Have you ever wanted to read the Bible and felt a twinge of fear or distress, wondering if you were going to find yet one more thing wrong with you that needed fixing? Have you ever felt a sense of drudgery and duty in reading His word? You know reading the Word is what Christians are supposed to do, but do you find yourself dreading it? I think most of us go to the Word and sometimes (not all the time) expect a reprimand. We expect to be told about our sin, where we fall short, and what we need to do to get right with God. God understands our backgrounds and reasons why we may not understand things. He desires to set us straight about His Word. All of this takes a lifetime to comprehend. Lately the Lord has corrected my thinking about the reasons I read the Bible. I believe you might find comfort in what I have to share.
Let me tell you a little of my own background so you can appreciate what I have to say. I was saved in high school from a law-based, religious orientation and a drug and alcohol culture. Those two things always go together – law and sin. I knew nothing of God’s love before salvation. God was a mean judge, who was always out to make me suffer for any sin I committed. There wasn’t any love from what I could see. God was a statue-type person who just gave out laws and if you didn’t keep them all you had to do penance; you had to pay for what you did. When I was born-again, I knew that Jesus took all my sin on the cross and paid the penalty for my sin, once for all time – all my past, present and future sins. I did not have to pay for my sin anymore! That was profound to me. Here all my life I had been paying for my sin in the way of penance and suffering. To realize I did not have to do that anymore was freedom to my soul. I began to read the Bible (which I had never done before) and it was life to me. I soaked up God’s Word anytime I possibly could. God became a friend, a Father, a loving person that was for me and not against me, like I previously thought. I heard God speak to me from the Bible all the time. I freely read it without being under command to do so. No one told me to read it, it just came naturally and freely.
After college I had a desire to go on the mission field and went to Bible school for a year to prepare for it. Not to be too long winded, at this school reading Scripture became a law to me. One “had” to study or else you might fail – fail in life, which was really failing to please God. Worse yet you might fall out of favor with Him. This produced a lot of fear in me that I did not previously have. Slowly but surely, I felt life drain out of me because the love of God seemed to disappear from His Word and my life. When I read the Bible all I saw were rules and commands I had to do (or else!) and I stopped hearing from God when I read it too. As a result, I found myself not wanting to read the Word. This went on for years and it grieved my heart so much that just this one thing drove me into a deep depression which lasted for a couple decades.
I kept praying and asking God, “What have I done wrong Lord? Show me what to do to correct this.” I thought it was all my fault. For the most part God was silent on this. But recently God’s grace has become very clear to me and it’s through understanding the unmerited favor of God that my time in the Word has been totally restored. I may write more about my revolution in His grace in another writing. But suffice to say that’s the background of what I want to share from Proverbs 3.
So many of us come to God with an expectation to be beaten down, and we are almost disappointed when we aren’t. We think a sermon or message isn’t quite right unless we’ve been slapped on the wrist, even if just a little. We aren’t used to God lifting us up by pointing out how clean we are by the blood of Jesus, telling us that we are indeed made righteous because of what our Savior did for us. We live with a mixture of law (following rules in order to please God) and grace (we are pleasing to God by what another did on our behalf), and that only brings fear and bondage into our hearts. Law and grace are like oil and water – they cannot mix. I began to see where things went wrong at the Bible school: the law re-entered my life at the school, and because of that, when I read the Scripture I was reading through old covenant glasses. I read with an eye to see what I needed to do for God to be pleased with me. I was on the look-out for what was wrong and how to correct it, rather than what was right – “who” was right – that would be Jesus! Now I know I am completely made right/pleasing in God’s sight because I am “in Christ” not because of anything I did or did not do.
Proverbs 3:1 says, “My son, forget not my law; but let thine heart keep my commandments…” The Lord showed me that I was focusing not on His law, but what I “thought” was His law, which in fact was my own law. My head was in the way of my heart being able to see His commandments, which are never burdensome. We have a lot of strange ideas about what God’s laws are – because we think in old covenant ways. What I mean by that is, “If we do this, then God will act. Or, if I don’t do this, God will bless me – anything God would do that is conditioned on my actions. New covenant thinking is based on the finished work of Jesus, meaning, there isn’t anything we can do for God to be pleased with us – not ever. Grace is based on what another has done on our behalf, not on what we can do. God is pleased with me because of what Jesus did and therefore I am pleasing to Him in Christ.
Verse 2 says, “For length of days, and long life, and peace, shall they add to thee.” I thought, “Well, if His commands are full of drudgery, full of failure, full of not being able to keep them or even a desire to keep them, then how in the world could that bring long life and peace?” The answer came to me in vs 3: “Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart…” God is love, so it says in 1 John 4:8. And I put to you, that unless we really know God’s love we’ll never know the essence of His law. His law really is mercy and truth. If we are not expecting mercy (unfailing love, kindness, favor, good will, benefit, grace, forgiveness, beauty) and truth, (stability brought about by His faithfulness, not ours) then we’ll never really see His love for us in the Scripture and all the promises God has for us there. So I believe His law is mercy and truth – period. Only mercy and truth contained in His love can bring long life and peace – both added to us, not taken away from us. If His Word is not full of love and peace to us, then all it produces is fear and death. I like that God wants us to write His mercy and truth on the table of our hearts. If you want to doodle, doodle about His love for you! Write it down, graffiti it on your desk, in your bathroom, wherever you want to see it to remind yourself of His mercy and truth.
“So shalt thou find favor and good understanding in the sight of God and man” (vs 4). When we see His mercy and experience His faithfulness in our lives, understanding follows. His favor isn’t based on how good we are, it’s based only on His unfailing love. And the word understanding includes success, goodness, and prosperity. God could have said we’d find favor only with Him, but He adds the favor of man to it also. His over-abundance is wonderful! I believe it’s only when we know His mercy and truth that we can indeed, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not on thine own understanding” (vs 5). I was led astray (back into a form of law) because I leaned on my own understanding about God that I heard about at Bible school, rather than who God really is. We can’t be directed (as it states in verse 6) if we are coming to God expecting judgment and a beating, even just a small beating; just some small thing that we need to do to fix ourselves up and pay for sin ourselves. That truly is like saying to God, “What Your Son did for me on the cross wasn’t quite enough to pay for my sin. I still need to do a little something to add to what He did.”
“In all thy ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct thy paths” (vs 6). Ask Him into your time in the Word. Ask Him to erase all condemnation from your heart so that you can come to the Word to be fed and nourished rather than told what you must do, do, do. Be honest with Him about how you feel about your time in the Bible. If you dread it now, tell Him all about it and ask Him into the situation. He alone knows the reasons why you feel as you do. Ask Him to speak to you in a fresh way as you read. Grant yourself the freedom to talk to Him openly about all this. He desires you to want to be in His Word. He doesn’t want it to be duty. Who wants to spend time with someone if it’s a requirement? Oh “beloved of God”, know that He desires to talk to you and with you, and give you favor in His mercy and truth. You can rest upon His love for you!