For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. – Hebrews 4: 12

Since my earliest days as a follower of Jesus I’ve heard this passage quoted. The same night I came Christ someone put the Bible in my hands and told me God would speak through the book. Yet my experiences with the scripture were decidedly uneven. Sometimes the secrets of the universe were unfolding before me; other times I was clueless as Republican at Burning Man.

Why is this book so special and such a mystery at the same time? What makes the word of God living and active? How can we enter into the life of the word?

It’s not enough to read the scripture with our mind, because we are body, soul, and spirit. Coming to the scripture is more than reading literature. If we want to hear the word of God it requires all of our being. What makes God’s word “living and active?” I’d like to suggest it’s something more than our intellect.

In fact, the intellectual approach comes with a powerful temptation. This is where so many theologians live: defining words, developing systematic theology, and generally being the smartest guys in the class. I have a basic distrust of systematic theology. I don’t like either word, and if you put both of them together, I find myself in full rebellion. Count me in the camp with Thomas a Kempis: “I would rather feel contrition than know how to define it.”

I want to love the Lord with all my heart, soul, mind and strength—without allowing my intellect to dominate the other three. I joyfully receive the charge of subjectivism because the Creator of the universe is never impressed by our intellect, but he is moved by our heart and our faith, which are both pretty subjective.

Let’s consider for an example a passage from Paul’s letter to the Colossians:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. – Colossians 3:12-14

I’d like to suggest a few ways to engage the scripture wholeheartedly.

There’s a ghost in the book.

In fact, the Ghost wrote the book. The first step in scripture reading is to ask for the Holy Spirit’s help. The Apostle John wrote these amazing words to his disciples:

As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. – 1 John 2: 27

Amazingly, John was dealing with the issue of false teachers in the church, and his solution was remarkably subjective! The same Spirit that hovered over the waters of creation is available to hover over us as we come to God’s word. Does this mean we are infallible interpreters of the word? No. But it does mean we have a loving guide. Together, let’s pray: “Holy Ghost, please breathe on this passage, on my mind, and on my heart.”

Feel the love

The Colossian passage above opens with the description,

“God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved.”

Stop right there! You may not need to go beyond these seven words. If we are dearly loved, shouldn’t we feel it? Is that expectation too mystical? Too subjective? Perhaps we’ve been trained to avoid the experience of his presence: but if the text directs us to the love of God, why wouldn’t he respond lovingly? Together, let’s pray: “Holy Ghost, help me to experience the things I read.”

Extend the metaphor

Colossians presents us with the image of someone preparing to move from private to public. No one leaves home naked! How do you get dressed in the morning? What decisions do you make? No one puts on every article of clothing they own, but rather they select the clothing appropriate to the day’s tasks. It really doesn’t take much imagination to extend the metaphor into a practical vision for the day. There, in my prayer closet, I ask in advance: Where do I need to show compassion for the day? What kind of compassion will I need? Compassionate tears or compassionate sweat? How should I dress my heart? How can I prepare to meet the needs of others? Together, let’s pray: “Holy Ghost, please help me to look deeply into the metaphors you present.”

Imagine what the text does not say.

I know this is dangerous: every Bible scholar tells us not to make “the argument from silence.” Except I am not coming to the scripture to argue: I’m coming to hear the heart of God. Paul provides a representative list of what we need for life together: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience—but not necessarily intelligence, wit, or smarts. By imagining what is not on the list I understand that character trumps intelligence. That God desires mercy, not education. Together, let’s pray: “Holy Ghost, please help me to listen to what you do not say, as well as what you do.”

Consider the mysteries of Incarnation

One of my friends told me, “The life in each Bible passage is from the same source: Jesus, who is the Word, who is love, who is life.” After reading this passage we could answer the question “What will I wear?” by remembering, “I am putting on Christ.” What does it mean to put on Christ each day? This passage started me wondering how Christ put on his humanity, and whether we can put on divinity in return. In short, it started me thinking of how I can be like him. Together, let’s pray: “Holy Ghost, please draw me deep into the mystery of the Incarnation.”

Some will think I am against using reason and intellect with the scripture. But I’m truly not. I only want to ensure that what comes into my mind will also travel the 18 inches to my heart. How about you?

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