Slow down. Read longer sections.
This piece of two-fold advice runs counter to our ADD culture.We want to dip into the Bible, grab a nugget of inspiration and get on with our day. Problem is, not much of the Bible lends itself to that kind of reading. Instead of a serial dating kind of relationship with the Bible, I say slow down and develop a relationship. Get to know a particular text. Learn how it moves. Notice the little things. See how things are connected. Read it over and over again. Pray. It’s amazing what develops.
Take reading the Gospel of Mark, for instance. I was recently reading chapter one for a sermon. This is not a good way to read a text–to make it serve your interests. I saw lots of things, but had no sermon. So, I put the pen and paper away and decided to slow down. And when I did things came together for me in ways they hadn’t before.
For instance, Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law on the Sabbath. The last little piece in that story says that she got up to serve them after she was healed. Now, I had retailed that little nugget many times. What does Jesus heal you to do? Serve. Bleh.
But the next sentence surprised me, even though I had read it a million times before. “That evening, at Sunset, they brought to him all who were sick and demon possessed.” At Sunset. At Sunset. How had I skipped over that phrase so many times. At Sunset. The Sabbath is over. Now everyone who has been excluded from human contact on the Sabbath can come into view. After Sunset. Now all who have been deemed unclean can be touched and handled. The sick and the demon possessed become visible, addressable.
That changed the previous sentence related to Peter’s mother-in-law. She was restored to her place. Her illness had excluded her. Her healing restored her to life with others. In fact, this cycle of stories begins with Jesus healing a man on the Sabbath in the Synagogue with “an unclean spirit.” And it ends with Jesus “making clean” a leper who begged Jesus–“If you want to, you can make me clean.”
Now, this story gets more interesting. The former leper is told not to tell anyone, but to go “show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” I had always read this business with the priests as Jesus’ respect for the law. He’s not going out of his way to pick a fight. He’s being respectful, yada, yada, yada. But that’s not what he’s doing. He’s making sure the man can re-enter society. He’s restoring him to his place, just like Peter’s mother-in-law.
Now, I couldn’t wait to preach this sermon.
So, I slowed down. In slowing down, I noticed a detail I had never considered before. A small thing with huge significance. And that caused me to read all the stories around it differently. I had a larger section of Scripture in view. I wasn’t reading just one story, but a larger section.
I admire people who can read the bible through in a year. I’m not one of those people. And there are things about it that I’m not sure develop a good mind-set with regard to Scripture. What if instead you spent a year or half a year with a particular gospel. Slow down. Read big sections. Don’t feel the pressure to read everyday, but devote times during the week when you have time to linger, to notice, to take in larger sections.