Reading The Bible Better - Lesson 4

Receptivity of Your Heart

In this lesson, you will learn about the crucial role receptivity plays in reading and understanding the Bible. You will discover how the Holy Spirit guides and enlightens you while you read the Scriptures and how to develop a receptive heart. The lesson also addresses various barriers to receptivity, such as personal biases, cultural influences, and emotional factors. Furthermore, you will explore strategies for enhancing receptivity, including prayer, meditation, practicing humility, and seeking guidance from others. Ultimately, you will gain insights into how receptivity can lead to personal growth, strengthened relationships, and a deepened faith.

George Guthrie
Reading The Bible Better
Lesson 4
Watching Now
Receptivity of Your Heart

TH102-04: Receptivity and Your Heart

I. The Importance of Receptivity in Reading the Bible

A. The Role of the Holy Spirit

B. Developing a Receptive Heart

II. Barriers to Receptivity

A. Personal Biases

B. Cultural Influences

C. Emotional Factors

III. Strategies for Enhancing Receptivity

A. Prayer and Meditation

B. Practicing Humility

C. Seeking Guidance from Others

IV. The Impact of Receptivity on Biblical Understanding

A. Personal Growth

B. Strengthening Relationships

C. Deepening Faith

  • 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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Receptivity of Your Heart

