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Reading The Bible Better - Lesson 3

Hear the Words

Being receptive to what God is saying to you in the Bible is an important part of reading the Bible better. The parable of the sower gives you a word picture of obstacles you face in attempting to cultivate a receptive heart.
George Guthrie
Reading The Bible Better
Lesson 3
Watching Now
Hear the Words

I. Spiritual Acoustics

II. Parable of the Sower

A. Thud of a hard-packed heart

B. Withering of a shallow heart

C. Languishing of a congested heart

D. Flourishing of a cultivated heart

III. Relational Orientation of Your Heart

A. Gift of your attention

B. Read the Bible relationally

C. Shema

D. Space of grace


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About
Resources
Transcript
  • Dive into this lesson to gain a deep understanding of how to read the Bible better, focusing on hearing scripture accurately, personal transformation, the grand story, and reading in community, while fostering a sense of joy and wonder in your journey.
  • Discover the power of words, their impact on our lives, and how God's words and communication in the Bible provide guidance, shaping us to live with purpose and spiritual growth.
  • Being receptive to what God is saying to you in the Bible is an important part of reading the Bible better. The parable of the sower gives you a word picture of obstacles you face in attempting to cultivate a receptive heart.
  • By embracing receptivity, you can overcome barriers and enhance your understanding of the Bible, ultimately leading to personal growth, stronger relationships, and deepened faith.
  • In this lesson, you learn about literary context's importance in interpreting the Bible, identifying literary genres and structures, and applying context for accurate exegesis and application.
  • By understanding historical context, you can better interpret the Bible, considering cultural, social, and geographical backgrounds, ancient literary genres, and archaeology to bridge the gap between the past and present.
  • This lesson provides you with knowledge on the importance of Bible translations, their types, and the criteria for selecting the most suitable one for your needs while also offering insights into their historical development.
  • You will learn to identify and interpret various biblical genres, enhancing your understanding of the Bible and applying its teachings more effectively in your life.
  • By entering the story when reading the Bible, you enrich your understanding, connect with biblical characters, and foster personal spiritual growth, Bible study, and teaching skills.
  • In this lesson, you gain insights into biblical interpretation principles, like context and genre, and explore essential tools such as translations and commentaries, leading to better understanding and application of the Bible.
You and I need to embrace the powerful, beautiful, life- giving words of God on a regular basis. Various surveys in different cultures, over the past half century, have determined that the number one predictor of a person’s spiritual health is the regular practice of personal Bible reading. Nothing else comes close. If our purpose in life is to live for him and to his glory, and the Scriptures shape us for his mission, then God’s Word provides us with a means to that very desirable end. Everything else in our lives is shaped by whether or not we are living out of a life grounded in the Word of God, the Bible. We need to read it and read it better than we ever have before, so that we can live it well. As we thrive in the Word of God, knowing and living the Scriptures, we have the opportunity to walk with the God of the universe. So you are invited to walk with me as we figure out how to read better this amazing book we call “the Bible.” Perhaps you have tried reading the Bible before and the experience wasn’t that great. I am here to help. There is no more important task in life than hearing from God and trusting him on the basis of his Word.

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Hear the Words
Lesson Transcript

 

[00:00:00] Welcome back to reading the Bible better. Now, often when you take a course on Bible reading, you go right to issues that are very practical, like what is the plan that you should use? What are the basic tools that you can use? And we're going to get to those things. But you'll notice that in our first sessions together in this series, we're actually dealing with other kinds of foundational issues. 

[00:00:23] In our last session, we talked about the power of God's words. We need to have perspective on what we have in our hands when we are dealing with the Bible. And in this session and the next one, we're going to talk about the condition of our hearts, the things that we value. We're going to continue laying those foundation stones. But hang with me because we're going to get to the practical stuff as well that will give you very detailed help on what we need to do step by step. But the question is, how can we make sure that this powerful word that God has spoken in the world, that we are really hearing it, how can we access the Word in a way that really is transformational? And I want you to think with me in this session about the important role of our hearts in the process. 

