How do we read the Bible for a relationship with God?
At the beginning of the day [Exodus 16:21; Isaiah 50:4]
According to your appetite [Exodus 16:16; Mark 1:35]
With Jesus lenses [John 6:32, 35]
During our recent Noomanautics series based on John 16 and 17, we talked about 5 ways the Holy Spirit helps us navigate our lives. After that, as a way to help us grow in our spirit-led lives, we started a new series called PRS. It’s all about how we become and stay Christian. If we want the Holy Spirit to help us navigate our lives, the good news is we don’t have to climb to the top of a tall tower and beg God to take an interest in us because, as we’re learning on Wednesday nights in our discussion of the book The Shack, God is very fond of us and already is with us!
Which is why prayer, starting with an uneducated cook in a French monastery as recently as 300 years ago, gradually began being defined as practicing the presence of God or keeping company with God and not just making requests from long lists. For more info on prayer and its unique Christian understanding as a dialogue and not monologue, please go to www.toledofirstadventist.org and watch, read, or listen to part one and two in this series.
But today, we’re moving on to the R in PRS and that stands for reading. As our video clip humorously highlighted, reading the Bible for a relationship with God not only connects us to the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, it also helps us understand our purpose on earth. Which according to Ephesians 1:11, is to discover our identities in Christ. Eugene Peterson says it this way in his paraphrase of Ephesians 1:11. “It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ,...he had his eye on his, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.”
And Jesus agrees with this assessment. According to Jesus in John 5:39, we should diligently read the Bible because its pages “testify about Him.” So it’s through reading the Bible that you get to know Jesus and discover your purpose and identity in Christ. Which for millions of followers for thousands of years has proven to provide significance and meaning to their lives—even though we live them in a broken and often evil world. But you don’t have to take my word for it. You can read this book and see for yourself the difference it makes. Which is what I hope this series will inspire you to do! Because like falling out of bed, this is something we can do! A little more each day!
But even after this intro, talking about bread for thirty minutes may seem to some like a crummy way to emphasize reading the Bible. So I hope you don’t toast me for it. All my other ideas seemed half baked. I knew we kneaded something to increase our appetite and this was fresh out of the oven. So crusty as it may seem, I’m going to serve it anyway. Hoping these three points will encourage you to eat your fill. Yes, as Lee Vendon says, who actually wrote this punny intro [go to www.moreaboutjesus.org for more of Lee Vendon’s great content], there is a reason why Jesus compared Himself to our daily bread. And today, we’ll see why.
But before we do, let me ask you, what do you think of when you hear the phrase “our daily bread”? Don’t you think of our Lord’s Prayer who prayed “Give us this day our daily bread”? But followers back in Jesus’ day wouldn’t have done that. Because the phrase “our daily bread” for them reminded them not of a prayer Jesus prayed, but of the miraculous bread from heaven called manna that Exodus 16:35 says the Israelites ate for 40 years before entering the land of Canaan. This is described at length in the 16th chapter of Exodus. Which is where I want to spend most of our time this morning. But I want to focus on just a few verses. The first one is found in verse 21 so let’s go there.
Exodus 16:21 says, “Each morning everyone gathered as much [manna] as he needed, and when the sun grew hot, it melted away.” What did it look like? Exodus 16:31 says it was white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey. Which sounds like Golden Grahams to me. I love Golden Graham cereal. Do you? I got all kinds of nice cards for Pastor appreciation month in October. Thank you. I sincerely appreciate it. But no Golden Grahams! Maybe next year! I think the manna tasted like Golden Grahams. But how did it get there?
Exodus 16:4 says the LORD made it “rain down” from heaven. But in case you think that means boxes of Golden Grahams falling out of the sky with their bar codes, take a look at verse 14. There it says that after they ate their supper, in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. And when the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost appeared on the desert floor. So the manna didn’t really rain down. It actually showed up. And when they first saw it, the Israelites said to each other, “What is it?” Which is the Hebrew word I mutter when I bite into a bowl of grape nuts. What is this? That’s what it means. I used to hate grape nuts. They were so nasty. But true story, I actually love grape nuts piled high with bananas and raisins now. They’re not as good as Golden Grahams. But what is? Except pie. Pie is always better than anything. But I digress.
So every morning except Saturday, I imagine you could hear annoyed mothers throughout the camp asking fathers, “Where is the what is it? What? You haven’t even left yet? It’s probably gonna be all melted by the time you get there! Get going and bring back some soymilk too!” And the fathers who didn’t couldn’t say, “Oh, honey, sorry, I didn’t have the coupon. Traffic was a nightmare. You would not believe the mess someone made in the cereal aisle.” Why? Because the ‘what is it’ was everywhere! The manna was freely and abundantly accessible to all.
