Thursday, February 11, 2010

Going Deeper is Simple

It was many years ago now that I heard something on the radio that really took me to a whole new level in terms of my Bible knowledge. I had been through Seminary and was preaching at a small church. I knew the Bible pretty well, I thought. But when I heard the challenge, I thought, "Okay, I'll give it a try."

The preacher on the radio said something really simple. "If you want to learn what's in the Bible then you've got to read it." So far, nothing profound. And then he said it, "You need to take the same passage and read it once a day, every day for thirty days." I'd never done that before, and to be honest I thought it sounded a little dull. But I gave it a try anyway.

I cannot tell you how much that simple little exercise impacted my life, my heart, and my ministry. Nothing I'd ever done before taught me so much about specific Bible passages like this simple exercise of reading it once a day, every day for thirty days. Since I was a young pastor at the time, I decided to read the book of First Timothy. It only had six chapters, so I thought that would be a good place to start.

On the first day it took me about 20-25 minutes to read (I've always been a slow reader). I tried to keep my mind focused and just read trying to resist the temptation to look up other passages as I read. I tried not to underline too many things, because I knew I was going to be at this for an entire month.

Second day I read it again. It sounded familiar! "Yeah, I read that yesterday," I thought to myself. But I read the whole thing.

Third day I read it again. "Okay, here we go again. This is beginning to feel like a rut - and it's only the third day!"

Fourth day, fifth day, sixth day, seventh day. "It's been a whole week! I can't do this for thirty days!" I thought to myself. It was getting painful reading the same exact thing again and again.

Nothing was new and I like new things!

Eighth day. Ninth day. Tenth day. Now I started underlining things (I use a pencil in case I make a mistake).

Eleventh day. "Okay I'm beginning to see how things in chapter one relate to things in chapter three. But this is still boring!"

Twelfth day. "Do I really have to keep doing this? I know what I'm reading. I've read it day after day and I'm getting sick of it." It was a real test of my discipline to keep at it.

Thirteenth day. Fourteenth day. Fifteenth day. Sixteenth day. Seventeenth day. Eighteenth day. Nineteenth day. Twentieth day. "Hey, what do you know! It only took me about twelve minutes to read all six chapters." I thought I was actually becoming a speed reader, of sorts! I wasn't skipping over things, but my mind knew what was coming and I just ripped right through it.

Twenty-first day. Twenty-second day. Twenty-third day.


Remember back in the 1990's these poster-sized pictures that were computerized? They looked like just a blob of random colors. They said that if we looked at the "picture" long enough that we'd start to see it in 3-D. Yeah right. Remember looking at those dumb things? I looked and looked and looked; nothing! I crossed my eyes and stared at the silly poster; nothing! It was a sham! And then one day I kind of blurred my vision just slightly and then BAMB! There it was! I saw all kinds of things in that poster-picture. Trees, and people, and cars, and birds! It felt like I had just walked into the picture itself and was standing among all the things I was looking at. Unbelievable!

Well, that's kind of what happened to me on day twenty-four of reading First Timothy, yet again. As I read it again that day, all of a sudden I felt like I had just stepped into the book and I was seeing things in 3-D like I'd never seen them before. It was truly amazing! I couldn't believe all the things I was seeing and understanding that I hadn't the other 23 days. I was underlining like crazy and scribbling notes. I had truck loads of insight into the passage that I didn't have before.

Now, just to be clear: all I was doing was reading the text. I wasn't reading a commentary alongside of the text. I wasn't reading the footnotes in some study Bible. All I was doing was reading the simple text of First Timothy.

Twenty-fifth day. Twenty-sixth day. Twenty-seventh day. All most done.

Twenty-eighth day. Twenty-ninth day. Thirtieth day. I think the last day I read the book in about ten minutes! The insights kept coming. It seemed like each day I saw yet another facet of what the text was saying.

And then I realized something else. Ever looked at something for several seconds and then closed your eyes? When you shut your eyes there is kind of an "imprint" in your head of what you were looking at.

I realized that after 30 days of reading First Timothy that there was an "imprint" of that entire book upon my heart. I knew just about where every phrase appeared in that book. I could name you book, chapter, and verse of every topic that Paul wrote about. I was truly amazed at what a simple, repetitive reading actually accomplished.

I was so excited that I did it again the next month with a different book in the Bible (Second Timothy and Titus). And then I did it with the book of James, the books of First and Second Peter, the book of Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, First, Second, and Third John. Then I started in the book of Romans and read the first 5 chapters in the same way. Then I took the next section of Romans and read it in the same way. And then the final section of Romans. Then I went to Matthew 5-7 (the Sermon on the Mount) and did the same way. I just kept going and my experience was the same.

That's how I learned the Bible. I'm thankful for my Seminary education. But I'm equally thankful for that radio preacher who said, "Read it once a day, every day for thirty days."

If you want to "go deeper" and if you want to get to know the Bible better then you have to read it. And I would suggest you begin with a short book or a short passage and read it once a day, every day for thirty days.

So, are you going to go deeper?