[00:01:17] And let me use an illustration to kind of describe what I'm talking about here. A little over two decades ago, my wife and I built a house in Tennessee. We'd actually bought an old home place from a man named Mr. Johnson. Mr. Johnson had moved to this plot of ground as a nine year old in a covered wagon in 1923 with his family. And Mr. Johnson was, I think, 87 years of age. When I bought the property from him. We bought a little over 15 acres and kept part of that on which to build our home. And when we got there, we kind of cleared out an area behind the pond, laid the foundation for the house, and then started building. But one of the most important parts of the process was to put down a well, because this was out in a rural area. And thankfully this was a wonderful place to have a well because the aquifer that runs under that part of Tennessee is one of the best aquifers in North America. There are many days, hot summer days when I've been working out in the garden, when I would go to this well, in this sweet, clean, wonderful water and I would just drink from this well. But the well was so important for us, not only because we would use it for for normal things like, you know, washing and taking showers and drinking on a regular basis, but also we had a water source heat pump unit in the house that would draw water out of that well, run it through the system and then dump it in the pond in order to to have cooling or heat in the house. Now, I want you to think about the fact that in some ways, the most important part of the process was the motor for the well that was down deep in the earth because the motor, the pump itself sat down where the strata of water was and it was critical for pulling the water up into those pipes and bringing that water into our yard and into our home. It did that and kept us hydrated for years. But on a couple of occasions that motor went out and just shut down the whole process. We had wonderful pipes. We had great, beautiful pictures in our homes. But the fact was when the motor went out, when the motor wasn't functioning the way that it needed to, the water simply was not going to be coming to the surface. 

[00:03:59] Now, I want to use that as a word picture to say that our hearts are kind of like that motor that was down in the earth. Our hearts are critical as receptor points so that God's Word flows into our lives the way that it is supposed to. And when you think about this, you might think of an image. There's actually a parallel that we find in the Psalms. In Psalms Chapter one verses one through three, you have this image of a tree that's beside a stream of water and drawing on the water at that point. And the psalmist says, Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord and who meditates on His Lord day and night. And that person is like a tree planted by streams of water which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither and whatever they do prospers. So the position of the tree next to the stream of water, it's able to draw the water into itself and therefore you have fruitfulness and productivity. In our well, the motor had to be in the right place and be working to draw the water up into the house. And our hearts have to be in a posture and a position in our relationship with God in order to draw on God's Word in our lives.

[00:05:40] Our hearts are absolutely critical. If they're not in the right place, if they're not in the right posture or position, if you will, then we can have all the Bibles that we want, all of the practical tools, all of the kind of Bible reading plans. And it's simply not going to work because our hearts are not receptive to what God would say to us. We're not going to be able to hear the Word spiritually and it's not going to be able to impact us. And the Scriptures actually have a great deal to say about this. It's the condition of the heart that is really, really important. 

[00:06:18] So I want us to think about that just for a few minutes. In fact, what I want to suggest is that if we think about reading the Bible with the right heart, there are three things that we're going to need to do some real practical steps here. The first thing we need to do is grasp the value of God's Word. We started talking about that in the last session, but we're going to kind of speak about that a little bit more. We want to think about checking the receptivity of our hearts. Where are we in terms of our openness to what God would say to us? And then the third thing that we want to do is set the relational orientation of our reading of the Bible. So we're going to be talking through some of these dynamics as we work our way through the session. 

[00:07:04] So the first thing that we want to do is we want to think about grasping the value of God's Word. What is it that you value most in life? I can tell you exactly what it is. It's what you invest time and your resources in. You can tell what you value in life by what you're spending your time on. Many people, if you ask them, Well, why don't you read the Bible on a regular basis? What's the answer that many people will give? They'll say, Well, I just don't have. Have enough time. And if you think about it, all of us have 24 hours in a day, right? Nobody gets only 22 or 18. All of us have 24 hours a day. There are times that I'm struggling with being in a rhythm and a pattern of reading the Bible. And actually what is going on is there are other things that are crowding in on my life that are pressuring me to give them attention rather than the reading of the word. And so we want to think through why should we value Scripture in a way that we are giving some priority to it? We're actually setting aside space in our lives that the word can flow into and then flow into our our hearts and our lives. How do we need to value it? Why should we value it? And the wonderful thing is that Scripture itself tells us. But before we look at this, I want you to push the pause button just for a minute. And I want you to take a moment and write down five things right now in your life that you value. What if somebody said to you, What are the five things that you value more than anything else in your life right now? What would those things be? So take just a moment and think through that and jot those five things down. And then I'm going to try to make a case for why reading the Bible needs to move up into that top five list.

