How will I engage the Bible
Two weeks after I finished seminary, I gave birth to my first child, and all those wonderful Bible study habits were replaced by 2:00 a.m. feedings. I knew how to read Hebrew, but could barely concentrate through Law & Order, let alone Leviticus. The way I’d learned to approach Scripture no longer fit with who I was.
Some 3.9 billion Bibles have sold over the last 50 years – more than the Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Twilight series combined, but according to the Canadian Bible Engagement Study, only one in seven Canadian Christians reads the Bible at least once a week.
God reveals himself to us through his Word, and since we are all different, God speaks in a variety of ways. Whether we’re artistic or athletic, bookworms or social butterflies, Mennonite Brethren are finding inspiring ways of meeting God in Scripture.
If you long for quiet…
He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end (Ecclesiastes 3:11b).
“Scripture feels vast and difficult. A lot of people who’ve grown up in the church have felt failure,” says co-pastor Mary Reimer, FaithWorks, Winnipeg. “We’re embarrassed that our devotional life is a disaster, but there’s pressure to try again…until we give up.” Reimer sees in many churched adults a hunger to come at Scripture fresh “with an expectation that God is speaking.”
FaithWorks welcomes individuals to read short passages of Scripture together and listen for the Spirit.
“MBs preach ‘Be still and know’ (Psalm 46:10), but we don’t often give much of a margin in our services to practise that,” says Reimer. FaithWorks’ bi-monthly evenings begin with 10 minutes of silence to unclutter thoughts, unclench shoulders. “We’re called to love God with all our heart, soul and strength” (Mark 12:30), says Reimer. “This form of reading engages all of me.”
As the text is read aloud in four phases, listeners ask themselves, “Which words resonate with me?” Reimer says, “We ponder in our hearts like Mary” (Luke 2:19), and share key insights at the end.
“I’ve never been in a group where people didn’t hear something meaningful to them,” says Reimer. “We make ourselves available,” says Reimer. “The mystery is that God reveals himself.”
Canadians who believe the Bible is relevant to daily life are 10 times more likely to read it regularly. Reimer sees participants transformed as listening “becomes a way of life, inviting God’s presence into the day,” and it
If you can’t sit still…
add body to the Word
Come, let us bow down in worship (Psalm 95:6a).
Kalyn Falk grew up with a need to move – in a church where sitting still was the norm. Her question: “How do I worship with my body?” led to a book and a 2011 workshop that inspired members of River East MB Church, Winnipeg, to move forward (and up and down) in their engagement with Scripture.
Falk presented six prayer postures (expand, contract, rise/reach, return/receive, firm and flow). “Expand” is arms open wide, reflecting on our confidence to approach the throne (Ephesians 3:12). “Receive” means kneeling to the prayer for mercy (Psalm 51:1). Stand “firm,” biceps flexed and “give yourself fully to the work of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58). It’s similar to the way we use actions to help children memorize Scripture, says pastor Mary Anne Isaak.
Isaak and a few others from REMB used the postures in their Lenten devotions. “I was in a new job, new city. So much was overwhelming. I would wake up tense,” recalls Isaak, who would hold the return posture “to offer God the tension I was feeling without revisiting it in words.”
“How do we engage Scripture with the non-analytical half of our brain?” asks Isaak. “We embody the stories of Jesus.”
Toolkit: I am here by Kalyn Falk (kalynfalk.com)
If you’re stimulated by ideas…
Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15b NLT).
“Academics opened up the Word of God for me,” says MB Biblical Seminary research assistant Erika McAuley. “Suddenly, in the early church theologians, I had dozens of dialogue partners as I engaged the Word.”
“I’m introverted; many relationships I built at ACTS Seminaries were with dead people,” McAuley laughs. “Origen, Clement, Anselm, they’re people who’ve decided to follow Jesus; reading their insight into the Word of God is like sitting down for coffee with a friend.”
The former kinesiologist wanted answers for her clients’ spiritual questions. “I prayed to know God more. Seminary turned out to be the answer to that prayer,” she says. “The Bible was no longer just a revered historical source; it became the revelation of God.”