Lesson Transcript


[00:00:00] St Paul's Cathedral, built by Sir Christopher Wren and consecrated in 1708, sits majestically in the heart of the city of London. It's not far from the River Thames, following the curve at the base of the cathedral's imposing dome. You have the so-called Whispering gallery. It's a walkway designed for viewing the cathedral floor some 100 feet below. But the gallery has an auditory quirk, which has made it one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Wrenin did not have acoustics in mind when he built this viewing space. And yet in a quiet moment when background noise is at a minimum, those who have made the journey of 257 steps up the stairs to the gallery find that a whisper spoken at any point on the wall can be heard anywhere along the wall, even on the other side of the circular walkway 108 feet away. The finely tuned acoustics, though accidental, propel a faint whisper far beyond the distance normally achieved by a spoken voice. Such detailed crafting of St Paul's Dome has made the Hearing of Whispers part of a memorable cathedral experience for many people in the world. [00:01:30][90.4] [00:01:31] Now, as we begin this third session of our video series together, I want you to think about your spiritual acoustics. Do your spiritual abilities to hear well need to be adjusted in some way so that God's Word is having the full impact on your life. And I am asking myself the same question at this point in life. How do we need to tune our ears for good listening, in other words? Now, thus far we've talked about the importance as we read the Bible with the right heart, to grasp the value of God's Word. That's what we saw in the last session. [00:02:11][40.0] [00:02:12] In this session, we're going to talk about checking the receptivity of our hearts, looking at Jesus parable of the sower, and then the relational orientation of our reading. So I kind of want to cover those two points in this session. So let's take a look at Jesus's parable of the sower and the word picture that he gives at that point. Listen to the parable of the sower. Again he began to teach by the sea and a very large crowd gathered around him. So he got into a boat on the sea and sat down while the whole crowd was by the sea on the shore. He taught them many things in parables and in his teaching, he said to them, Listen. There's an emphasis on those words again. Listen. Consider the sower who went out to sow. As he sowed, some seed fell along the path and the birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground where it didn't have much soil and it grew up quickly since the soil wasn't deep. And when the sun came up, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it and it didn't produce fruit. Still, other seed fell on good ground and it grew up producing fruit that increased 30, 60 and a hundred times. And then he said, Let anyone who has ears to hear, listen. [00:03:48][96.3] [00:03:50] And then his disciples say, Lord, can you kind of unpack this for us a bit because we don't really understand what you're talking about. When he was alone, those around him with the 12 asked him about the parables and he answered them. The secret of the Kingdom of God has been given to you. And then He kind of gives a passage from Isaiah that talks about the importance of spiritual listening. But if we sit down to verse 13, he begins to explain the parable. Then he said to them, Don't you understand this parable? How then will you understand all of the parables? In other words, in some ways this parable is the key that unlocks the ability to hear God's Word in terms of the other teaching of Jesus. The sower sows the word. So the word is the seed in this parable. Some are like the words sown on the path. When they hear immediately Satan comes and takes away the word sown in them. And others are like seeds sown on rocky ground. And when they hear the word immediately they receive it with joy. But they have no root. They are short lived when distress or persecution comes because of the word and they immediately fall away. Others are like seed sown among thorns. These are the ones who hear the word but the worries of the age, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word and it becomes unfruitful. And those like seed sown on good ground hear the word welcome it and produce fruit 30, 60 and a hundred times what was sown. [00:05:43][113.3] [00:05:44] Now Jesus is using a word picture here based on agriculture during his day. And I want you to notice that the central idea in this word picture has to do with receptivity of our hearts to the word of God. Now, this is a farmer in ancient Israel who's going out to sow a field, and this is the way it worked in the ancient world. A farmer would take a bag full of seeds. It was probably a leather bag of some kind that was slung over his shoulder. And he would take handfuls of seeds and and broadcast that seed over a field and then come behind it with a plow. And the soil would be turned under so those seeds were buried in the field. [00:06:33][48.4] [00:06:34] If you've ever broadcast seed, you know that this is not an exact science. If you're broadcasting seed in your yard, you're going to throw the seed and it's some of it's going to fall right up to the edge of the yard and some of it will go over the edge of the yard into the surrounding weeds or a path or something like that. And that's exactly what's happening in this parable. Jesus describes the farmer broadcasting those seeds, and he's trying to throw them right up to the edge of the field. But some of the seeds are falling on the path that runs along beside the field. Some fall in kind of stony, rocky, shallow soil, some fall in weeds, and then some of the seed is falling on the good soil in the field. [00:07:20][46.3] [00:07:21] So notice how Jesus describes each of the four types of soil. The first is what I would call the thud of a hard packed heart. Do you have a place in your yard where you've walked around the house in a certain way so much that the grass doesn't grow very well in that spot? The path has become hard packed so that nothing much grows there. This is describing a person who is hard hearted. In fact, that's an image that is used in Scripture of someone who has said no to God many times. And it's like the word of God will not penetrate their heart. It's like seed that comes in sits on the top of the soil without penetrating, and therefore the evil one is able to