As much as I love learning and studying, I have found that I really struggle to enjoy reading books. I will gladly read an article, blog post, poem, or paragraph, but set a novel in front of me, and my mind gives a half-hearted “eh..” I partially fault all the required reading of higher education between my undergraduate and graduate programs, where I was reading upwards of 400 pages a night at times. There’s just no time for pleasure reading when you’re up to your ears in Barth’s Dogmatics in Outline. I secondly fault my own prioritizing, as I would rather be active and working most of the time, rather than sitting and reading.
Where this comes to be a problem is when I go to read scripture. It’s not that I don’t love the Word of God – I really do. I have read it cover to cover, studied it in various contexts over many years, cried out to God in prayer through his own words, made side notes in the margins to the point my Bible looks tattooed, and sought the Lord’s wisdom and guidance from it.
I love the scriptures. I just find it hard to pick it up and read sometimes. Not because of its contents, but more because of having to sit, be still, and listen. (Are we picking up on my human frailty yet?)
But I was reminded this week through a whisper from the Lord why his word is so important. This came to me hours after teaching a lesson to my sixth graders on the Shema.
For those who don’t know, the Shema is a name for a verse in the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 6:4. It says, “Hear, O Israel, the LORD your God, the LORD is one.” The verse comes in the context of God giving Moses the commandments on Mt. Sinai, and these are the precepts the people are to keep when they go into the already-populated Promised Land of Canaan. In particular, the call to “hear” or “shema” and remember that God is one (as opposed to many) is pivotal for the Israelites to recall as the cultures they will face in the new land are thoroughly polytheistic. God goes on to have the Israelites carry out various acts with the commands he gives (think 10 commandments plus 603 more):
- they are to talk about them when they get up, walk, or lay down
- they are to teach them to their children
- they are to write them on their doorways over their homes
- they are to bind them on their arms and foreheads
This is a veritable laundry list of audio/visual/kinesthetic ways to remember the commands of God, the commands which set the people apart and remind them that they belong under his loving provision.
One of the ways the Israelites carried out the part about binding the laws on their arms and foreheads is through the use of tefillin, leather straps that are literally wrapped around the arms and forehead and have a little box attached that contains scripture written on a scroll. (For a short video on how a tefillin is worn, check this one out). Jewish men today still wear the tefillin, and during the Holocaust, secret tefillin stations existed for Jews to be able to fulfill this obligation.
I was reflecting on the tefillin during a devotional I was doing, when suddenly the Lord spoke in his still small voice a reality that hit me between the eyes. Tefillin. Scripture. YES. Now, you’re probably thinking, what does tefillin have to do with reading the Bible? And I’ll tell you.
Both have to do with remembering the truth. Because here’s the thing: if an Israelite neglected to wrap around his or her heart the bulleted commands above, he or she would be apt to forget about God, where they’d come from, why they kept and should continue to keep the commands, and how the Lord had been faithful in the past. We see that this is exactly what unfolded when we leaf through the pages of Israelite history, part of which includes a time when they strayed so far, the written law of God was lost altogether (not to fret, it was later recovered).
In the same way that the Israelites were to talk about the law, write it on their doorframes, think on it when they woke up and laid down, and wrapped it around their arms, so we should bathe ourselves in the holy scripture — to stay grounded in truth. To remember where we came from. To remember why we should follow God. To grasp the big picture of salvation through Jesus Christ. To remember how he is always faithful to his people. When I forget to read scripture, I find my mind wandering. I find my faith wandering. I find that false theologies creep in and try to take root. Then I return to scripture. I open it, and I remember. I clear up my foggy thoughts. I reject the false teachings. I straighten up my wandering heart. I have at times, even printed off verses and taped them to my doorframes as a visual reminder of God’s truth.
These are examples
not from my own home
but reminders of God’s truth.
To a modern ear, the Old Testament laws may seem mundane and pointless. But the Lord knew what he was doing. He knew we’d need his truth set before us constantly.
And so I must stay in the Word of God. I must combat my reading-resistant flesh with discipline fueled by the Holy Spirit.
Psalm 119:9-16 (Beth)
9 How can a young person stay on the path of purity?
By living according to your word.
10 I seek you with all my heart;
do not let me stray from your commands.
11 I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you.
12 Praise be to you, Lord;
teach me your decrees.
13 With my lips I recount
all the laws that come from your mouth.
14 I rejoice in following your statutes
as one rejoices in great riches.
15 I meditate on your precepts
and consider your ways.
16 I delight in your decrees;
I will not neglect your word.