[00:09:02] Now. Thank you for taking a moment to do that with your own values. Do you know that the Bible actually appeals to us about the value of the Word of God? And what I want us to do for a few minutes is talk through four key word pictures that the Bible uses of God's words that really appeals to us on different bases. And then we're going to look at a very important foundational word picture that Jesus himself gives as he talks about us interfacing with God's word. So let's let's begin by looking at four biblical word pictures on the value of God's Word. 

[00:09:41] The first one is the word picture of a lamp. A lamp. A lamp speaks to our need for guidance, our need for guidance. One of the most beautiful verses in the Bible reads Your Word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path. This word picture is describing probably an old Jewish farmer who is walking down a dark path and he's shining a light on the path so that he steps in the right place and doesn't step in the wrong place. So he's he's allowing the light to kind of go before him and to direct him in the way that he's walking. You'll find that in Scripture walking is often a word picture or an image for a pattern of life. So when the psalmist here says that your word is a lamp for my feet and a light from my path, it's using that word picture to say the Bible guides us in life. It shows us how we should live, what we should do. 

[00:10:49] Now, lamps in the ancient world were made of fired clay. They were formed by making a shallow bowl like you have on the screen with a little indentation in one end, and they would use a piece of flax as the wick. Olive oil was used because it could serve as the fuel. And normally such lamps were used indoors. But the psalmist has shifted the imagery to out of doors at this point to describe kind of going through a dark and maybe even a dangerous area. Now, you and I know what this is like because we use flashlights in this way today, or if you're in Great Britain, you use torches, you use that terminology. We might use a nightlight in our house so that when we get up in the middle of the night to go to the toilet, we can see where we're going and not bump into the wall. When I've been camping out in the wilderness, I have a little lamp that I fit on my head that shines a light so that I know where I'm going out to the outhouse or something that I'm needing to gather from the car in the middle of the night. It may be that when you go into a closet or your attic, you have lights positioned that can show you and guide you in what you're doing. 

[00:12:11] So this image of the lamp speaks powerfully and figuratively into God's Word as shining into our dark world and giving us guidance, showing us how we are supposed to live. And it may be that in this moment in your life, you're asking big questions. How am I to respond to this situation at work? How am I to deal with this situation with my children? And it's not that God's word is super specific in dealing with real direct answers. It says, okay, you should choose this investment rather than another investment or deal with Sally this way and Bob in another way. But what it does is it gives us guidelines and principles that become very powerful in directing us in the decisions that we make. We all need guidance and we should value God's Word because it gives us wisdom, not just information, but wisdom on how we are supposed to live life. The Bible trains us to live well. I love the passage in Psalm 32:8. I will instruct you and teach you in the way that you should go. I will counsel you with my eye upon you. And in that wonderful passage, God is saying that He wants to be engaged in our lives, involved in giving us direction in life. 

[00:13:40] All right. So the Bible is valuable to us because it is giving us guidance. But the second word picture that I want us to think about is the Bible is also like a sword. It corrects us when we need correction. My brother not too long ago had surgery on his kidney. And there was a little spot of cancer on his kidney. It actually had to grow to a certain size before they could do the operation. But he underwent an operation by which they went in with a very sharp instrument and cut out that little place on his kidney. And the cut in that sense became the cure. He was able to get that cancer out of his body. Now, the scripture itself tells us in Hebrews chapter four verses 12-13 that the Word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double edged sword. It's penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It's able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. No creature is hidden from him, but all things are naked and exposed to the eyes of him, to whom we must give account. 

