Reading the Bible through in a year as I had done before, I came once again to the epistles. Though I’d read them previously, this time it occurred to me: These are letters from an actual person to actual people. There’s more than just information here; there’s emotion.
I realize that sounds pretty obvious to some people, but now I knew that, in the future, I’d read them differently. The emotion couldn’t have been only on the writer’s part, I thought, because those receiving them must have felt excited to get them.
We’re blessed to have Bibles we can pick up daily and read affirming, convicting and truth-filled messages. The original letters to the churches were often circulated and an individual may have heard the letter only once before it was on its way to be shared with another church. How precious they were. How empowered the readers must have been on receiving those letters.
Letter writing is becoming a lost art. What a joy to savor words on paper from someone who loves us and hopes the best for us. My realizations led me to read the epistles like I’d never read before, as if they’d been sent directly to me. Identifying with the people for whom they were intended, it was exciting. I received fresh insight, higher understanding, and a new appreciation for the first century Church.
These are some practices I discovered for knowing the power of the God’s word.
Pray before reading. Thank God for the person who wrote the letter and that it made it safely to you. Pray that the Spirit will provide power to guide you and encourage you.
Read from a different translation than you normally use. The wording may be just different enough that you get a better understanding of the scripture.
If you underline or write notes in the margins of your Bible, read from one that has no margin notes or underlining so these don’t distract you. If you have none, perhaps you can borrow for this part of your study. If you must write, take notes in a separate journal.
Read slowly and deliberately. Because many of us have read the epistles several times, we can be tempted to read through them quickly. However, familiarity with the text can get in the way. If you were reading a letter received in the mail, it wouldn’t be familiar. You couldn’t anticipate the next phrase and you would have to listen with your heart and mind all the way through. Also, since these letters were originally read to groups, try reading aloud.
Pay attention to the greetings at the beginnings and ends of the letters. The early believers would have been overjoyed to hear these heartfelt words. Some of those mentioned are people the writer traveled with. The inclusion of their names offers hints into co-workers in ministry. Paul quite often did this. Sometimes the writer also included blessings and prayers. These have power to bless and encourage you as they did the original readers.
Pray again when you’ve finished. If God has spoken to you through the writer’s words, thank Him and ask Him to keep revealing truth to you. Confess any sin the Holy Spirit has revealed in your life as a result of reading. Claim God’s promise of abundant life in Christ and share what you’ve learned with someone else.
After reading through the epistles this way, try using some of these ideas for reading other passages of scripture.
Once upon a time, there was a pastor who influenced me in ways I don’t think he was aware of. I considered him a model of one who walked with God as Enoch did. Naturally, this fellow was humble as well, and if he knew I was saying that about him, he’d sternly correct me.
Nevertheless, I saw him as an unofficial mentor.
Is there someone in your life who models a walk with Jesus? If so, what does that look like? Poetry isn’t my strong suit. Nevertheless, this is a small tribute to my friend and pastor.
You Walk With Jesus
I have watched you
walk with the winsomeness
possessed in you that
unknowingly also owns power.
There’s a place deep inside
where you don’t look–
having no need to–
that teaches your body
to follow the Spirit.
God’s Spirit guides your spirit
with a quiet, cherished purpose.
It seems that in each stride
you claim a mile.
The world is full of trouble. We shouldn’t be surprised by this. Jesus knew we’d experience trouble.
“In this world you will have trouble.” John 16:33
Jesus doesn’t leave us without hope, however, because in the same breath he says he’s giving us his peace. He says he’s already overcome the world. The Amplified Bible version adds the words “I have deprived it of power to harm you.”
Knowing his peace and the fact that troubles have no power over us doesn’t mean we hide our heads in the sand and not looking at the world’s troubles. That isn’t the message Jesus means to convey. He certainly said a lot about acting to help those in need. To be a good neighbor. Pray for our enemies. Forgive from our hearts.
Jesus got angry. But it wasn’t selfish anger; it was anger that was justified. The things that made him angry needed to be made right because innocent people were suffering. The call to be like Jesus means we follow his lead. Are you measuring your anger about a situation or against a person based on Jesus’s example?
Are you bold like Jesus? Do you take risks to make the world a better place, even if it’s just the little space of world where you live? What is he calling you to be courageous about today?
Pray for the ability to make change and bring justice to a situation as Jesus would. Then, you’re offering hope to the world that is full of trouble.
The graphic below shows a prayer, commonly referred to as the “Serenity Prayer,”* attributed to Karl Paul Reinhold Niebuhr and reportedly written in 1926. Niebuhr was a Lutheran pastor and theologian.
After knowing only the first four lines of the prayer, which I learned in 1984, it wasn’t long before I became acquainted with the entire thing. Even though at the time I hadn’t made a decision to follow Christ, the words made sense. Years after that, I was reciting the whole prayer from memory at a weekly small group.
Today, I believe the three most important words of this prayer aren’t, as some people choose to see them, acceptance, courage and wisdom. They are
“God, I surrender”
For me, surrendering to God creates a serenity and peace I can’t otherwise know.
*Usually Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer is quoted using only the first four lines shown here.