I know that there are times when, in the midst of a conversation with a friend, I find it hard to track what he or she is saying. My friend isn’t “trying to say something;” he or she really is saying something. The problem is that I don’t always hear with the clarity necessary–so I don’t grasp what my friend is intending to communicate.
But I’ve also noticed that in those times when I am not tracking, I don’t (typically) just throw up my hands, stand up and leave the conversation, and look for another person to engage. Because my desire is to build on my relationship with this friend, I’ll tend to do the hard work of listening well, pressing in to understand, asking appropriate questions, being focused on the conversation.
But I have also noticed that I don’t always do that when I come to a challenging passage in Scripture.
I’m often a bit too casual when I read. If I come to a particularly challenging passage, I can find myself simply turning the page. I might wonder what the Spirit–through the Biblical author–is “trying to say,” but when I don’t quickly grasp the reasons for the words I am reading I can end up just “leaving the conversation” and looking for something else to read.
If the Spirit inspired all of Scripture (which He has) and if all of God’s Word can be of benefit to my (which if can), then it probably isn’t a good idea to turn the page when I encounter something that is not immediately clear and obvious to me.
On more than one occasion, Jesus raised issues with those who questioned him, questioning whether they had attentively read the Scriptures (e.g., Mark 12:24). Luke commended those who heard Paul preach when he was in the city of Berea, noting that they searched the Scriptures for themselves (Acts 17:11). Paul encouraged Timothy to attentively labor over “the word of truth” so as to be a workman who has no need to be embarrassed about the way he handled Scripture (2 Timothy 2:15).
To read attentively, to search the Scriptures, and to labor over what we find there is the very antithesis is reading casually.
If I really want to know the living God and rightly live in relationship with him, it would be good to listen to him. And although he can and does speak directly to our hearts through his Spirit, the first place we’ll learn to hear from him is through the Scriptures. If I am finding it hard to track on what he is saying in a particular passage that I am reading, maybe the best thing wouldn’t be to throw up my hands, leave the conversation, and look for another passage to read. Maybe the best thing would be to do the hard work of reading well, pressing in to understand, asking appropriate questions of the text, and giving focused attention to what is there before me in his Word.