McAuley, who attends Arnold MB Church, Abbotsford, B.C., devotes about an hour to Scripture each morning, convinced “we need to put in the work.” She reads the lectionary passages, which “allow Scripture to unfold in its drama throughout the year.”
The Bible Engagement study found that almost none of those who believe the Bible contains irreconcilable contradictions read the Bible regularly, but McAuley says if we stop reading due to apparent inconsistencies, we may be approaching a living book with the wrong expectations.
“If all we have are concerns, and our intent is to hammer out every answer,” she paraphrases Karl Barth: “we’ll walk away from the text disappointed, missing the great things: the divine things.”
“We don’t need to be afraid of thinking about God deeply,” says McAuley. “When we engage the text, God engages us.”
Toolkit: Christian Classics Ethereal Library (ccel.org)
If you can’t find the words…
I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds (Psalm 77:12).
“I struggle with writing, but I grew up doing art,” says Candace Bighead.
So when Bethany College, Hepburn, Sask., professor Randy Klassen gave her a blank slate to design a project for Introduction to Jesus and the Gospels class, Bighead got out her sketchbook. She copied all 21 chapters of John in calligraphy and drew 80 pencil crayon illustrations.
Bighead’s art brings truth to light in new ways. A hole the shape of Christ’s body is cut out of the cross “because we sometimes forget he didn’t stay there.”
For a second year class, she illustrated Exodus, and was surprised by how much blood was spilled. It made her question: Who is God? Where is grace? “Then I flipped through my old manuscript of John and saw the blood of Christ redeeming.”
For John, the drawings took 98 hours, the script, 108. Bighead had to stop doing calligraphy because of the cramping pain in her hand. It’s a lot of effort to write Jesus’ story – a tangible reminder of what he went through for love.
But Bighead continues to engage Scripture artistically. She recently painted her mentor a picture of John 11:25: a lily stem transforming into the word “resurrection.”
The outline of a dove on her wall, when viewed close-up, is a composite of disconnected shapes, “a reminder that only God can see the whole picture.”
Toolkit: Portraits of the Word by Timothy R. Botts
If you’re stuck in a rut…
dive into diversity
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another (Hebrews 10:24–25a).
Only 11 percent of Canadian Christians discuss God’s Word with others at least once a week.
Why study the Bible in a group? “Because that’s how it was meant to be read,” says Jeff Peters, director of advancement for MBBS Canada. “Even books directed to individuals, like Timothy, aren’t just to him, but to him and his community.”
Believing that biblical interpretation is richer with many voices, when he pastored Hepburn (Sask.) MB Church, Peters gathered a team to process the next Sunday’s sermon passage.
“The first thing you realize is how different everyone is around the circle,” says Peters. Listening to which words they stress as they read can reveal new truths. “It’s that variety of how God is moving in our lives that releases more meaning out of the text. The whole church becomes teachers.”
When your group is in a rut, Peters says, “Read something you don’t agree with” – this forces you to think deeply about what you believe. If your group is tired of just talking, go on a service field trip, says Peters. Your conversations will come alive with “Remember when we…?”
Highland Community Church, Abbotsford, B.C., has impressed on Peters the value of intergenerational groups. After every sermon, the congregation responds with questions and comments that are sometimes profound. And as his family reads Scripture over dinner, his daughters ask questions that hadn’t crossed Peters’ mind. “I may be more biblically educated, but we teach each other.”
If you can’t find the time…
take Jesus jogging
Hear the word of the LORD Almighty (Isaiah 39:5).
Exercise and devotions – both can be challenging habits to maintain. James Toews, pastor of Neighbourhood Church, Nanaimo, B.C., kills two birds with one stone by listening to the Bible while he runs.
“My rationale was that, for most of history, the public reading of Scriptures was the primary way they were received,” he says. “Part of getting older is not sleeping well, so I’ve also had long seasons of listening to Psalms in the night.”
