I began this journey sitting across from people in need, asking God how to help them. Reading the Gospels, the Book of Acts, and the unfolding adventure of the New Testament writings really showed me ways that Jesus and those who followed Him interacted with people in need. Reading the Old Testament gave me a peek into how the Divine Creator thinks about stuff. Approaching my Bible in this way I found two benefits. First, it was much more natural to simply connect people to God. Second, and as an unplanned benefit, the way that I learned the Bible was clearly shaped by this approach.
It is an interesting exercise to make a direct comparison of Jesus’ ministry styles and strategies to the ways that we minister today. I cannot find a single example of Jesus leading someone to pray a sinner’s prayer, and in most cases He really did not discuss their circumstances relative to a heaven-and-hell-destination mindset. He did not set up hierarchies and organizations, almost as if he trusted men and women to come up with a vast array of unique expressions for His singular message.
It seems that Jesus did a few things well.
First, He “went around doing good to all men and undoing the works of the devil”. He Went to people in need and demonstrated that the Living and Present Kingdom of God contained all that the human race needed to be restored to their original design. Though His focus was on the Gospel of the Kingdom, it appears that the human race was continually the beneficiary of such a focus. (for more on this listen to this teaching on the Kingdom of God http://vimeo.com/30754649)
Second, He taught publicly in both large and small groups where He could demonstrate how God thinks and how He interprets and applies His own Word. Clearly the Word of God is/was living and active, because Jesus’ public teaching was always accompanied by action. He taught then He demonstrated what He taught.
Third, Jesus handed off to a small group of followers the keys to teaching and doing the things that He Himself was teaching and doing. Connecting people to God and teaching others to do the same seems to be what Jesus did on His pathway to the cross.
Jesus seemed much more concerned about meeting people where they were and helping them have a new view of God and His desires and intentions for His people. His approach was unique and different in every setting. And in every setting He gave them a new way to engage the Present and Living God.
I approached my Bible reading in this way. I wanted to do good to men and undo the works of the Devil. I needed the Bible to give an inerrant, infallible, inspired standard to do these things in the ways that I could discern Jesus would do. I wanted to teach in ways that led people to connect to God and engage with Him in a new way. I wanted to be able to give others the perspective and tools to do the same.
The unexpected benefit of this approach is that it has deeply affected how I read and view scripture. If you read about wilderness survival techniques siting in a warm living room, you may learn some fascinating strategies for staying warm, or eating nutritious tree bark.
If you read about wilderness survival hundreds of miles from civilization, in high altitudes, and cold weather, you will read and learn in an entirely different way.
I learned that the Word of God was immediate. God can speak into your immediate situation.
I learned that the Word of God was powerful. When people needed more than advice, God was willing and ready to act, not just make recommendations.
I learned that the Word of God could act separate of me. My interpretive skills did not give God’s Word power. Power is resident in the Word itself.
I learned that God never changes, but seldom repeats Himself. God is so creative and responsive. He is the best communicator I know.
I learned that scripture is a menu, that points to a meal. As my friend Alan Smith says, you can’t eat a menu. Many, however, try to draw sustenance from a page, instead of the reality to which the page directs us.
I read with an urgent necessity and an expectation of response, because that is the reason I read in the first place. I, or someone I cared about needed something from God. We needed God.
Sadly, many approach scripture in exactly the opposite way. Many I know approach scripture with their own knowledge. This unexamined and often unacknowledged lens causes people to come to scripture for things that scripture was never designed to provide. Justification for choices and cultural mores. Limitations on “valid expressions of being” When we approach scripture to strengthen our knowledge of Good and Evil, we use scripture to strengthen the very thing that God’s Word is designed to destroy.
Sadly, many who approach scripture in this way, point people to the wrong things. Instead of pointing people to freedom, they point people to prescriptions for behavior and rules, and limitations of how God is allowed to act.
I’ve never known anyone who engages in the lives of broken wounded people and walks among the needy that studies the Bible and concludes that God no longer acts and speaks today. With our feet firmly planted among the darkness of humanity, we will always discover that God’s Word opens the door to experience God in ever deepening and powerful ways.
People need Good News not just good advice.