Secondly. All who desire the grace of God are to wait for it in searching the Scriptures. - John Wesley
My first suggestion, which I made yesterday, on how to wait for God throughout Advent was through prayer. That probably didn't come as a surprise to anyone, and today's suggestion of reading the scripture is also unlikely to rock anyone's boat. "Pray and read the Bible" are the standard answers most of us have heard throughout our lives for how to seek God. Yet, as we consider these practices in the context of waiting on God, we might realize that we can do them in ways that either enable us to wait (by relinquishing the tight grip of control we like to attempt to maintain on our own lives) or that work against our skills in waiting (by making us hold on more tightly).
This dynamic may be easier to see when we consider the ways that we pray. Like we discussed yesterday, we often either pray out of a sincere desire to be in God's will, and at other times we pray out of a sincere desire for him to be in ours. Could it be that this issue of who is in control also affects the ways that we read the Bible?
I hope that at some point in your life you will follow one of the many plans available that gives you a schedule for reading through the Bible in a certain period of time. There are plans that take a year, while some take up to three years or even as short as ninety days. A huge benefit of following these plans is that by doing so we get an increased awareness of the overarching story of God's work in human history that takes place throughout the entire Bible.
My wife and I were following one of these plans a few years ago, and we both benefitted from doing so. However, she made an observation about reading that Bible that way that stood out to me: she said that there were repeated times when she was reading a passage and something stood out to her which made her want to spend more time in that passage and go further into its meaning, but she couldn't do so because she needed to keep up with the reading plan rather than taking any more time with the passage and falling behind. This points to something that can be a disadvantage in our normal ways of reading the Bible: they help us get a better grasp of the information that's there, but they often leave us in control of what happens between us and God through the Bible (or even relegate that control to "the plan") rather than increasing our ability to actually hear from God through the scriptures. Dallas Willard points out the tension when he says that our goal in reading the scriptures is not to get us all of the way through the Bible, but to get the Bible all of the way through us.
New Testament scholar Robert Mulholland gives us a powerful image for thinking about how we might come to the scriptures in a way that helps us to wait on God through them. In looking at a passage from Hebrews 4, which describes the word of God as "living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart," The next verse describes what should be our posture before the word of God: "before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account."(1)
Mulholland explains that the term translated as "laid bare" is the same word that would have been used for an animal about to have its throat cut to be sacrificed, or for the defeated gladiator laid across the knee of the victor with throat exposed before the death blow. So, according to this, it might help get the point across to us if–the next time any of us read the Bible–we do so with our heads laid back and throat exposed, insisting that God, through the scriptures, can have his way with us.
How comfortable does that make you feel? I don't know about you, but if I think of reading the Bible during Advent, I tend to think of things like angels, stars, and happily expectant mothers. That's a far cry from what many of the Advent readings actually are and how we might go about reading them in a "giving myself over to God in a throat-exposed" kind of way.
In light of this, I'd like to suggest a way of reading the scripture for the remainder of Advent. From today through the rest of the series, I will list a set of four readings at the bottom of each day's post. These are the traditional Advent readings for each respective week from the Revised Common Lectionary. Here's what I suggest:
- Read the four passages at least once each day during the week. This act of reading passages repeatedly points us in the direction of waiting on God through the scriptures. Whereas normally we shy away from re-reading anything we've read before in favor of moving on, reading this way can open us up to the Bible differently.
- Notice your reaction to at least one of the readings. By reading repeatedly, you will likely have some kind of a reaction to at least one of the passages. You may be surprised by it, it may cause some kind of longing in you, or perhaps you find yourself being resistant to–or even disliking–something that one of the passages says. Pay attention to this as you read the passages each day.
- Sometime near the end of the week, spend five to ten minutes asking God what it is about that passage that connects with your life. It's fine if you don't have any significant insights while doing so (remember–we're attempting to wait on God and give him the control rather than keeping it for ourselves), but it's likely that sometime during Advent, the Lord will lead you. It may be in obvious ways, or it may be in more subtle changes in your thinking, but waiting on God through the scriptures in this way will take its long-term effect on us.
A Prayer for the Day:
Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought us in safety to this new day: Preserve us with your mighty power, that we may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all we do, direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.*
A Prayer for the Week:
Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.*
Readings for the Week*:
*Prayers are from The Book of Common Prayer and readings are from the Revised Common Lectionary. (1) Hebrews 4:12-13, NRSV