“We assume that the Scriptures are meant to be dissected like a science experiment,” Toews wrote in a 2008 MB Herald “Intersection,” but hearing the text makes familiar verses “merge into larger contexts,” and their musicality becomes apparent.
“My dad got up every morning at 4:30 am to study the Bible before milking the cows. He was extraordinary,” says Toews. “‘Laziness, guilt, defeat’ – that cycle perfectly describes the on-the-ground challenge for us ordinary people.”
“Exercise and the audio Bible worked for me. The goal is getting the Scriptures into our souls, however that happens.”
If you need structure…
SOAP up your journal
For the Spirit…gives us power, love and self-discipline. (2 Timothy 1:7).
J.P. Hayashida began Life Journaling with fellow MB Mission staff in 2006, having learned from late missionary Carlin Weinhauer that “we need fresh bread every day.” Now, as CCMBC operations officer, Hayashida joins other MB leaders who use the journal, which includes a daily reading plan and space to write key Scriptures, Observations, Applications and Prayers (SOAP).
“When we meet, we are sharing what God has spoken to us from the same set of Scriptures,” an experience he says builds community. Recently, Hayashida emailed a fellow leader with a Scripture. “His response was encouraging: the Lord had affirmed that same word to him that very morning.”
The Bible Engagement study found that 81 percent of those who discuss the Bible once a week with others will also reflect on it personally. “We all want to hear from God,” says Hayashida. “Listening together in community makes the journaling process very fulfilling.”
If music is your groove…
sing the old, old story
Sing to the Lord a new song (Psalm 96:1a).
Since he was a teen in the 1970s gospel band Sound of Light, Ray Harris has been setting Scripture to song. Today his hair may be shorter, yet his passion for Scripture is still going strong. In 2009, Harris started Pneusong: a seven-year project to set the whole Bible to music.
The senior associate pastor (adult ministries) at Bakerview MB Church, Abbotsford, B.C., finds eight to ten hours per week to work on his music. By arranging and posting 30 chapters each month, Harris is on track to complete the whole Bible in song by 2016.
Harris reads the chapter, works out a musical background on keyboard, then records the lyrics, a process that takes only an average of 30 minutes to record and an hour to edit.
It was his Grade 8 teacher who inspired Harris to read through the Bible when she made an offhand comment about her Bible reading that day. Ever since, he has read through the entire Bible every year.
The musical styles are part of the message – and the fun. “For Exodus, I’ve used Hebrew folk songs; for the historical books, movie soundtracks,” says Harris. Each Gospel features music from a different continent, representing the spread of the good news. Beatles fans will recognize “Hey Jude” in the epistle that bears his name.
Listeners have logged onto pnuesong.com from as far away as Hong Kong and New Zealand. Harris plans to link the recordings to lectionary readings for worship services and personal devotions. His goal: to “inspire the next generation of musicians to pick up the torch of recording Scripture.”
If you’re feeling the pressure…
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion?… Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you” (Matthew 11:28 The Message).
Crossroads MB Church, Winnipeg, member Kaitlin Miller says, like her baptism, “reading through the Bible was another big step in closeness with God and confidence in my faith.
“I finally understood the scope of the brokenness of humans and the extent of God’s love for us,” she says. But in time, following a reading guide became a chore, so Miller gave herself freedom to “read what I wanted, without a set number of chapters to read each day. Since then, I’ve found I want to read more often.”
“Bible reading became a joy when I took the pressure off.”
If you fall down…
As a new mom, sometimes all I had the energy for was a single verse; I’d say it over and over while I rocked my son. And God met me there.
Even as my children grew, my spirit was willing, but my daily discipline was still weak. I began making weekly or monthly commitments that forced me to crack my Bible: a visit to a spiritual director, a parents’ prayer group, a children’s Sunday school lesson.
Now that my career involves Scripture, reading the Bible can sometimes feel, well, like work. I’m excited about finding way to play with God’s Word.
This winter, I strapped on my skates for the first time in a decade. I fell. I pressed into the wind. To catch my breath, I looked up YouVersion’s verse of the day:
“If you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help” (James 1:5 The Message).