come and just snatch the word of God away because there's no penetration of the seed into a person's life. So one of the things we need to consider as we think about this word picture that Jesus gives is how do we respond when the word of God is coming to us? If we're reading it, if we ever take time to read it, or if we hear somebody preaching it or teaching it, are we just basically closed off to the Word of God? Now, some of us may have had a long period of time where we just have been spiritually disinterested, and that's caused kind of a crust to come over our hearts. Some of us may have gone through very hard experiences in life. You know, life is not easy. And it may be that emotionally we have gotten to a place where we just don't trust God the way that we used to because we've experienced a lot. That's hard and difficult, and if we're not careful, we can get to a place where we just don't have the emotional bandwidth to listen. But that can also cause kind of a crust over our hearts, which is not good. [00:09:19][118.1] [00:09:20] I know when our daughter Anna, was young, very small child, my wife used to do a little thing with her. Anna, at times could could be pretty stubborn, as a lot of children are. And when we were trying to instruct her on something, you could even tell by her posture at points that she was being a bit hard hearted. She would close her arms like this and she she wouldn't even look us in the face. She would kind of look down, you know, and and her whole posture just said, I'm not open to what you're saying to me at this point. And Pat would take a rock in her hand and a piece of Play-Doh in her hand. And she said, Anna, now, at this point, is your heart more like the rock or is it more like the Play-Doh, that soft and kind of receptive to what Mommy's talking to you about? And she would use that word picture. And that often would help Anna kind of begin to think through the condition of her own heart. I know there were moments at which I would be talking to her and I would get down on my knees in front of her. And if she was kind of closed off to me like that, I would just gently take her chin and raise her chin to where she was looking in my eyes. And often at that point, big puddles would come into her eyes. And it was like that broke open that crust around her heart, and she became more receptive. It may be that for some of us, we're in a place right now in our reading of God's Word that we need to just kind of lift our eyes in a fresh way to the father and just pray to the father and say, Father, I do want to soften my heart and hear what you want to say to me. That might be a beginning place for some of us. That would be very, very practical. [00:11:00][100.2] [00:11:02] Now, the second part of the word picture that he describes here is soil, where the seed has fallen into rocky soil, where there's just not much topsoil. The plant comes up. It actually does sprout and come up. But because there's no root, when the sun hits it, it withers. So I would call this the withering of a shallow heart. So this is an approach to reading the Bible or interfacing with the Bible in a way that we're not taking it very seriously. We may slap at it a bit by trying to read a little bit here and there are going to to listen to somebody preach or teach on the Scriptures, but there's no depth to what we're doing. We haven't come to a place of a deeper commitment to listening to God's Word. And what happens as we approach the word in that way is there is a shallowness in our lives where the word is not taking firm root in us because we're simply not giving it the space to do so. We have just a shallow approach to reading it or to listening to it. So Jesus says, For those kind of people, what happens is, especially when things get difficult, then they just fall away in terms of their intentions on being people of the Word, because there's nothing that is kind of hanging on to the production of the Word in that person's life. [00:12:34][92.6] [00:12:35] The third part of the word picture here I would call the languishing of a congested heart. And boy, I can identify with this on somewhat of a regular basis. This is the picture of the seed falling in the weeds and the plant does sprout. There is soil there where the the the plant is trying to take root. But there's so much else going on in the bed at that point. The weeds choke out the life of the world at that point. And I find myself at times in life, to be very honest with you, I have my kind of scripture reading plan that I'm doing. I have somewhat of a rhythm going. But if I find myself beginning to really struggle with focus, where I'm having difficulty settling into the word, often if I stop and think about it, it's because either the pleasures or the pressures of the world are choking out the word at that point. Let me tell you what I mean by that. By pleasures I mean often things that I'm really excited about or interested in, like hobbies. I mentioned earlier that I love fly fishing, and if I'm making a decision about a new fly rod that I want to buy or something like that, I can get caught up even in my time of reading the Bible with my mind wandering to those other things that I'm thinking about purchasing and those thoughts. I've suddenly come to myself and realized that I've gotten off track. I'm not even reading the Scripture. I'm getting distracted or the pressures of life can do the same kind of thing. Maybe I'm going through a real difficult time with a situation at work, and I'm preoccupied with that so that my mind keeps going from the reading of the Word into the problems that are going on in the office at that point. So what I have to do at that moment is, in a sense, pull myself back to a place where I'm focusing on the Word. Praying, even beginning to pray through the scripture that I'm reading is helpful to me at that point. But I find this part of the word picture Jesus is giving is being very relevant to me, because if I allow that to go on for too long, I get in a rhythm of actually thinking about things other than the Scripture that I'm reading. [00:15:02][147.2] [00:15:03] And so that's something that maybe some of you deal with as well. You know, if you're dealing with a clogged drain in your house, like in your bathtub or your sink or something like that, you've got to get the clog out in order for the water to flow freely again. And it's the same way if our if our emotional life is becoming gummed up, if