No one likes to talk about it when they’re starting out, but it’s true — relationships take work. Friendships, business associations, marriages, sibling or any other familial connections, neighbors, and more — if the bond is to become strong, then the people involved need to work at getting along.
Perhaps the first and most important part of this work consists of getting to know the other person.
This is no less true for Christians getting to know the God with whom we’ve entered into relationship. Yes, relationship. One of the descriptions used a generation or so ago of someone redeemed by Christ’s blood was that he had a personal relationship with Jesus. That’s accurate, though coming to Christ might best be understood as meeting God. How strong the relationship, how deep the friendship, seems to depend on what happens next.
“Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you,” James says. But how, precisely, are we who are mortal and finite to engage the immortal and infinite? We couldn’t apart from His initiation of the relationship. For one thing, He’s revealed Himself in the world and in His word. We can go looking for Him in both.
Recently author friend Wayne Thomas Batson started a series of blog posts about knowing God. He’s making his way through the book of Matthew and one of the things he’s asking is, What do I learn about God from this passage?
It’s a great question, a great way to read Scripture, and a great way to learn more about God. Reading Wayne’s posts brought to mind a variety of ways I’ve approached Bible study. By far my best experiences have been studies without the filter of some other teacher or writer. Don’t misunderstand. I’ve done studies, and benefited from them, designed by a Bible teacher. But the ones that have impacted me most were the ones similar to what Wayne is doing.
The first one I did was when I was just starting out as a teacher. I got involved in a small group Bible study in my church, and we did a study of Romans, I think. It was unusual, to me. We had to commit to regular attendance, as I recall, and the structure of the study was to outline ahead of time the passage we’d be looking at. Outline! Fortunately I’d had a high school teacher who had been a stickler for outlining, so I didn’t shy away from it. And what I found was connection. I started seeing how one verse related to another, one thought illustrated a larger concept, how the parts all fit into the whole.
The key, though, was that we were to formulate an application based on our study, and that was to become the thing we asked the group to pray for us that week. Effective! So much so that when I went on a three-year short term mission, I ended up finding a small group willing to try the same study approach with the book of 2 Corinthians.
When I returned to the US, I initiated a Bible study with my class (I taught in a Christian school and the subject was Bible!) using a different method similar to what Wayne is doing. We studied three or four verses a week, first paraphrasing them, then answering five different questions, and finally making a personal application. The questions were (1) what do these verses teach me about God, (2) what sin do these verses show or teach me to avoid, (3) what command am I to obey, (4) what example am I to follow, (5) what promises do these verses give me to claim.
At some point, when I was having a hard time connecting with the Psalms, I decided to take the first question and write down in list form what each Psalm taught me about God.
Later there was a Bible study method a former principal had given us teachers which I found helpful, in particular as I prepared lessons for my high school Bible class.
The point is, there are lots of different ways of studying the Bible, but one thing I found to be true about them all. Well, two things. One, they took work. Two, I drew closer to God.
How can we not, if we spend significant time in Scripture?
In our relationships with other people, as we spend time with them we get to know facts about them — where they went to school, where they were born, what flavor ice cream they like, and so on. We also get to know their character — are they honest, do they gossip, are they funny. And we get to know their dreams and desires — what do they hope to do or become.
We can learn all those same things about God from what He’s told us about Himself in the Bible. Sure, He doesn’t give us His favorite color or food — probably because He likes them all equally, seeing as how He made them all — but He does tell us what He loves, what He’s passionate about, what He wants to see happen, what His character is like, what He’s done in the past, what He’s planning to do in the future.
Some things He comes right out and says (e.g., God is love) and some things He illustrates. Some things we have to deduce. (e.g., God created the universe, therefore God is creative).
The point is, God is a person, and as in any other relationship, if it is to grow, if it is to become strong, it takes work — a lifetime of work. That’s OK, because when we draw near to God, He draws near to us, and that makes it worthwhile.