Scripture Reading While You Run

Like last fall, I am training for the Dallas Marathon.* Though I try to find training programs that limit my mileage to a manageable number there is still no substitute for putting in the running miles.

Pray-As-You-Go 1

Pray-As-You-Go 1 (Photo credit: Church of the Redeemer)

The best audio version/podcast of scripture that I have found is Pray-as-You-Go. It is on iTunes and can be downloaded off the web. I place it on my iPod and listen to multiple days’ readings, sometimes multiple times (a Job passage was particularly powerful today but not yesterday). The format consists of a song (anything from Bach to Ladysmith Black Mambazo), followed by a call to prayer, a short reading of scripture, and then a prayer as you hear the reading a second time. Each day’s podcast last between 10-12 minutes.

Pray-As-You-Go is produced by a Jesuit group so the tone might be a bit more contemplative than many are used to but I always find myself engaged with the reading in a powerful way. I look forward to many of my runs because I know I am going to be fed the word and experience God in a unique way. If you have a long commute, spend time on a treadmill or exercise bike, or are more of an auditory person, Pray-As-You-Go can keep you in touch with the word of God and spark a prayerful consideration of his work in your life.

Here is a sample from this week:

*I am raising money for Texas Scottish Rite Hospital For Children. Go here to make a donation.

One Method of Praying The Scriptures

Long time readers will remember the theme of this year has been the Word of God. I have sought insight and guidance in the reading of scripture and worked to gain a greater appreciation and love for the Bible. Several books have helped me in this process, George Guthrie’s Reading the Bible For Life and Scot McKnight’s The Blue Parakeet to name a few. But the book that I would recommend for a more spiritual approach to the Bible is Chris Webb’s book The Fire of the Word. 

In the book, Webb introduced me to the Exercises of St. Ignatius and provided guidance on conducting my own exercises with scripture. The beauty of the Ignatius approach is it immerses you in the story of scripture. After spending 15-20 minutes meditating on a passage, you then begin to pray and seek out a response from Jesus.

At the end of the exercise, you begin to talk with Christ and most importantly – listen. I don’t always hear a response but I feel closer to Christ and feel like our relationship has a more honest element to it. Also, because of this exercise, I spend the rest of the day thinking about the passage and reflecting on the parts of the story that meant the most to me.

I would highly recommend Webb’s book and encourage you to give the Ignatius meditative approach to scripture a try. Here are the steps to follow as you read a designated passage:

Step One – Imagine the scene as clearly as you can. Use your imagination to take in smells, sounds, and sights.

Step Two – Place yourself in the shoes of one of the characters

Step Three – Continue to run the events of the story to run through your mind. Pay close attention to what people say and do.

Step Four – Ask yourself what emotions does this passage create in you? How do you want to respond to the questions asked or statements made.

Step Five – Use your emotions and questions from the previous step to spark a conversation with Christ. Listen for his response.

If all of this seems strange to you then maybe it is time for you to try something new. The Bible is too important for us to not do everything we can to engage it and the method above has worked very well for me.

What I Love About The Bible

KJV Bible

KJV Bible (Photo credit: knowhimonline)

If you have been following this blog for long, then you know that 2012 has been “The Year of the Word.” I have tried to study, read, listen, study, and read the Bible with the intent of becoming a more devoted user of scripture. Here are a few things I have grown to love about the Bible:

All of the dirty, harsh, brutally honest, and uncomfortable parts – Chris Webb in his excellent book on the Bible, The Fire of The Word, says, “… the Bible resists us at every turn. It will not cooperate, it will not conform to our schemas, it will not be tamed.” I have often said that if the Bible was to be written today, it wouldn’t be sold in Christian book stores.

The Bible is not a greeting card or a piece of propaganda, it is largely a story with many of the great elements of a good story – conflict, betrayal, love interests, and redemption. This is the type of story that leaves you scratching your head and wrestling with questions.

Better this than a propaganda piece where the point is discovered two lines into the story.

It is not about me – One of my hangups with the Bible is my frustration when I don’t get it and I am not inspired by it. I have undo expectations that every time I open the Bible I will be changed and moved to action. Did you notice how many times I used the word I in those first two sentences?

I have been treating the Bible like I treat my favorite restaurant. Every encounter has to be as rewarding as that one time when it was glorious and fantastic. When it isn’t a tremendous experience, I get disappointed.

