This is not a question about personal hygiene, rather it is about how you read the Bible. You may be wondering what soap could possibly have to do with bible reading and I will come to that in a minute.
I know very few Christians who don’t believe that reading the bible is a good thing and wish they read it more often. Many however, struggle to read their bible with any regularity and those who do often feel that doing so can be a matter of duty rather than delight. Living as we do in the 21st century there are more resources to help us read our bibles than any other period in history. There are many reasons for this but I believe that one factor may be passivity. We live in a world of information overload, and most of the information is broadcast at us and requires little engagement. As a result we are used to passively hearing and reading information, then moving on to the next thing and quickly forgetting what we have heard. If we always read the bible like this then it is no wonder it seems uninspiring. However if we can find ways to really engage with it, to wrestle with its meaning and understand how it applies to us we can discover a fresh vitality in our reading.
Recently I was reminded of a simple little acronym (SOAP) that can be applied alongside any bible reading method and help us read more proactively.
- Scripture – Write down a verse from your reading that stood out for you. Copy it word for word, including the reference.
- Observation – Answer this question, ‘What do I observe about this verse?’ Things like: who is speaking, to whom, where, why, when. Engage as much as you are able with the original meaning.
- Application – Now work out how you can apply what you have read to your life or how it impacts your current circumstances. Is there a command to obey? An example to follow (or avoid!)? An encouragement to lay hold of? An attitude to be realigned?
- Prayer – Finish your reading with prayer. What can you praise God for? What requests can you make? Ask the Holy Spirit to enable you to live differently in the light of what you have learned.
Using these 4 simple steps requires effort but it will be worth it. As the saying goes: the more you put in the more you get out.
This blog post featured in the May 2015 edition of Lifelines
Later this month approximately 1,000 runners will take part in the Hook Fun Run and Road Race covering distances from 2.5 miles right up to 10 miles. I am sure that the organisers have placed a request for a bright sunny day so that all the participants, marshals, supporters and spectators have a pleasant and enjoyable experience. On the day there are four races and there will be prizes for a limited number of people in various gender and age categories. For the vast majority of runners who won’t win prizes the goal for the day will be about taking part and they will be satisfied with their finisher’s medal and a well-earned rest in the afternoon.
Even fun runners will usually make some effort to prepare for the run by going on a few practice jogs to check that they have some chance of completing the distance. Clothing and shoes are selected by the competitors to ensure they are suitably equipped to run efficiently and reduce the risk of injury. On the day itself runners will have certain goals; a personal best to be achieved, a rival that they want to beat or simply to survive and get round the course. It is this preparation and goal setting that is being alluded to in the New Testament when the Christian life is said to be like running a race.
Deciding to follow Jesus is not like taking out an insurance policy where you pay the premium and then forget about it until you need to make a claim. Following Jesus involves a lifelong commitment to a self-disciplined life. It involves setting aside distractions and self interest in order to ensure that we are able to complete the course.
What is the primary goal of a follower of Jesus? It is to become like Him in character. As we focus on Him and choose to follow in his footsteps on a daily basis his Holy Spirit gradually brings about change so that we become like him. If we lose sight of the goal of becoming like Jesus then we risk falling into one of two traps. Trap one is that we become disillusioned and give up on being a follower of Jesus. Trap two is that we focus on outward religious observance.
Lots of runners find that they need the encouragement of running mates to successfully achieve their goals. The only way to successfully complete the Christian life is to do so with Jesus as your running mate. Will you choose to run the race?
This blog post featured in the May 2015 edition of Hook Focus