Sadly, there are still many places in the world today that do not have access to the Bible. This is a fact, not a guilt trip. We have multiple copies sitting on our shelves in numerous versions, but a few years ago in Vietnam when I was visiting there, we had to sneak Bibles into the country! And when we did they were later distributed to Christians who snatched them up and treasured just portions of them. Over there, they literally rip books out of the Bible so each Bible can help 66 people instead of just one. To these Christians, prayer is like breathing. Just something normal they practice 24/7. And reading their Bible, even if its only a few pages ripped from the book, is like eating their daily bread, or, rice. It’s what fills them up and keeps them going. Have we forgotten how precious and sacred these pages really are?
So what fills you up and keeps you going? How do we read the Bible for a relationship with the Bread of Life? We start, wherever we live around the world, by making it a priority. Point number one is we read the Bible for a relationship with God at the beginning of our day. What happened to the manna if they didn’t collect it in the morning? Exodus 16:21 says when the sun got hot, it melted. Golden opportunities to spend time with Jesus melt away if we don’t make reading his word a priority. Proverbs 8:17 [KJV] says, “Those that seek me early shall find me.”
But there’s a practical and not just theological reason for reading at the beginning of your day. Significantly, God sent the manna to give the people daily strength. But let me ask you a common sense question. When do you need daily strength? At the end of your day? After you’ve eaten supper? Worked all day? And you’re ready to watch some TV and pass out? Or as you begin your day? Nutritionists and doctors tell us that if you’re going to skip meals, probably the meal you shouldn’t skip is what? Breakfast. If you get a good breakfast, even if you miss other meals in the day, you’ll be alright. One of the secrets of starting or rekindling a meaningful relationship with Jesus is to schedule time for Him earlier than those last few moments of the day when you’re brain dead and sinking into a TV coma.
“Well, Pastor Mike, that’s all fine for you. You’re probably a morning person. You like getting up early to spend time with Jesus.” Which is true. I can barely stay awake till halftime of Monday night football. Any of you on school board know I’m barely hanging on to my sanity in some of those meetings. The closer and closer I get to 10pm, the more my brain turns to mush! Seriously, I can’t have a serious conversation at that hour even if I try! So yes, I love spending time with Jesus in the morning. When everything is dark and quiet. But I read an article in USA Today that said something like 50% of Americans do not work 9 to 5. So think about it, if you’re working 3rd shift, nights, or some other arrangement, early morning for you may mean you’re just getting home from work! So understand, I’m not saying you can’t read your Bible for relationship at noon or some other time. All I’m saying is, what I think the Bible is saying, is whenever your day begins, you should start it with Jesus in your cup, know what I mean?
I have a chiropractor friend in my business group who reads his Bible for 5 minutes every morning in his office before seeing his first client. He just started doing this. But he’s really enjoying it and is amazed how often what he reads becomes a verse he can share with his patients throughout the day. Which we’ll be talking about next time. Because sharing is not about regurgitating what you hear in church. It’s about sharing what you’ve been praying about and what you’ve heard God say to you. That’s what is irrefutable! So we’ll talk about that next time.
But in the meantime, don’t forget what Isaiah 50:4 (NKJV) says, “He awakens Me morning by morning.” Did you know that if you ask God to help you want to make him a priority, this verse says He will? How cool is that? You don’t even have to want to spend time with God at first! God will wake you up and help you want to! Isn’t that fantastic? I know this is true because he’s done this for me. So make Jesus a priority at the beginning of your day. By asking God to make you want to. This is point number one when reading for a relationship with God.
Point number two can be found in Exodus 16:16 which says, “This is what the LORD has commanded: ‘Each one is to gather as much as he needs. Take an omer [about 2 quarts] for each person you have in your tent.’” Two quarts is more than enough for each person, but notice it doesn’t say that each person has to eat two quarts. Why? Because appetites will vary. Gather as much as you need verse 21 repeats. Which may be why there is such a market still for those morning devotional books the Adventist Book Center keeps churning out every new year. They’ll probably have some available for you to purchase tonight if you want at the school bake, book, and craft fund raiser tonight @ 7:30pm. You know the kind of book I’m talking about? The kind where there is a text, a story, followed by a prayer at the bottom of the page? Some have nature nuggets. Some are authored by famous preachers.
