Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. (Psalm 119:105 NIV)
As we attempt to seek God, the most essential link is the Bible. It is the record of how God has spoken in the past to his prophets and apostles. But how does one approach the Bible? We are even warned in the Bible itself that in order to be approved by God, we will need to correctly handle the word of truth (2 Ti, 2:15). What does this mean?
Practical Difficulties Overcome
I’ve discovered that many people are actually put off by the Bible. Perhaps they have tried to read it and discovered that it is a complex document, not a single book. It is a collection of books written over time. Contemporary Americans, accustomed to film and television, also have difficulty transitioning to reading literature and historical records written thousands of years ago. Others have only experienced the Bible in the King James translation (originally from 1611 AD). This introduces the additional difficulty that the English used is archaic.
These issues classify as practical difficulties that can be easily overcome with a little knowledge and coaching. Using a more contemporary version that sounds like the English we use today will help immensely. I have used and recommended the NIV translation for years but there are many good contemporary translations. Having a Bible handbook or sufficient notes in the Bible itself to help the reader place the writing of the book and its intended readers will also be very helpful. As to where to begin reading, I usually tell new Bible readers to start in the New Testament with the Gospel of Luke and read three books, Luke, John and Acts in order. This gives the new reader a thorough introduction to the life and teachings of Jesus and acquaints them with the story of the early church. Then I often encourage them to read some of Paul’s shorter letters, Philippians and Ephesians, for example.
Though practical difficulties like these are problems to us today, I don’t think they are what Paul had in mind when he warned us to correctly handle the word of truth.
The Heart is the Key
What Paul had in mind had much more to do with the attitude with which we come to Scripture and with our response to it.
Not just intellectual curiosity
One way to look at Biblical literature is mostly out of intellectual curiosity. We can be interested in its contribution to the archaeology of the centuries in which it was written. We could dissect the development of the theologies that have arisen from its pages; or study the history of its text and probe its contributions to knowledge. There is nothing wrong with these pursuits. Actually, they are very valuable parts of certain academic disciplines. But, they are not what we’re talking about when we are discussing seeking God. In fact, the Bible warns us that it is very easy to become distracted about words and philosophies when the real issues are matters of the heart (2 Ti. 2:14; Col. 2:8).
But seeking God with a heart to respond
So correctly handling the word of God means that we’re approaching it with a heart ready to hear. This is the single most important factor. Even if we are not yet ready to believe, as Christians do, that the Bible is the Word of God, at least we can come to it with openness that through it God might speak to us. That is enough. We express a little faith through such openness. This attitude fulfills the conditions of God’s promise. “Without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6 ESV).
Another part of the heart attitude that we need, is the pre-determination that we will respond to what God’s word tells us. If we are unwilling to respond, further seeking of God’s direction will be blocked.
Seeking with skills
I hasten to add that another part of what Paul means when he speaks of correctly handling God’s Word has to do with the skills of interpretation. The word he uses of the Bible interpreter is the word for a laborer. I think of a skilled worker. This introduces the idea that the more we know about the Bible and its context, the better we will be able to understand it. The more we understand it the more God can use it as a tool to speak to us. So our desire to seek God becomes a prod to us to learn more about his Word and how to read it and interpret it. There is much that a brand-new Bible reader can understand, but the more we read it, and the more we study it, the richer our relationship with God can be.