Reading the Bible is not about me. It is about God. He is the main character, he is the hero, he is the element that fills up every page. The Bible doesn’t owe me anything and I need to quit being so entitled in my reading.

The variety of scripture – I have often been frustrated by the cookie cutter nature of education within churches. Pastors, Bible study teachers, and bloggers seem unaware that there exists a wide range of personalities and learning styles.

Sometimes it seems, the only solution to every discipleship dilemma is to read a book or open up a Bible commentary. In other words, issues of faith and growth can only be solved by linear, analytical, academic approaches.

God has had a say in the kinds of people we are and he did not make us all to enjoy reading and studying. Not all of us work best “in our heads” so to speak.

Some of us need to move, some of us need an emotional connection, some of us need the community of others, some of us need to sing. The beauty of the Bible is that songs, poems, rules, teachings, history, stories, culture, and mystery are all prevalent. God designed it this way because he knew his creation is filled with diversity and variety.

We all need the entire volume of scripture to be the full, robust people of God we are designed to be.

Re-Hacked: Pick It Up And Read

I have found myself at times, reading the study notes in a Bible first and then reading the scripture they reference. What happened to just reading the Bible?

I have several Bibles around the house and the one I have been reading lately has no study notes or reflections. The only feature that it provides is wide margins for me, not someone else, to write notes and make observations. I wonder about the simplicity of doing what the voice told Augustine and just “pick it up and read.” To read for no other agenda but to hear God’s story and read His words.

I marvel at the students I see at thecollege where I work who just have a Bible open and are reading. They don’t seem to have an agenda or a plan they are just reading God’s word. I use scripture too often as a tool for my latest mission or blog project rather than using scripture as an entry way into the presence and knowledge of God.

Join me in simply picking it up and reading.

Re-Hacked: My Scripture Top 6-10

Yesterday, we looked at five scriptures passages that have not only been enriching to me but also key transition points to other passages. Today, I list the rest of my top 10.

6. 1 Samuel 16 – By the time I had become taken by the Sermon on the Mount and many of the other passages in my top 5 it was becoming clear to me that God is obsessed with the makeup of the heart. When he changes a person it is through a formation of the heart from the inside out. So when I re-discovered the story of Samuel anointing the future king, David, and here God tell Samuel that “man looks on the outside but God looks on the heart” I knew exactly what he was talking about.

7. Galatians 5:19-25 – Another well-known passage, this one discusses the Fruits of the Spirit. The best words of scripture are ones that inspire and convict. This one convicts me every time. I often ask myself, what am I doing to foster the development of the Fruits of the Spirit?

8. Psalm 1 – ‘Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the LORD,
and who meditates on his law day and night.’

Before God broke me down and changed me, I would have read verse 2 with dread. How do you delight in law? And who would want to meditate on the law day and night? But I understood the law to be not a just set of rules but a God ordained way of nourishing my soul. Could I delight in the Sermon on the Mount? In the Ten Commandments? In 1 Corinthians 13? Yes. And I had already meditated on these “laws” and found meaning and strength for my life.

9. Galatians 2:20 – All that I had learned and processed through the previously mentioned verses kind of culminates with this verse. From a salvation stand point, I understood the new life found in Christ but this verse showed me the ultimate step in discipleship. “The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God.”

10. Philippians 3:10 – All of the New Testament falls into these few words. The life of Jesus, his crucifixion, the mystery of the resurrection, discipleship; it is all there and just bursting off the page. This verse will take a lifetime to comprehend and live out but through the process of my Top 10, I can think of no other worthy cause for my life.

So there it is, the 10 passages of scripture that have had the most impact on me and renewed, not only my interest in scripture reading and study, but also my life. Next time, I will demonstrate how you can develop your own Top 10 and what benefit you will gain from it.

Re-Hacked: The Scripture Top Ten Method

In light of my recent emphasis during the “Year of The Word“, I thought I would repost something I posted a little over a year ago. This was my previously successful attempt at approaching scripture.

For most of my life, reading scripture has been intimidating. I avoided reading scripture because I was afraid that I wouldn’t understand what I was reading or that I wouldn’t find my time meaningful or enriching. This all changed when I discovered the Sermon on the Mount. In the passages found in Matt. 5-7, I discovered the greatest teaching ever found and it became something that I wanted to read over and over again.

