By Josh Bundy
“On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night.”
- Psalm 63:6
I’ve taken some time off in June for study, rest, and family time. On Tuesday, my family was with friends exploring part of historic Philadelphia. We passed a man sitting on the street who was saying to passersby, “Happy Birthday Summer! Happy Taco Tuesday!” Then, sing-songing, “Taco-Tuesday, happy birthday, taco, taco, Tuesday, Summer birthday…” His singing was warm and sounded happy. It made me feel glad that summer is here. And it made me want tacos, but that’s for another blog.
I’m glad summertime is here. I need a change in season, change in pace, change in focus. Some people like their work to be similar every day. Others need variety. I am of the second sort, the sort who are at their best when they have different work on different days. I am of the kind who read a story and let it linger over days of other duties. Over time and through many conversations the story unwinds and reorganizes itself. It enters my heart during the various work and then it may, or may not, work its way out in my teaching and preaching. I am the kind who looks at a piece of art and has no idea why anyone would ever make it. Then, after a few days of musing, thinking, and listening to other people talk about other topics I discover that the art changed how I think anyway, even though I didn’t know what it meant. Is anyone else out there like this?
If you are like this at all, even partially, it might help you to know that much of the Bible was designed to work in this way. In God’s providence, he didn’t make the Bible to be merely a set of propositions. He worked through humans, by his Spirit, to produce a work of art that affects and changes us in silence, in the background. This mysteriously can happen while we work at various things, while we play, while we vacation, even while we sleep. A lot of people think that reading the Bible demands understanding why a verse was written and what it means and how it applies… all immediately. I have found that many times I have no idea why anyone would ever write such a verse. Then, after a few days of musing, thinking, and listening to other people talk about other topics I discover that the verse changed how I think anyway, even though I didn’t know what it meant.
It seems this is partially what the poet has in mind in Psalm 63. “I think of you through the watches of the night,” could mean being awake, thinking about God. But it probably means reading something about God before going to bed and allowing that truth to enter the world of your thoughts and dreams. “Pre-loading” for sleep and the day ahead. This is more a marinade of God’s word than a microwave preparation.
So many Bible studies of today are designed for the microwave. Heat up a little of God’s word. Eat it now on the way to work. Never mind if the outside burns the lips and the inside is ice. Cram it down, apply it, wrestle a meaning out of it, move on. Some people try this and end up confused, irritated, underwhelmed. Others get triggered or scared and, if the emotions go unresolved, they are less likely to try the Bible again. Others burn with passion during a study or meeting, making big statements for God and about God, but flame out by the time they get home or to work. This can even make people dangerous: having big emotions about God and for God with no slow outworking and processing can make zealots instead of disciples. We’ve all smelled popcorn burnt in the microwave. We’ve all smelled barbeque, smoked patiently over many hours. We know which is desirable. But when it comes to a life lived slowly with the word of God always just behind the scenes, working its power slowly, we struggle.
So, we are invited by God’s grace of summertime to start again more slowly. Always, we begin again. This could happen in many ways. You might choose a theme verse or passage to think about once a week throughout the summer. Or perhaps you will introduce a new habit of reading one passage about Jesus before getting in bed and rereading it before getting out of bed in the morning. There are many ways to enter the world of scripture slowly and patiently. It’s a change in season and for many it is a time to change the pace of life. I invite you to try something new and slow with the Bible. One great opportunity to learn more about this is coming up in July and August with a group I’m leading called How (Not) To Read the Bible. We’ll look at problems people have with the Bible, better ways to read it, and of course, we’ll take it slow.
Grace to you,