The Bible is like a Map. A Map to Wonderland, or, the Kingdom of God. Therefore, if you're seeking God and truth, let me give you a couple of tips on how to study the Bible. You do want to find your way around Wonderland, don't you?
In Wonderland/the Kingdom of God finding your way around without a Map can be difficult. So, in order to make your journey easier, I'd like to suggest that you get a Bible, and next, learn to use it effectively, so you know how to study the Bible all by yourself. Because -- once you do figure out it's secrets, the sky is the limit.
Let me talk about it a bit. The Map. The Bible. One of the most controversial, if not the most controversial books on the planet:
Some say that it's all true and completely the Word of God. Others say that it's just a work of fiction. Many don't read it at all. They think that there's nothing in it for them to learn. Then there are those who will analyze it so closely that they might as well pick it apart with tweezers. They have a Ph.D. in theology, speak fluent Hebrew and know the historical background of every single book in it. They visit Israel every year, have a memory wall full of photographs of themselves by the Dome of the Rock...you get the picture.
But what do I say about the Bible?
I say it's your very own personal road map for the Path of God.
And also: A personal love letter from God to you.
I know it's true, because I can feel it in my heart this very moment as I'm writing this. And that love and compassion that I feel, I want to share with you, whoever you are. I want to take you by the hand and bring you into a warm, lighted room, sort of the way you would bring in someone, who's been standing in the rain. And I want to sit down with you by this dry table with only a single Bible on it, and I want to help you see how this book - no matter what your attitude about it is - can help you sort out your life and find shelter from the storm.
I want to open your eyes.
Because once your eyes are open you'll get so hungry, you won't even need me anymore. You'll want to learn how to study the Bible all by yourself!
All with the help of the White Rabbit.
The reason why I call the Bible a Map to Wonderland (or the Kingdom of God) is because Bible scriptures are map directions to where you need to go and how to get there. And where you need to go is to Heaven. And to the Kingdom of God, which is the place where God inhabits you completely. First here on earth, and next, in Heaven.
So let's say you're stuck in the middle of a wilderness. And all you have is this one map in your hand. Well, a map is great, of course, but what good will a map do, if you don't have a Compass? You won't know which way to point the map, since you don't know which way North is, and which way is South. You're helpless without this little navigational tool.
It's the same way with the Bible.
The Holy Spirit is your Compass. The Bible is the Map, but you need the Holy Spirit to teach you how to study the Bible. Because the Holy Spirit makes sure you get the point of the scriptures. What they mean. For you specifically. And why.
God set it up this way. So cleverly. So beautifully. Because to Him learning His ways could never be about the brain. It's all about the heart. You don't need a Ph.D. in Theology to know how to study the Bible. If you have a Ph.D. in Theology, great! But here's my fool proofed advice that will work for everyone:
- If you want to understand the Bible you need to ask the Holy Spirit to open up your brain. (You know, Holy Spirit a.k.a. the Compass, a.k.a the White Rabbit...) If you sincerely ask Him for help and directions, then the help will come. God will open your eyes. He will open up your brain. And you'll understand. And that's how it works. It's really simple, actually.
Why? Because it's all about your attitude. God wants you to have an attitude of a child. That's when your heart is in a place of innocence and openness. That's when God can reach you. And that's when Bible secrets will unlock within you.
Jesus said:"I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to the little children." (Mt 11:25)
So before you pick up that Bible, before you even open it up - pray to your Father in Heaven. Pray and ask Him to show you something in the Bible that you need to learn. You and only you.
Ready to begin? Finished praying? Good. Then let's open the Bible.
But where to begin? I get it. It's so intimidating this book. Thick and heavy, like a brick with something like a million words. So how do you even begin? Should it be
a) In the very beginning, the Old Testament, Book of Genesis, which starts with "In the beginning God created heavens and the earth..."?
b) or in the other beginning, in the New Testament, Book of Matthew, which lists a genealogy of Jesus Christ, his family line?
c) or just randomly flip the Bible open wherever and see what it says?
Well. Actually I can't answer that question. Because I'm not the Compass (you know, the White Rabbit, the Holy Spirit...) So I don't know what would be the most useful starting point for you. But since I trust that you've already prayed for guidance in this process, I have faith that God will take you to the right starting point.
With that being said, here are some important guidelines you need to understand. About the nature of the Bible and how it's all set up:
The Bible is like going to a movie. There's a clear beginning, a middle and an end. And like in any good movie, there's a progression of events. A build up, where one event will lead to the next one. Like a snowball rolling down the hill, getting bigger and bigger. Because the Bible is a journey. A story of development.