you will, with other kinds of things. Then we need to think carefully about how do I pull my focus into my attention back so that the word can be a foundation in dealing with these other issues that I'm dealing with in life. So how are you doing in terms of the congestion of your heart in your life? [00:15:44][40.9] [00:15:45] And that brings us to the last part of the word picture that Jesus gives here, and that is the flourishing of a heart that is well cultivated. This is a heart that is very receptive. I actually am a gardener. A number of years ago, I started doing what is called square foot gardening, and it's a way of laying out a garden bed that is designed according to square feet. And you plant so many things in the squares depending on what you're dealing with. But the first part of that book is something that spends a lot of time with the preparation of the soil. And frankly, that's why we're spending so much time in this series dealing with kind of issues of our perspective and the heart before we ever get into the practicalities. Because the way that the soil is in a garden bed is going to determine how the plants grow and thrive. Jesus says that there are people who are like well cultivated soil in their lives. They're so receptive that when the word comes into their lives, it it sprouts, it grows, it thrives, and it bears fruit in life. In my my heart and really my desire for you and me is that we get to a place where we are like that well cultivated soil, where we're receptive to the word of God. The word of God is flourishing in our lives, and it's actually being very, very productive so that good things are happening. This past week, I received a very encouraging note from the wife of one of the pastors in our church. She went to let me know that a sermon that I had preached recently at the church had had a big impact on one particular couple. This couple had been struggling and the husband realized in the process of a sermon that I was preaching on the book of Hebrews, that his words that he was using with his wife were damaging. And this pastor's wife told me that the wife reported to her that his pattern of behavior changed after that sermon. That he mentioned to her, that he was convicted that he had been using his words in a way that were actually hurting her. And he changed and went into a process that was having a ripple effect in their relationship because he had listened to the word of God. He had been receptive to it. It had changed a pattern in his life. And it was having very positive fruit in his marriage, his relationship with his wife. So I want you to think about the fact with this word picture that Jesus is giving the type of soil that we want to be as this final kind of soil that is open and it's well cultivated and it's really receptive to the word of God. [00:18:45][180.5] [00:18:46] The problem with the first three soils, if you think about it, is a problem of space. And this is the fact that with each one of those soils, whether it was lack of penetration, shallowness or congestion, the problem with the word really penetrating and thriving and bearing fruit was the problem of space. One of the most practical things that you and I are going to have to deal with in our reading of the Bible is we have got to give life, space and heart space to the reading of the Word of God if we're going to be able to thrive in that reading. And this is absolutely one of the most practical things I'm going to say to you. You're never going to thrive in your reading of the Word of God until you get to a place that you set aside space in your schedule to give attention to it, and you work out the space in your heart so that spiritually and emotionally you can listen and hear what God is saying to you. I find in my own life that I have got to have that rhythm where I am hearing God's word on a on a regular basis. I know what I'm going to be reading. I'm open to it, but I have set aside that time as vital for my own spiritual life and condition. And when I get to a place where I can commit that and I process kind of what's going on in my heart so that I'm open to the word of God, I find that it's much easier for me to have joy in my reading of Scripture. [00:20:23][96.9] [00:20:24] In fact, what I find is that when I go to bed at night, I anticipate getting up in the next morning. I can't wait to get up and read my Bible because I anticipate that God is going to speak to me and it's going to shape my life in good ways. So I want you to begin thinking about that rhythm of life. What is the pattern that you have that is set aside for the reading of God's Word? And what is the heart space in your life like at this point? Are you so distracted with other things that you really can't listen very effectively? Or do you really have an openness to what God would say to you as you process the different things that are going on in your life? [00:21:06][42.4] [00:21:07] Now this brings me to a final point that I want to make today as we think about reading God's Word, and that is that we want to read from a relational standpoint. We want to think about the relational orientation of our reading. Any relationship is only going to thrive if there's room and space in that relationship for real communication to take place. It's interesting that when Jesus wraps up his parable of the Sower, he says, Let anyone who has ears to hear, listen. So he goes back to this image that we've talked about so much already in this series of the importance of the words of God being spoken into the world, and our posture of listening as being critical for our relationship with God. [00:21:56][49.1] [00:21:57] So if you remember, I've already said that when we think about a heart attitude and posture and reading, we want to grasp the value of God's word. That's where we saw the different word pictures of rock and honey and sword and lamp. We want to check the receptivity of our hearts. That's Jesus's parable of the sower. Are our hearts really open and receptive to the Word in a way that we're thriving? And then finally, we come to this idea of the relational orientation of our hearts. This theme of listening is just so vital when we think about our relationship with God. And as I said, it is the key to any relationship that we are good listeners. [00:22:44][46.8] [00:22:45] I remember when I was in seminary, I was at our church one day and I was talking to this sister named Sue. And as I was talking to her, I