You know how an interest in a band or a writer leads you to seek out more items that are similar to what you originally discovered. I love the classic 60′s folk rock band the Byrds and through my love of the Byrds I discovered Gram Parsons, Flying Burrito Brothers, International Submarine Band, Buffalo Springfield, Dillard and Clark, and the Desert Rose Band. I love the baseball writings of Bill James and that led me to discover Rob Neyer, Baseball Prospectus, and Michael Lewis. In the same way, my love of the Sermon on the Mount led me to discover other passages of the Bible that either inspired the Sermon (the Ten Commandments) or were a reflection of it.

In this process of letting the Sermon lead me to other life changing scripture I discovered an interesting scripture reading method. Instead of obsessing over reading chapter after chapter, I let my favorite scriptures lead me to the next passage. So I went from the Sermon on the Mount to the Ten Commandments to Psalm 23 to 1 Corinthians 13 to Colossians 3 to Galatians 2:20 to Psalm 1 to 1 Samuel 16 to Romans 12 to the Parables of the Kingdom.

A critic might say that I am just scratching the surface of the richness of scripture and that is obviously true but each one of the above passages taught me something about God and helped me draw closer to him in a way that I had never done previously. Scripture was coming alive to me, I was seeing changes in my life, and I was excited about diving into God’s word in a way that was new to me. These passages were entry points into God’s word for me just as the Byrds were an entry point in to other great music.

Do you have an entry point into scripture? Have you been discouraged by people who tell you to just start reading, or Bible reading programs that are more about volume than formation? If so, then try out the Scripture Top Ten Method and see what God wants to uncover for you in his word.

Tomorrow, I will list my top ten scriptures and provide insight into what I learned and how I discovered them.


Early Returns On The Year of The Word

I have mentioned on this space that I am making 2012 the “Year of the Word.” I am taking an entire year to study, learn, meditate,

A bible from 1859.

Image via Wikipedia

reflect, and most of all, READ the Bible. I want to know more about God by studying his word. I want to know more about myself by studying God’s word, and I want to know more about the world. Two months into this project, I have some thoughts.

1. What you tell yourself about the Bible matters – Now that I am paying better attention to the Bible, I am recognizing what people say about it. Renovare describes the Bible as a book about humans being “with God.” Others list the Bible as God’s revelation about himself. For me, I have discovered that prayer, worship, and experience matter but the easiest way of finding out more about God is through his word. Why haven’t I accepted this obvious truth before?

2. You can’t read every part of the Bible the same – This is another obvious observation that seemed to go over my head for much of my life. Though I have been critical of “read the Bible in a year” programs because they become more about achieving something than discovering something, I now realize that certain parts of the Bible need to be read in large chunks. The gospels, Psalms and much of the New Testament deserve the short treatment while the historical books and books of the law are better handled in larger chunks.

3. The Bible is so rich, it is going to take a lifetime to appreciate it fully – I have never thought about this before but part of my frustration with the Bible in the past has been the sheer volume of truths and insights into Christ and the Christian experience found within its pages. I often felt like  a hiker who never climbs up a small mountain because, “I am never going to make it up Mt. Everest so what is the point of climbing a smaller one.” But that is the beauty of the Bible. Within its words are a gigantic collection of truths, lessons, discoveries, and insights that reveal themselves by multiple readings, by meditation, and by the teacher that is time. One year of the Word is not going to do this book justice.

“OK, I Get It Lord”

On Jan. 5, I posted on this blog the following, “I want to discover the scriptures in a fresh way. God is found in his book and the best place for me to discover him and learn from him is within his word. I know this and I need to put my fear and guilt aside and embrace the wonderful treasure that is God’s word.”

This was my declaration that 2012 was going to be a year of discovery and emphasis on God’s word. January 5th was last Thursday and by Friday, I already had confirmation from God that I was on the right track. It was on Friday that I learned that our church would be going through the Read the Bible For Life curriculum. Then on Sunday, in the first few lines of his sermon, our Pastor stated that 2012 at our church would be the year of the Word as we collectively place an emphasis on reading Bible.

Was the church staff reading my mind? Did they know that this was going to be an area of emphasis for me as well?

Do you have these experiences where God keeps feeding you a similar message in various forms over a short amount of time? Maybe, the conversation you had with a coworker is the exact topic of your next Bible Study lesson. Or the point of a recent movie is discussed by the pastor the next time you visit church. Are the scripture passages you are reading, that you thought were seldom discussed, suddenly on every Facebook status and email message?

