Complete this sentence: “We…are never, ever, ever… _______ ______ _________”
Recalling those immortal Taylor Swift lyrics was no problem. Right?
Why? For two reasons:
(1) Those words whine about lost love, a stinging wound with a 100% casualty rate, and
(2) Those words are couched in music with its power to confer a maddening unforgettability, a kind of reverse-amnesia to the most disposable words.
Perhaps it is no mystery, then, that so much of the Bible is composed of song lyrics.
If you want people to pay attention, talk about love.
And if you want to make your talking unforgettable, set it to music and sing it.
These two ideas explain why so many people can sing whole verses of songs from Les Miz but can’t remember what the pastor’s sermon was about three days ago. The preacher probably did not talk about love in that Taylor Swift-ish way and surely did not sing it.
The Book of Psalms, the Bible’s longest, makes neither of these mistakes, especially when looking in the mirror, contemplating the Scriptures themselves.
Psalm 119 reflects on God’s word most extensively using an acrostic format based on the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet.
On ten occasions the lyricist declares not just obedience or submission to the word of God, but love.
A few samples represent this love song well:
47 for I find my delight in your commandments, which I love.
48 I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love,
and I will meditate on your statutes.
97 Oh how I love your law!
It is my meditation all the day.
127 Therefore I love your commandments above gold, above fine gold.
167 My soul keeps your testimonies; I love them exceedingly.
Churches and pastors encourage reading and following the Bible, but is it possible to really love it?
I think so. When faith first came to life inside me as a young adult I was so drawn to the Scriptures I would stay up all night reading and studying, frequently missing dates with my girlfriend (now wife) the next day!
But my experience is just that…my experience. I had a lot to learn about faith (and about girlfriends) after than initial rush.
So From a standing start, how is it possible to love the Bible?
What if we thought of love for Scripture as developing parallel to love in any other relationship? It might go like this:
1. The eHarmony stage
When compiling an almost-true profile on eHarmony the objective is to meet the right person based on compatibility. If someone responds to the profile an introductory meeting could materialize, an electronic blind date.
If the Scriptures are a stranger (or a friend not visited for quite a while) perhaps begin with a simple Introduction: start reading.
A brand new reader can simply install a Bible in a modern translation (e.g., the Bible app from LifeChurch.tv) on your device of choice, look up the book of John and start reading a few verses a day.
There will always be reasons not to read (I don’t understand, I’m not sure what the stories mean, etc.) but then new relationships are often messy. So just keep reading.
2. The Facebook stage
Getting past the introductory stage in a relationship no longer requires capturing the other person’s phone number.
Just a name will lead you to a Facebook profile with all its investigatory and messaging potential.
At this point the messaging becomes mutual and may even deepen as the exchanges become more and more personal and specific. Think of this as the “getting to know you” part.
If a dating relationship ensues things may be headed in a serious direction indeed.
Deepening my relationship with the Scriptures also requires getting past the eHarmony stage.
In the transition from reading to study the Bible begins to mean something new.
Grasping the context of each book, picking up some background information on the major characters, and getting a handle on the overall story arc of redemption turn the scriptures from words into something that sings to us.
So pick up a study Bible (e.g., The ESV Study Bible, The NIV Study Bible) and read those book inductions. And to dive in deeper, check out the resources on sites like biblios.com, biblestudytools.com, or biblegateway.com.
Digging beneath the surface brings people closer together, and in the same way turns a reader into a student of the Scriptures.
3. The Amazon stage
When getting to know each other leads to love and commitment, a couple often sets up a registry on a site like Amazon to stock their new life together with the basic gear required for marriage (like a microwave oven).
Reading and study of the Scripture changes our relationship with God’s word. At first the commitment may seem to cost a lot of time and challenge our pragmatic instincts.
Later, we begin to to understand that we are not reading the Bible, it is reading us.
What seemed like words on a screen start drawing us into something deeper and more transforming than we thought possible. Hebrews 4:12 puts it this way:
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
That’s love talking.
My Spanish-speaking friends have always told me that conversing in their first language has a special meaning to them. As an Anglo I’ve just never felt that, even when studying Spanish in high school. Apart from art forms, English feels instrumental to me, like a box of tools I use to complete projects. But not so with my Hispanic friends.
Then recently Jan and I attended a funeral for a well-known pastor conducted 85% in Spanish . Moving eulogies, songs and a sermon all bore witness to the impact of this man’s life. The service culminated in a sermon by one of his sons, who dramatically laid his hands on the casket and spoke words of thanks directly to his departed father.
And I felt it. That force in Spanish that is more than the words or their setting. I have no English term for it, but can’t forget it.
In the Scripture we hear God’s heart language. The words always matter, but it’s the power of them that draws us in and changes us.
That’s what love always does.