I don’t want to read the Bible. I mean, I want to want to read it, but I just can’t. Well, I can read the words, I just get confused. Usually by the fifth to tenth verse I start to check out. God, is this normal? Am I less smart or just less spiritual than my friends out there who seem to have magical decoders in their brains telling them what these words mean? Maybe it’s both. I’m not smart nor spiritually enlightened. Seriously, God must know I am a girl living in western culture in the 21st century. Surely He will understand that I cannot wrap my mind around the Ancient Near East influence of the Old Testament nor the heady theological stuff found in the New Testament. He get’s that, right? Sure He does, so I give up.
Maybe you have experienced similar thoughts. Maybe you, too, feel you have done all you can to read the Bible, but have difficulty finding something new you can really understand, let alone apply. Maybe you have experienced a level of frustration that at one point caused you to give up on reading the Bible for yourself. Maybe you are there now.
I’ve been there. When I gave up, I still went to church and Bible study, but unless someone was spoon-feeding me, I was not going to try to pick up the drill again, because I was just sure I would never hit oil. Then, the further my patterns pulled away from regular meetings with the Lord, the harder it became to try to begin a new pattern of regular Scripture reading.
So, then I decided to read books to help me to want to read the Bible. I even picked up a book from the church library about growing in my ability to be disciplined with my Scripture studies, but I returned it two weeks later because I was too undisciplined to read it! Feel free to laugh at the irony. I laugh now as I look back, but I remember returning that unread book thinking that I had not only come to a place where I felt like I couldn’t get much out of Scripture, but now I didn’t even want to try. I was sad.
Well, I may have resigned on meeting with God, but He did not give up on me. Like the loving parent that He is, He allowed me to experience the most difficult gut-wrenching season of my entire life right after I cancelled our regular meetings. In His grace, He allowed me to be injured as my heart walked away from Him, and everything that I was using as a crutch for propping up my spiritual walk He caused one-by-one to fall to the ground. It was the first time in my life that I recognized what God always knew about me — I need His regular fellowship so very bad.
Now, I did not want to miss out on one single thing God wanted to give me from His Word. The difference at that point was that I was broken, bankrupt, and hungry. Spiritually starving really. I needed help and I needed healing. That’s when it hit me. My Healer is not the Bible. My healer is the Lord. But God had blessed me with good teaching up through that point in my life to know that God’s Spirit works through the Scriptures so that we can know Him. It is through knowing Him that we are healed. Just reading the words on the page wasn’t enough, and that’s when I started reading Scripture differently. I began using the Bible as the tool is was made to be to show me who God is. Understanding this important distinction is what motivated me to commit to never settling for less than what God wanted to give me.
Similarly, the Israelites had gone through periods of time where they had given up on being patient and persistent enough to wait on God to reveal Himself. Just before Moses died, he gave a farewell address to the nation of Israel. As the nation stood on the precipice of receiving the blessing of the land God had promised to them many years prior, their leader, Moses, reminded them of when they had not been faithful and that they had to walk a hard road for God to be able to reach them in their unfaithfulness. Moses even told them that they would break their covenant with God again, but he was also careful to ask them to never forget the most amazing part of the covenant God had made with them:
There you will worship man-made gods of wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or eat or smell. But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul. (Deuteronomy 4:28-29)
Did you catch that? Even in the midst of our hearts wandering away from God, He says “Come back.” When we are left empty by trying to do things our way. When we are left empty because we learn that everything and every person can and will let us down in some way, we are INVITED back to Him with a promise. If we seek Him–as a Person–we will find Him.
This seeking and finding concept isn’t just an Old Testament concept reserved for Israel. This cry is echoed repeatedly in the New Testament. God wants you and me to seek Him as a Person. He wants us to find our satisfaction in Him. To come to Him hungry and find sustenance. During my time of this desperate state of hunger was when this verse began to take on a whole new world of meaning to me:
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. (John 6:35)
It was through becoming a spiritual beggar looking for bread that I started making practical changes to my times studying God’s Word so that I would be sure not to miss out on knowing Jesus, because He was my bread. That’s when I started eating commentary sandwiches. Go ahead and read that last sentence again. You read it right. Yes, I started having a regular diet of commentary sandwiches. Allow me to explain.
I would, as I had many years before, read a passage in Scripture. Even though my motivation to know Christ had changed from simply wanting to check my devotional off of my list to now wanting to actually know the person and character of Jesus Christ, this did not mean I magically understood the historical and spiritual context of everything I read.
So, after I would read the “bread” of Scripture, I would read about the passage in an easy to understand commentary explaining the meaning of the passage. This helped me to understand the immediate context as well as how the passage fit into the whole of Scripture. Then, after reading the “filler” provided by the commentary to help me fill in the blanks in my head, I would read the very same passage in my Bible again. That second time reading the same passage always made so much more sense to me.
Altogether, this pattern made two pieces of “bread” surrounding the “filler” of a commentary. Hence, the name commentary sandwich. From time to time, the filler might change to a different commentary or study aid, but like any true sandwich, it was always enveloped with two hearty pieces of bread.
The hunger God gave me in the midst of my unfaithfulness provided the motivation I needed to seek Him. As I continued to enjoy a daily intake of commentary sandwiches, knowing I really needed that bread and it was my responsibility to find a way to “digest” it, I was able to grow in my understanding of God.
Because I will never forget the state of destitution that I have received this spiritual food in, I pray God will use my history as a beggar to help me to never take another spiritual meal for granted. It was Jesus Himself who said that people do not “live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4b). Thank God that He loves us enough to allow us to be stripped of everything that would serve to take away our spiritual hunger pangs, even if the process doesn’t feel good at the time. I am so glad He did that for me.