These books are all fine and good. But honestly, nobody can grow healthy and mature living on snack food. Not even healthy snack foods like trail mix and granola bars! Golden Grahams yes! Everybody knows they’re the breakfast of champions just joking. That’s Wheaties isn’t it? I used to hate those too. But at some point, we all grow up don’t we? ValueGenesis has taught us that we need to teach the emerging generations how to read their own Bibles in community if we want our children and grandchildren to be positive toward God and church. Grace based churches, active community service, and meaningful worship and Bible study in community is what is desperately needed in the new normal Adventist churches reaching emerging generations today.
You’re aware, for example, that much of New Testament were letters written to communities of faith to be read together? So isn’t it weird that we train our kids to read the Bible on their own? We even condition them to sit here in church and listen to me say what I think the texts mean instead of having a more interactive environment where the texts are publicly read and discussed. That’s how they did church in the first century. But that’s not how we do church today is it! Why we do it this way I don’t know!
So if we don’t read the Bible in community, let’s at least spend special and specific time at the beginning of our day, whenever that may be, getting to know Jesus. Each, according to their need. This is point number two. What the single mother of three with two jobs does in her time with Jesus will be dramatically different than what the bachelor itinerant preacher does in his time. Our prayer time and reading time will change as the seasons of our life change. As we grow, so will our appetite for God.
We know this is true because Mark 1:35 says, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” Which by itself sounds like I’m repeating point number one. That we should make reading the Bible a priority at the beginning of our day whenever our day begins. But the context of this verse helps us see point number two. Jesus is spending his quiet time at the beginning of his day because his appetite for God demanded it. This verse occurs right after Jesus had come to Capernaum, the same Sabbath that Peter’s mother-in-law was sicked and he healed her. But as soon as the sun went down, the whole town brought the sick and the infirmed. So Jesus healed people “far into the night” and then because his appetite for company with the Father had grown so much, the Bible says that “very early in the morning while it was still dark” Jesus got up, left the house, and went off to a solitary place to pray. We are to pray and read according to our appetites. Apparently, Jesus’ was larger than many of ours. And that’s okay. Because appetites vary. But God will always provide more than enough.
The last point about reading for relationship comes from John 6:32 and 35. “Jesus said to them, ‘I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.” Verse 35 adds, “ Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.’”
When Jesus said that He is the Bread of Life come down from heaven, He was pointing his audience back to the story we just reviewed in Exodus 16. They would have realized what we miss. That Jesus was saying just as they ate manna every day, we need to spend some time each day reading, thinking, and talking to Jesus if we want our relationship with Him to grow. But what if, for some reason, we don’t? Are you saying, Pastor Mike, if you miss a day of reading your Bible for a relationship with Jesus you’re lost? No, because we are not saved by doing good things. Or not doing bad things. According to Jesus in John 17:3, we are saved by knowing Him. And the Bible is just one way for us to know Him. But there are many more. We already talked about three of them. Remember nature, providential circumstances, and music? If you don’t read your Bible at the beginning of your day, God has a myriad of ways to speak to you—if we practice the presence of God throughout our day and live it for him. Ellen White says it this way in Steps to Christ pages 57-58. “The character is revealed, not by occasional good deeds and occasional misdeeds, but by the tendency of the habitual words and acts.”
So what’s the direction of your life? Is it toward God? Are you open and honest with yourself and Him? Are you keeping company with God? Do you know Jesus? If so, you’re saved! God spent an awful lot of time and energy to save you. When you neglect him, he doesn’t neglect you! His grace is always new every morning. We’ve got to stop thinking of God as a heavenly Coke machine demanding that we put something in to get something out. God’s not like that! We know this is true because 1/3 of all the Gospels describe Jesus’ last days on earth leading up to his dying on the cross. Weddings. Healings. Prayer meetings make up some of the rest. But one whole third is about Jesus dying on the cross for you! That’s not an accident and neither are you! God loves you like crazy and would rather die than spend eternity without you!
So if you do nothing else, especially on the days after we forget to read our Bibles, maybe we should start again at the cross. It was obviously important to the writers of these books. Would we ever doubt our infinite value and worth if we did? Would we ever question God’s relentless love? Or underestimate the sinfulness of sin? I don’t think so. This is what I mean by reading with Jesus lenses. Which is point number three. We need to see everything in Scripture the way Jesus does. As pointing toward the cross. Because that is what makes the words inside this book wonderful. Exodus 16 is not about manna. It’s about the bread of life.
Do you want to start or rekindle a relationship with Jesus? You can! By making Bible reading a priority at the beginning of your day. Point number one. By reading according to your appetite. Point number two. Because rightly understood, all of these pages point to Jesus. When we read the Bible with Jesus lenses, we see Jesus on every page and not just on the cross. This is point number three. Today the average life span is 25,550 days. I challenge you to spend the rest of yours reading for a relationship with Jesus.