Imagine you become separated from someone you love and who loves you. It could be a spouse, or a parent, a child, or a friend. Imagine there is no way of communicating with them. I don’t know how this is possible, but for some reason you can’t text or phone them—there is no email, no social media. They are simply gone and not available to you anymore.
You search your house for things that remind you of that loved one. You begin collecting them on the kitchen table: a favorite piece of clothing, old photographs, a toy that they once clung to. You scour the house until you find yourself in the basement in front of an old dusty dresser. You open the bottom drawer and in that drawer you find a book that your loved one wrote.
You begin reading the book. It is wonderful and hopeful. It is sometimes difficult to understand, and sometimes painful in what it says. At times you wonder how the loved one whom you know so well could have possibly written what your reading—it seems, at times, out of character. But as you come to the end, you realize that the book allows you to know your loved one better. Instead of having only your own version of your loved one in your mind, you are challenged by their book to see who they really are. You read it again and you learn new things. It is like they are still with you. Certain parts of the book haunt you at night, other parts stick in your mind and melt your heart, giving you inspiration to truly live.
This is what it is like to read the Bible. It is challenging and comforting. It allows us to have God really revealed to us. We hear God speak in Scripture, and it is not some filtered version of God that has been handed to us by parents or preachers. It is God in all complexity and wonder, all grandeur and gentleness.
The Bible is the single best way to “listen” to God. Some people have problems with the idea of hearing God. “I don’t hear voices,” they say. Neither do I, but I can honestly say that I do hear from God. Mostly, I hear from God when reading scripture. Most books are like this, actually. When you read a book, you are “hearing” from the author. When you read the Bible, you are “hearing” from God. I’m sure there are all kinds of complex things going on, but fundamentally, the Bible is God’s book, so reading it puts you immediately in touch with what God wants to say to human beings.
We have this incredible gift which, when we spend the time to read it, puts us in touch with the living God. The Bible is ultra-accessible, with multiple versions and copies, apps, websites, and verses being pushed to us through notifications, tweets and instagram posts. Yet, the image of the book in the drawer of a dusty dresser is often closer to the truth than we would like to admit.
Many of those who profess to follow Jesus have not read the whole Bible for themselves.
This is startling when we consider everything we consume on a daily basis. In 2006, Dr. J. Walker Smith estimated that we are bombarded with as many as 5,000 advertising messages per day. (See here for a full discussion of the numbers) Imagine trying to make a list of every single thing you read, watch, listen to, and look at. It might be impressionist art you’ve got hanging on your walls. It might be cartoons with your kids. It might be your facebook feed (imagine trying to list every individual item in there!).
All of that entertainment, information, and advertising is contributing to a narrative that is at work on you. It all works to provide a story-framework in your life. We know this is true, but we rarely stop to think about its true impact on our lives.
As an example, I’ll share a major influence in my family’s life—Disney.
We love Disney. (You may be reading this and suddenly think I’m evil in some way, or perhaps you feel like we could maybe be best friends. Let’s hope for the latter!) Our family watches Disney movies, we have Disney toys, we have been to Disneyworld several times, and Disneyland once.
Disney’s goal is money and they are great at making it. There are millions and millions of families like mine that will gladly give Disney money in exchange for their products and experiences. In the end, however, what effect does Disney have in my life? Am I the one in control of Disney’s influence? Have I been even a little bit conditioned by Disney?
I was reminded of this recently when we were at the Mall of America in Minneapolis. We were visiting Toy Stores in the mall, and honestly, they were a bit of a let down. Nothing against them, but I think we were expecting something more than what we have in our average mall back home.
When we went into the Disney Store all of that changed. It was great, with the fantastic displays and the attention to detail. We discovered that if you look up near the rafters of the Disney Store you’ll see little moving projections from the movies in a kind of shadow. It was cool. My wife pointed out that she loves the “triumphant Disney music” they play in the store.
The thing is, we have a Disney Store back home that is basically identical. There was nothing different about the Mall of America store, but Disney a) does a fantastic job of their customer experience across the board and b) have invested years indoctrinating us into their culture.
All of the biggest brands in the world have this down to a science. Think of Starbucks, Apple, Coca-Cola, Star Wars (technically part of Disney now!). They create a culture, a story, and bring you along so that you will continue to buy their stuff.
What does any of this have to do with reading the Bible?
My question for you is this… As you think about the list of all the media you consume, are you happy with those things being the primary influencers in your life? You need to intentionally choose to put the Bible in the mix.
The real problem is that most of what we allow to influence us is actually a careful construction designed to tap into cultural trends in order for big companies to make money.
The Bible is a completely different form of media, trying to accomplish an entirely different goal. The Bible provides a counter-narrative to the created stories of our culture.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m still going to go on another Disney vacation—I’m not arguing for complete separation from the world. I am arguing for the Bible taking it’s place among your influencers.
We tend to think that we shape our own lives, but this isn’t really true. When we believe that is true, we tend to buy products that tell us that we are in control. Take a look at almost any car commercial. They tap into the idea that we are free and that we are in control. They tell you that you can’t get more “in control” than driving down the highway or off-roading (your choice) in your new Chevy! When we buy the Chevy, are we in control, or have we bought in to someone else’s idea? Have we given in to some kind of narrative that says I’m a Chevy kind of person?
And so, we return to our question—what do we want shaping our lives? Is is a story told by Disney, Starbucks, and Coca-cola, or the true life-giving story that puts us in touch with the living God?
We know we need to bring more of the Bible into our lives. It must have a place among your influencers. Actually, it must be given greater priority than that.
For every follower of Jesus, the Bible must come out of the dusty drawer and be placed over and above every other influence. It must become more than counter-narrative and more than corrective to the cultural stories. It must become our greatest influence, because in Scripture, more than anywhere else, we meet God.
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