Matt Smethurst. Before You Open Your Bible: Nine Heart Postures for Approaching God’s Word. London: Ten Publishing, 2019. 89 pages.
Have you ever given any thought to the Bible? It’s quite a book. It’s actually a collection of books—66 to be exact. There are 39 books in the Old Testament and 27 books in the New Testament. To make matters even more interesting, the timespan from the first book written to the last is somewhere around 1,400 years. And it’s been over 1,900 years since the last book was written so the whole Bible is filled with ancient customs and ideas. The 66 books were written on three different continents (Asia, Africa, and Europe). They were written in three different languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek). And there were approximately 40 different authors (with one divine author overseeing the process).
This is enough to make one’s head swim, and these facts can make the Bible a very intimidating book. So, how should a person approach the Bible? Thankfully, Matt Smethurst has written a gloriously short (89 pages) little book to help us as we approach the Bible. Smethurst gives us 9 “heart postures” with which we should approach the Bible.
First, we need to approach the Bible prayerfully. Smethurst admits that this shouldn’t come to us as breaking news. We know that the Bible is a divine book, and we know that God hears our prayers, but how often do we go to the Bible without prayer. Sadly, far too often. He offers a helpful acrostic as we prayerfully approach the Bible (an acrostic which he admits he received from John Piper). We should prayerful approach with I-O-U-S. Incline our hearts to God’s testimonies (Ps 119:36). Open our eyes (Ps 119:18). Unite our hearts to fear your name (Ps 86:11). And, satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love (Ps 90:14).
Second, we should approach our Bibles humbly. We need to remember that our God is a God who talks. He didn’t have to talk to us, but he chose to talk to us. When we open our Bibles, we get to hear from the Creator himself. This should humble us.
Third, we need to approach the Bible desperately. Bible intake isn’t an optional extra for the Christian. If we want to survive in this world, we need to look at the Bible as our survival food. The Bible isn’t snack food. The Bible is our main course.
Fourth, we need to approach our Bibles studiously. Some people view Bible study as something that is reserved for Bible geeks or pastors or theologians. Not so! Bible study is for all of us. We study because we love. Because we love God (and he loves us), it makes sense to study his word. And as we learn more about God, our worship of him because more intense. And since we’re all theologians after all, we may as well strive to be good theologians.
Fifth, we should approach our Bibles obediently. The Bible is good for us. God is committed to our joy and our flourishing. When we obey God at his word, we invite greater flourishing. Jesus told his disciples to teach everyone to “obey” his teachings (Matt 28:19).
Sixth, we should approach the Bible joyfully. The scriptures are full of calls to joy. “Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete” (John 16:24). ‘I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete” (2 John 12). “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).
Seventh, we need to approach the Bible expectantly. The Word of God has power. It has the power to save (Romans 1:16), and it also has the power to change lives (John 17:17). The Bible will see us through all of life’s ups and downs.
Eighth, we need to approach our Bibles communally. No, Smethurst isn’t suggesting that we join a commune! Rather, he’s stating the straightforward truth that Christianity was never meant to be a solo sport. Christianity has always been meant to be a faith that is lived out in community. While we should read the Bible individually and devotionally, we should also read the Bible in community. We can use the Bible to teach and admonish one another (Colossians 3:16).
Finally, we should approach our Bibles Christocentrically. That’s a big word, but when you look at its parts, the meaning becomes clear. We should approach our Bibles with the knowledge that Christ is at the center of everything that’s written in the Bible. Jesus himself told us that Moses and the Old Testament prophets were writing about him (see Luke 24:25–27). The Bible may have been written over a vast period of time and by many different authors, but the Bible is about Jesus from beginning to end.