God knows we are not very perceptive and are easily distracted and clouded by countless things in our head. So, when he wants us to be aware of something he doesn’t just present it to us in one sitting but often multiple times and in multiple ways. At least this has been my experience.

So I get it Lord. You want me to focus on your Word this year. You have confirmed this in a timely way. Now I must respond by doing my part to read, study, and pray. If this is the journey that God wants me on, then I need to be accepting of whatever God has in store for me. Pray that I will stay committed to this emphasis.

This week, pay attention to the scripture, the songs, and the messages from God’s word that have come your way. Don’t be weird about it but try to see if there is a pattern or an emphasis that appears to be surfacing. Put up your spiritual antennas and see what you might pick up.

What Has Technology Done To Bible Reading?

I have done it. Me, a harbinger for the book and critic of the misuse of technology, almost decided to bring my daughter’s iPod to church yesterday because the Bible app would be a simpler choice over the oversized Bibles I seem to have at the house. I have often scoffed at the people in our Bible Study class who followed along with the passage for that week on their smart phones. Now, I was about to become one of them.

Has technology been good for Bible reading? In some ways, yes. I can have a Bible passage and a devotional sent to my email box every day of the week. Web resources such as Bible Gateway make locating scripture a breeze. And those Bible apps mean that as long as I have the ubiquitous phone, I also have the Bible with me. Also, my wife has been pleasantly surprised by the impact that the scriptures she posts on Facebook have on her friends. Khloe Kardashian was even quoting scripture on Twitter a few weeks back.

But what are the downsides? In the July/August 2008 issue of the Atlantic Monthly, writer Nicholas Carr, who later wrote a book on the topic, described the effect that the Web has had on his ability to concentrate and think:

When I mention my troubles with reading to friends and acquaintances—literary types, most of them—many say they’re having similar experiences. The more they use the Web, the more they have to fight to stay focused on long pieces of writing.

Carr then quotes technology and medicine blogger Bruce Friedman, “I now have almost totally lost the ability to read and absorb a longish article on the web or in print.”

At this point, pet peeves about the proper use of a smart phone and the loss of the printed word become less important when placed up against the reality of web use altering our brain’s ability to process information and handle what we are reading. Think about what this might do to our ability to read the Bible. Reading the Bible is best done in slow, meditative ways, not in the scan and click approach we take to our web reading. And since many of us are starting to do most of our Bible reading online, are we able shut off the scan approach and actually consider what the scripture is saying, not only to our heads but also to our hearts?

The fact of the matters is, Bible reading has to be handled differently from other types of reading. This will take proper teaching and direction and will force Christians to seriously consider their use of technology and how it affects their spiritual life.  Thousands of years of effective use of the scriptures now may be changing. Perhaps we should put down our technology and consider what the future of Bible reading should look like.

Discovering A Love For the Bible

Early 15th-century Latin Bible, handwritten in...

Image via Wikipedia

What keeps me from reading my Bible more? Fear. I am afraid that I will not understand what I read. I am afraid that I will get a couple of verses in and lose focus and be distracted. I am afraid that I am not smart enough to catch all of the theological messages and emphasis. I am afraid that I will be in a hurry and not truly consider what I am reading. I am afraid that I will find the passages irrelevant and meaningless to my life. I am afraid to venture too far from the Gospels.

What does all of this fear lead to? Guilt. What kind of Christian am I if I don’t read my Bible consistently? How can I call myself a teacher of the Word and an expert in spiritual formation if I have such limited experience with scripture? Guilt then adds to my fear and it starts a cycle all over again.

Don’t get me wrong, I read the Bible regularly but I haven’t ever grown to love the process and the scriptures the way that some do. But I am determined to change this in 2012. I want to discover the scriptures in a fresh way. God is found in his book and the best place for me to discover him and learn from him is within his word. I know this and I need to put my fear and guilt aside and embrace the wonderful treasure that is God’s word.

To help me along, I plan to read several recent books that have come along to address the need for thoughtful and spiritual reading of the Bible. The books include – The Fire of the Word by Chris Webb, The Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnight, Eat this Book by Eugene Peterson, Scripture And The Authority of God by N.T. Wright.

I will post some of my discoveries and experiences on the blog. I invite you to join me in discovering the joy of Bible reading.