And just like in any good movie, at the end of the Bible, when you look back, there's been clear progress and change from the beginning. There's been growth. And like in any good movie, the end will take the main characters back to the beginning again. But now they're not going to be the same anymore, because now they've changed. And the problem that began the whole journey in the first place has now been solved, because of that change.
That's because the Bible is a development story of the humankind.
So, if you really want to understand the Bible, you must approach it like a movie. You don't go to a movie and start by watching the end. And then watch bits and pieces from the middle, and then bits and pieces from the beginning. How can you then walk out of the movie and think you know the WHOLE CONTENT?
Reading the Bible is the same way. You can only understand the Bible when you begin at the beginning and stop at the end. Jumping around the Bible and pulling scriptures out of context will just get you confused about the story. You'll miss the bigger picture, the point.
However. This doesn't mean that you don't sometimes flip open the Bible and pull out a scripture from somewhere in the middle. It just means that you need to know the whole content and order of things. That way when you pull out a scripture you know why that scripture says what it says, because you can mentally place it where it belongs in the chain of events.
I'll give you an example. Someone pulls randomly out a scripture from the Old Testament that sounds very harsh. Like: "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth". And then they say: "God gave this law to the Jews. How can a loving God demand an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth? Isn't He all about forgiveness?"
That's when I would say: "Yes He is, and you didn't get the whole picture."
When God gave His Torah law to the Jews, that law was just one piece of the puzzle. It was part of God's plan of salvation for mankind. But the puzzle wasn't finished yet! There were missing pieces that needed to be added on later. In the future. Something God already knew about, of course.
Remember, the truths in the Bible unfold as the story continues.
You know how weird a puzzle can look if it has missing pieces? Might not look like anything at all. Never judge a half-built puzzle! The truth of the matter is that everything in the Bible will look very harsh and weird without the missing piece of Jesus Christ, who makes everything beautiful and perfect. Because He came to show God's love in His own person. He came to complete the puzzle.
He said: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them." (Mt 5.17)
The missing piece was love! The eye for an eye, at the time it was given, was meant to teach people justice. When Jesus came, he added pieces to God's puzzle to add on, to complete this justice. So the justice looks different now, when it's overshadowed by love and forgiveness. For this reason, the New Testament letters clearly state that the Torah law was only a shadow of things to come and was never meant to be God's final solution for mankind. (Heb 10:1-7)
But take note: I'm not going to try to remove that justice piece either, because it needs to be there. Because there's an aspect of truth in it. If you really want to appreciate truth, you need all parts.
Let's think about it. What does love look like without justice?
Scenario 1: Let's say you're taking care of some preschool children. One of them goes around beating up all the other children with a crowbar (I don't know where he got it). But you, the caregiver, only want to show love, so you'll just walk around kissing and hugging all the children (some of them are bleeding now), including the problem child. And you just keep hugging and kissing that problem child, because that's the only side of you that you want to show.
So how is the problem solved in this scenario? And where's justice?
Scenario 2: Enter justice. You're still the loving caregiver, but you're adding justice into your character. Which means you'll show some tough love, some justice to the problem child, for the sake of those other children. And for that child's own sake too. You'll remove the problem child from the group and put him/her somewhere alone. And you'll come up with whatever reasonable punishment you can think of, that will absolutely drive in the point that the negative behavior can never continue.
What's better? Love with or without justice?
In the same way, we need to study all the Bible scriptures, and not just some of them. Because they're all needed to show the full picture of the truth.
"I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished." (Mt 5.18)
Another reason why it's important for you to read the Bible from cover to cover, is that when you do, you can observe with your own eyes an interesting phenomenon that takes place in the progression of the events.
It appears that God becomes progressively nicer as the story develops. Have you ever heard people complain about the God of the Old Testament? That He sounds mean? You know, the guy who demands "a tooth for a tooth" and makes a big deal about various little random laws and rules that He wants His people to follow or He'll strike them dead?
Why is it that God's personality appears to change in the progression of the events until we reach the New Testament and God shows up in the Person of Jesus Christ who loves people so much that He allows them to crucify Him, and by doing so, takes upon Himself their sins? Which sounds infinitely more loving than the Old Testament God.
What happened? Did God change?
The scriptures say no. The scriptures say that God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. (Her 13:8)
So if God didn't change, who did?
Humankind did. And that change, that growth, that level of spiritual maturity is directly reflected in the manner in which God speaks to His people in the Bible scriptures. In what He's able to communicate to them and how He chooses to deal with them.
Let's think about this for a minute.
Let's say that you're God and you want to talk to an ant. You want to communicate something important to it. You want it to understand you. To make it do something that would be very useful for it in the long run. Very good for it. Let's say, to move from one anthill to another (for example). But you want to do this convincing in a way where the ant can decide for itself if it wants to do it or not. Out of free will. Because you don't want to force it. Because forcing is not your style. Not part of your character. Because you're the embodiment of love. And love by nature -- doesn't force.