obviously was distracted and kind of looking around the room and she kind of called me on that. She said, I just want to want to talk to you about something. She said, You need to learn to give people the gift of your presence and the gift of your attention. And she described a missionary that she had worked with who was so busy in life, in ministry, and yet she said, every time I was with him, he always looked me in the eye and I could tell I had his full attention. She said, George, you need to learn to do that. And boy, it was just like someone took that sword of the Word that we were talking about and just went right to the heart. But, you know, to this day, 40 years later, almost, when I'm talking to one of my students, for instance, a little voice in my mind goes off and says, give them your full attention, focus, focus on their eyes, because listening is so important. It says something about the relationship with that person. If we're distracted, then it also says something that's not positive about the condition of my relationship with that person. [00:24:07][82.0] [00:24:07] So we want to read relationally. As you approach the Bible, are you approaching the Bible like you would a textbook, for information, or are you approaching it from the standpoint of relationship for transformation, the growth in your relationship with God? Now understand me. We do need to grow in skills. Reading the Bible does take work and instruction. But I want to say that if the healthy relational foundation is not there, it's it's going to hurt our ability to read and hear God's Word. [00:24:47][40.1] [00:24:49] One of the most important passages in the Old Testament is called the Shema, and it's called that because the first word in this passage in Hebrew is the word Shema, which means, listen. If a Hebrew parent was talking to a child in the Old Testament world, they might say to that child, Shema, listen to me, listen to me. And God uses that language at the beginning of this passage where he says, Listen, Israel, the Lord, our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. Notice the importance of listening. Notice the relational dynamic of love and notice the centrality of the heart. All these things that we've been talking about so far in this series. [00:25:41][52.9] [00:25:43] But how are we to do that? How are we to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul and strength? Well, he goes on in the passage to tell us these words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart. Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them be a symbol on your forehead, write them on the door posts of your house and on your city gates. [00:26:14][31.2] [00:26:15] In other words, the way that we live out our relationship with God in a way that is relational is we make the words of God central to our hearts. So the words from God and the relationship are all part of the same package. It's not just reading the words for information. It's reading the words from the standpoint of relationship. Notice the relational context of reading the words. [00:26:45][29.8] [00:26:46] About a dozen years ago, I participated with Lifeway publishers in an initiative called Read the Bible for Life in the United States. And we were doing the studies at our church, going through the the video sessions. And after the video session we would have small group time, much as you're going to do with this BiblicalTraining series. And in that small group time, in one of the first weeks, there was a young woman in my group named Jill. And Jill was dynamic. She was very outgoing, very vivacious personality, and she had a great love for God. And yet I noticed that in our discussion time, Jill was not participating. She was very, very quiet. She was not giving answers in terms of kind of the homework people had done during that week. And so after the session, I approached her and I said, Jill, are you doing okay? Because normally you would be participating and very involved. And she said, George, she said, I really have been struggling with settling into my Bible reading and kind of doing the basic assignments that we had to kind of process this past week. She said, I have small children, I'm having a hard time focusing. And she said, frankly, I'm not a reader. She said, I don't think I've read a whole book since I got out of college. So she said, I'm really, really struggling with the process. [00:28:14][88.3] [00:28:15] And I said, Well, here's what I want you to do. I want you to set aside just 10 to 15 minutes in the morning and just do what you can, but approach it from a relational standpoint. As you're reading the scripture that you've been asked to read, don't do it as an assignment, but do it bringing it before the living God of the universe and saying, Lord, would you speak to me through this passage? And would you show me the things that you're wanting me to see? She left and she went and did that that week. The next week, when she came back, it was like she had been transformed. She was participating, answering questions. It was wonderful just to watch her thrive because the word had become relational rather than just informational. [00:29:02][47.1] [00:29:03] So we want to approach the word of God in a way that we're making the space of grace in our lives to hear it. But that space of grace is a relational space. It's where we're meeting with God, like we're meeting with a friend or someone that we love. I love that passage in Exodus 33:11, where it says, The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face like a man speaks to his friend. We want to have the type of rhythmic relationship with God where we are hearing God speak to us. We are receiving it face to face. Ah, our hearts are open, cultivated in a way that we're able to be receptive to what God would say to us. And we're then acting on the Word in a way that is changing us and changing the world. [00:29:52][49.1] [00:29:53] Now, we've spent a lot of time in this series thus far laying the foundations. With our next session, we're going to start getting into the practicalities. We're going to look at reading the Bible in context as a vitally important step to hearing the word accurately. So we're not just kind of reading our understanding into the scriptures. We're letting the Scriptures speak to us out of what God intended to say in its original context. So we'll talk about that in our next session of reading the Bible better. [00:29:53][0.0]