Last week our church had the privilege of serving a meal at a local community center. This neighborhood meal is held once a month, and it always attracts a wide range of folks. Some of the folks are homeless, some are single moms in need of help with food, and some are lonely and simply want time to connect with another human being. Last week was no different, and after we finished serving the meal, I decided to go sit with some of the folks and see if I could get to know them better.
At one point I ended up sitting down next to an elderly woman named Betty. I introduced myself, and we chatted about our basic information - sharing our names and where we’re from. Then I asked Betty if she had family in the local area. She said she has a sister in a nearby prison, but other than that, she is alone. She went on to explain that both of them were Christians, and had been raised in a Christian home. But after high school, her sister had fallen in with a “bad crowd”, and that was how she had ended up in prison.
I asked Betty if she got to see her sister very much, and she said, “Not as much as I would like. But every time we visit, I make sure we pray together.” I told her that was a great thing, and asked how her sister is doing in prison. She responded with, “She’s struggling a lot - I think she needs to feel God in her life more.”
Since Betty had shared that both she and her sister are believers, I followed up her statement by asking if her sister had a Bible, and if so, was she reading it very much. Betty said, “She has one, but I think she doesn’t read it much. I think she needs more of a personal touch from God.” I understood where Betty was coming from in her response, because I think it reflects a perspective that's very common among believers. It’s an attitude that says, “The Bible is a great book about God, but it's not necessarily the best way to personally encounter Him.” In other words, the Bible gives us a great history of our faith, and it gives us clear guidelines for how to live - but if we want an emotional connection to God, the Bible won't give us that.
The problem with this type of thinking is that it's misguided. Here’s what I mean: throughout history, Christians have looked at the Bible as something more than just a book. It’s what we call “scripture”, which is just a fancy way of saying we believe the Bible is divine communication from God. So when people read and hear the words of the Bible, they’re actually encountering God Himself. Romans 15:4 describes it like this, “Such things were written in the Scriptures long ago to give us hope and encouragement as we wait patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled”. The Bible isn’t just a history book, or a book of ideas for how we should live. Instead, it’s a tool that’s designed to take us beyond “knowing about God” to actually “knowing God”. The Bible is meant to move us past information, into transformation. So when we read the Bible we encounter God in a personal way - and in the process, we get to know God the way we know a friend.
I shared those thoughts with Betty, and told her I would be praying for her sister - especially that she would feel God's touch through reading her Bible. But actually I think we should each pray the same thing for ourselves today. Let’s ask God to give us a desire to spend time in His Word. Let’s use this tool He's given us to get to know Him better so that we can be encouraged when we’re discouraged, strengthened when we’re weak, and understand better how to daily walk in close fellowship with Him.