So how do you talk to the ant? Do you talk to it in human language? Of course you don't. You talk to it in ant language. Because you want the ant to understand you. You say things that helps it to get the point. You push it, gently. Speak its language.
You go down on its level.
It's the same way how God talks to people in the Bible. He goes down on their level. Their spiritual level.
God wasn't cruel and barbaric during the Old Testament days.
For example. Do you think that God would've had a lot of success talking to Abraham about women's rights during a time period when people had a cave man mentality? When they stole each other's wives like they were a piece of meat? Like pharaoh wanted to do with Abraham's wife Sarah? Just as an example. How do you think Abraham would've been able to handle lessons on Sarah's equal human rights during that time period? He was a man who came from a very different world than we live in. From a patriarchal society. Same with Sarah. She probably would've had just as much trouble with the concept as Abraham.
Fast forward some thousands of years and clearly, there's been progression. But still, what does Paul say during the New Testament era in his letters to the churches? He states that women should be silent in the churches.
Are they silent now?
My point is this: Some spiritual lessons are just too much for the little human brain to handle in its current state of being. For this reason spiritual growth can only happen in baby steps. Some realizations take years, decades, centuries to set in...Most of them are a group effort. With a few brave individuals in the front paving the way, taking the hits. Many realizations are like chipping on a large mountain. You can only take it down pebble by pebble. Change is slow, but fortunately, change is also certain.
And if you don't believe this change, take a look at how differently people looked at the world and love and justice in the beginning of the Old Testament in comparison to the book of Romans in the New Testament, just as an example.
Or how differently they do now, since the New Testament Days. Because that change, that growing hasn't ended. We're still changing, still learning new spiritual lessons, every day.
Jesus said: I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. (John 16:12-15)
What does this mean?
It means that God continues to talk to us through His Spirit that's inside of us. And that this is an ongoing thing, this continuous unveiling of the truth. And no, all of the truth is not contained in the Bible either! Let's put that out there too, because some Christians spread this kind of a myth. Take a look in the Bible and the Bible itself will debunk that myth. Some of the truth is in there, but not all of it. Not every truth. Hey, I never said that the Bible was the only map out there!
So if we want to find those truths that are relevant to our own lives today, we need to go look inside of us and ask what the Spirit of Truth is saying to us now.
The other important thing to point out about the Bible is this:
When God speaks to us, His people, He speaks to us in a voice that resembles very much our own. Why is this? It's because He can only reach us through our own understanding, our limited belief systems, our narrow idea of the world. This is how He lowers Himself for us in order to reach us, to come close to us, to make us feel safe and connected. It's a human thing. And God understands that this is what we need. Or else, our little heads would pop with anxiety. Because we can't handle God, except in small, human-sized portions that look very familiar and comforting to us.
When God speaks to us, He speaks with the goal of expanding us, of taking us closer to Him, to the truth. That's His goal. He wants to heal, to enlarge, to remove what's distorted, sinful, sick, and based on lies. He also wants a relationship with us. A genuine one, where we turn to Him with all of problems, where He is our go-to person for any and every little thing.
And the Bible is very useful in learning to develop that relationship.
These are some of the things that I want you to consider, to marinate in, in order to help you appreciate and understand the Bible a little more.
Understand the characters. Understand their world. Their environment, different from ours. And how God came to them, as they were. How He lowered Himself to their level to make them grow in their humanity, closer to Him.
We got to think about these things when we read the Bible. We got to read between the lines.
Since the Bible is a map, I advice you to keep it close to you at all times. So you don't get lost. So you learn to build a relationship with this book. For real. So you get to know it.
Wear it out. Let it be your backpack, part of your everyday gear, something you take with you everywhere you go.
Why? Because I want you to figure out its magic.
I don't have a better word for it.
Yes, yes. Now some well-meaning Christian says that they don't like the word magic, because of those scriptures that condemn practicing magic. (Lev. 19:26, Acts. 8:19 - 24)
But what do I really mean? What's my point here? I'm talking about how the Bible is wondrous and miraculous.
Never get hung-up on words. Never get nitty-gritty. Like a Pharisee. That's no way to approach the truth and the Bible. Instead, approach the Bible with an innocent, childlike attitude. Approach it with joy! Because God reads the motives of your heart and knows what your words mean.
But back to the Bible: The words in this book can perform miracles. If you let them. They can turn everything you thought you knew upside down. In a good way, a healing way. And sometimes in a painful way too. Because sometimes healing hurts too. Like a sword cutting through you. Sometimes the scriptures are like that. But only if you let them do their job. If you try them out. Just try them out. I promise you. It will only do you good. In the long run.