[00:15:02] Now, the double edged sword that's being described here is probably, in the author's mind, what was called a gladius. A gladius was about 18 inches long. It was a sword used by Roman soldiers in close combat when they were doing hand-to-hand fighting. It had double edge because it could cut both ways. And the author is saying here that God's word at times for us is like a penetrating sword that reaches into the depths of who we are. Now, that's kind of an uncomfortable image in one way. But the wonderful thing is I need the Spirit of God to sort me out at times in life. There are times that I may be in a pattern of relating to my wife in a way that is that is unhealthy. Maybe I've gotten into a pattern of using my words in a way that that really are hurting her more than helping her. And I've had times in my life when I was in the process of just reading my Bible, where the spirit of God has taken something that was said and God has put his finger on this and said, you need to change in this area of your life. And that's what this text is talking about, that the word of God can get down into our lives and sort us out in a way that is healthy and actually helps us to come to a better place in our relationship with God. For you, it may be the way that you're using words with your family or perhaps your employees at work. You may be convicted or I may be convicted that we need to be more generous with our resources. I know recently I was dealing with the passage of Scripture on giving, and I was praying and saying, Lord, how do I need to apply this at this point in my life? And there's a wonderful ministry in the city where we live, where people are helping those who are poor and don't have enough to eat and need help with their finances and their bills and things like that. And God put on my heart that I needed to give to that ministry to help them beyond what I was giving at church. I was convicted that I needed to be more generous at that point in my life. It might be that you are probed by the Spirit of God in a way that says you need to serve more in the context of your church. 

[00:17:26] So the word comes to us and it corrects us and gets us back where we need to be in our relationship with God. So it not only works like a lamp that guides us, it can also work at times, like a sword that that corrects us and gets us back to where we need to be in our relationship with God. And what I've found in my life, in dealing with other people is if a person is teachable and open to correction, the sky's the limit in terms of that person's growth. And so you and I want to have hearts, as we're reading the Word, that we're open to the spirit of God and we pray to God and say, Lord, will you guide me here if we're needing guidance? Or, Lord, were you were you show me things that need to be corrected in my life. This ought to be a very practical step in your Bible reading that as you're reading the Bible on a daily basis, you're crying out to the Spirit of God and saying, Spirit of God. Would you speak to me today in ways that are just really practical for where I'm living right now? So a second image is this image of a sword. 

[00:18:31] Well, I love the third image, and it's it's an image of stability. And it is a rock that the Bible gives us stability. When I was growing up in Tennessee, my granddad lived not too far away from us, and at one point he built a tree house for me and my brothers. And this treehouse was over in a little pine wooded area on the side of the yard, and it was probably about ten or 12 feet up in the air. And he had built. It's a ladder to get up there. And when my brother David and I first went to see the tree house, we were so excited about it and immediately ran out in the yard and climbed up into the tree house and there was a board that was sticking out from the side and we thought, This is great. The treehouse is like a pirate ship. And so I told my younger brother, David, go out and try the plank and see how that works, you know. So he walked out on the plank. And of course, what had happened was my granddad wasn't quite finished with the treehouse and the plank was not even nailed down yet. So my brother walked out and he went crashing to the ground. I should have gone out as the older brother, but I didn't do that. The point is, it's very hard to walk where the boards aren't nailed down. And life, a lot of times, feels like that. We feel like we are in situations of instability and we just need to be able to get our feet on firm ground. The Bible uses this image of a rock to talk about stability. Jesus, at the end of the Sermon on the Mount speaks of this in Chapter seven of Matthew versus 24 through 27. He said. Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine, again notice the centrality of words, and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock, and the rain fell and the rivers rose and the winds blew and pounded that house. And yet it didn't collapse because its foundation was on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and doesn't act on them, he'll be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell and the rivers rose. The winds blew and pounded that house and it collapsed. And it collapsed with a great crash. 

