A Simple Guide and Spiritual Influence: the Hidden Power Behind Leadership (Zondervan, 2012). See more of Mel’s writing at WordWay.