Because the Bible is alive. Literally. It's a living Bible.
What does that mean?
It means that the Bible is like a living organism.
It will adjust to the real life needs of the person reading it. Like a living plant, like a vine that grows and climbs in the shape of an object, a fence or a tree. And you're that tree. It has done it to me, and I've seen it do it to others too, again and again. The scriptures will do this to you too, if you allow them. If you treat them that way.
For example: When you have a need, and you pray about it, and then go and read the Bible, God will sometimes highlight a scripture that will speak to that need, and you'll understand the point of that scripture. If you seek for that understanding through prayer and faith. Whatever it is that's going on with you, the Holy Spirit will guide you to a scripture that you need to read. And that scripture will be the medicine you need to fix whatever it is that's going on with you.
Because the Bible scriptures do different things with different people. They need to. Because people are different. With different needs for growth. The same scripture might actually mean something different to two different people. It's okay. Because people are different. I've seen this too. I've also seen how the same scripture has meant different things to the same person at different times in their lives. It's happened to me, and I've witnessed it happened to other people. Because we all change. And the Holy Spirit works this way in us. The Holy Spirit knows which scriptures we need at a specific time and will illuminate it for us. That's how it works with the living Bible, when you read it with the Holy Spirit, the white rabbit as your guide.
That's why it's also never okay to fight about the meaning of scriptures. This is very important! There's a devil out there (if you believe it -- I know I sure do) and he loves when Christians fight about what some particular scripture means.
Don't do it! Don't give him the pleasure.
Discussion is always okay though. That's Bible study. That's exchanging ideas. That's asking, wondering, sharing, discussing and connecting. But it always has to be done peacefully. The Bible can never be used for arguments, for fighting. Because arguing does not come from God. That's a fruit of the devil.
When it gets difficult with some scripture (and sooner or later it will), remember this: We're not always ready for some particular truth that some particular scripture is revealing.
Because there are walls inside of us. You and me.
The scriptures, when we believe them and apply them to our lives, will break down these walls.
But there are many walls. And one broken down wall usually reveals another wall that needs to come down too. In order for us to be free. That's why the Bible targets our walls in layers. And that's what we Christians mean when we say we walk from faith to faith and from glory to glory.
Because our faith changes when those walls come down. It gets stronger and more clear. We mature.
Truth works this way. It's like an onion. It has layers. So the Bible is like an onion too, and you have to keep peeling those layers to get to the core of things.
But what if there's a Bible scripture that gives you severe anxiety? I know those scriptures are there! For all of us. I know I certainly have had scriptures I've struggled with. And I still do! But what do you do if you run into one of those scriptures?
This is what I believe the Holy Spirit has revealed to me as a strategy:
You put it on the shelf.
Let me repeat that. You put it on the shelf! And then you leave it there for later, for another time. When you know more and feel stronger, more able to ta Cole it.
But BEFORE you put it on the shelf, you pray to God about it with the innocence of a child. You might say something like this: "Heavenly Father, I know Your Word is true. But I don't UNDERSTAND how this can be true. It sounds scary/wrong/mean (or whatever it is that makes it difficult for you to accept). God, this is how it makes me feel." And then you tell Him how it makes you feel, like a child would tell a loving parent. Knowing that He won't judge you for it, but instead appreciates your honesty.
And then you ask: "God, please explain this scripture to me, because I don't understand it. I know it says in the Bible that You are all love and completely righteous and perfect. So explain Your love in this scripture for me. Explain to me in a way that I can understand with my brain. The way my brain works. Please do this for me, because I want to follow all Your Ways and commands.
And then you simply trust. You trust that the answer will come. That He'll answer your prayer in due time. That He'll explain that scripture and the purpose of it in a way that you'll get it. So you get His point. So you see why it's there and why it's needed. You'll just trust that He will do this for you.
"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. (Mt 7:7 - 8)
"Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Mt 7:9 -11)
This is faith. It's faith to believe in something you can't see. It's faith to put your trust in something that hasn't happened yet or you can't prove exists. It's faith to believe the answer will come when you don't see how on earth it possibly could.
Don't just automatically reject the challenging scripture. Wrestle with it. Give it a chance.
And stay open to God's input. Don't immediately make up your mind about what it means. Allow God to explain it to you. Wait for Him. Put the difficult scripture on the shelf and walk away. Leave it alone. Just come back to it later. And meanwhile, trust that God had good reason for placing it there and He'll explain the reason in due time. When you're ready for it.
It's okay to say "I don't know" about a scripture. It's okay to say, "I don't understand." That's being honest and humble. And God likes those qualities. Because they're from Him.