[00:21:02] Now notice the emphasis in Jesus' words on being active listeners. Active listeners. So God's Word is not our strong foundation just because we're exposed to it at times. It may be that you go to church on a regular basis and you hear someone teach or preach on the word, and you just kind of walk away from that week after week. Jesus said that the person who has the stability of the Word is someone who is not only hearing it, but is actively engaged in putting it into practice. So another practical point in reading the Bible is we want to read in a way that we are active listeners and thinking about how to adjust our lives on the basis of God's Word. Because then the word becomes something that is a stability in life. And again, I have no need to give you lots of examples of how we all need stability, don't we? Don't you feel like at times that you just need to get your feet in a place that's solid? Well, the word of God is something solid that you and I can depend upon. That gives us a sense of stability, a foundation in life. 

[00:22:15] There's one more word picture, and that is the word picture of honey or something that is sweet. The Bible delights us. It delights us. My daughter is a graphic designer, and for her senior project, she designed a legacy cookbook and in actually publish it, produced it and sold it to people. It's called the Guthrie Table. Now, you can't go out and buy it because she didn't put it out there in the world in that way. But she produced this and sold a bunch of copies of it. And it was a beautiful project that looked at the top 30 recipes from my wife Pat, through the life of our family. The kids got together and they chose the top 30 recipes and Anna photographed those recipes, kind of stage the meals. My wife would cook the meal and I would stage the meal and take the photograph. I was the main consumer, so I ate the meal after this process was finished. And our son Joshua kind of organized the people who were going to be buying the book and then organize the sales of the book. It was a wonderful family project. But when I start thinking about those recipes, things like cheeseburger soup and different kinds of chocolate desserts. There's a chocolate trifle that my wife makes that's just wonderful and chicken enchiladas, and my mouth starts watering because I have delight in these things. 

[00:23:54] Now, when you think about this word picture of honey, there's a passage in Psalm 119:103 that reads How sweet your word is to my taste. Sweeter than honey to my mouth. Now, the Hebrew term here is actually a word that could be used for honey or the syrup that came from fruits like dates or grapes. But in the ancient world, they didn't have sugar the way that we think of it today. So you had honey or fruit juice, basically, that could sweeten different kinds of fruit. But the author here is using this image of something that is sweet to describe the delight that he had in reading the word of God.

[00:24:44] And I want to finish with this word, picture of delight. What is it in which you take delight? When was the last time you were astounded by the beauty of Scripture? The power of the art that you found there, where you were reading God's Word or hearing God's Word taught in a way that just kind of overwhelmed you with the beauty of what was being described. When was the last time that you opened the Bible and read in such a way that you slowed down and it was almost like you were like with food, you know how we will taste something and we almost don't want to finish the meal because that taste is rolling around in our mouths and we just love it. When was the last time that the Word of God was like that for you, where you're just kind of mulling over something that was said because it was so beautiful? 

[00:25:41] I'm a big Lord of the Rings fan, and there's a moment in Lord of the Rings where Sam and Frodo are on their way to Mordor and they are going through what was called the blasted lands where Sauron was, you know, destroying the world, really. And they get to a place where in the novels, if you follow along, it's almost a place of hopelessness because there's no water, no clean water. They're hardly able to put one foot in front of the other. And darkness is covering the land because you have this thick layer of clouds that is everywhere in sight. And all of the sudden what happens is Sam looks up and there's a break in that darkness and all of a sudden Sam sees a star that is up above those dark clouds. And this is the way Tolkien describes it. They're peeping among the cloud rack above a dark tower high up in the mountains. Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart as he looked up out of the forsaken land and hope returned to him. For like a shaft clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the shadow was only a small and passing thing. There was light and high beauty forever beyond its reach. Now, for a moment, his own fate and even his masters seems to trouble him. He crawled back into the brambles and laid himself by Frodo's side. In putting away all fear, he cast himself into a deep, untroubled sleep.

[00:27:31] The beauty of God's Word strikes our hearts, and it gives us hope. It lets us know that this darkness that covers life at times and we all experience that is only a small and passing thing in the perspective of a God who is much bigger than the circumstances of the world at any given moment. And you and I need the beauty and the power and the wonder of God's Word to come to us in such a way that is drawing us into the joy of the God who has spoken to us and into this world. So the word is like a lamp. It's like a sword, it's like a rock. And it's like honey. Do you grasp how valuable the Word of God is? Well, we have one more word picture that we're going to look at in our next session. And it's actually Jesus's foundational word picture. He said, if you don't get this picture, then you can't hear the word of God at all. So we're going to turn and take a look at Jesus foundational word picture of seeds and earth in our next session together.

[00:28:49] Dr. Guthrie you mentioned the problem of space in the parable of the Sower with the first three soils, and the first one was because of the hardness of the soil and that some of us have trouble with reading the Bible and relating to God because of something that's difficult in our life and that makes that hard to get through. How do you process that? What's the. What are some suggestions that you would have for people that are in that situation? 

[00:29:28] Right. Just so you remember, we were talking about the seed that is sown on the path, the hard path. And the problem was that the word Jesus said that the seed represents the word falls on this hard packed surface and there's no penetration. So it was a problem of a lack of space in the sense that the seed couldn't even penetrate. And if you remember, I said that the hard heart is an image that's used in the Bible for someone who is constantly turned away from God, there's kind of a crust over the heart. And as I said, you know, sometimes we've gone through different kinds of things spiritually that bring us to that place where basically our hearts are hard towards God, and therefore it's really hard to open the Bible and read it at all. So let me respond to that in just a few ways. 

[00:30:17] First of all, the fact that you're even asking that question is a great sign because it means that you are taking a step of investigating, opening yourself to the possibility that God might deal with you and and deal with the hardness of your heart so that you can have a soft heart toward him. None of us wake up one morning and say, Oh, I think I'm going to have a hard heart toward God.

[00:30:43] Now, that normally is something that precipitated that in life. It may be that you've gone through a situation with a church that was disillusioning or maybe you had a very hard situation in life come up like you lost someone to cancer, or you went through a tremendous emotional breakdown because of financial difficulties in your own life. 

[00:31:07] So the first thing I would say is really pray and think through. When did this start? Was there a time when I really had an open heart toward God? Maybe my relationship with God was doing well. I was thriving. But then I started moving away from God and making small choices to turn away. What precipitated that? Because that might give you a part of the answer of what you need to do in response. You might need to go back and think through your trust of the Lord in those difficult moments. Maybe some of the bad decisions that you made at points in relationship with people or with the Lord himself. And that brings me to a second point. So kind of identify where it started. 

[00:31:53] The second point would be get some help from the community of faith. If you have somebody who is a counselor or a pastor who you're close to, maybe even just a close friend, where you could talk to them and say, here's what's going on with me. Do you have some thoughts for me? Do you have Scripture that might help me think about opening my heart to God? Sometimes to have someone else walk with us, they can put their finger on patterns in our lives that that are not healthy. And when we begin to identify those, we see that we need to kind of change some of those patterns in the process of opening up our heart toward the Lord. 

[00:32:33] And that brings me to a third point. And that would be sometimes in my life I just get to a place where I need to repent. Now, that's a biblical term. That means I'm going in one direction and I'm making a choice to change my mind. The word just kind of in its basic meaning means to to change the way that I'm thinking about something. So I'm on one path and I make a conscious decision to turn to get on another path. And when I'm on a path that is sinful, I need to choose to turn away from that rather than turning away from the Lord. So we might come to a place of of repentance where we cry out to God and say, Lord, I know that my heart shouldn't be hard toward you. I don't want to keep choosing to turn my back on you. Would you please help me?

[00:33:24] And that's really the fourth point, is that this often is something that we can't do ourselves. We've got to cry out to God and say, Spirit of God, would you please soften my heart? Would you open me back up to your word in a way that I can change and embrace it? I love the image and Act 16 with Lydia. Now, Lydia didn't have a hard heart toward God, but it does say that the Spirit of God opened her heart to the gospel. And I think that there are times in my life that I just need the Spirit of God to open my heart in a fresh way. And so I would challenge you to pray or get with a friend and pray and. Just cry out to God and say, Lord, I want to be open. So would you please help me by softening my heart and bringing me back to a place where I have joy in you and your Word?