Let’s start with our idol-manufacturing hearts. What specific temptations confront us when we approach the Word? Here are a few that I regularly face.
1. I use the Bible like a vending machine. There’s something in the box that I want (peace, joy, emotional release, whatever), so I must put in enough coins (minutes, chapters, devotion) to get what I want. This line of thinking perverts the idea of the Word as a means of grace, similar to the Roman ex opere operato view of the sacraments. It works because it was performed–or, “read your Bible, pray every day and you’ll grow, grow, grow.” But the Scriptures are a means of grace when we read it with faith in the One they reveal.The Westminster Larger Catechism puts it this way:
The Holy Scriptures are to be read with a high and reverent esteem of them; with a firm persuasion that they are the very Word of God and that He only can enable us to understand them; with desire to know, believe, and obey the will of God revealed in them; with diligence and attention to the matter and scope of them; with meditation, application, self-denial, and prayer (Q157).
2. I use the Bible to manipulate God. This sounds so ridiculous, doesn’t it? And yet we fall to this temptation all the time. We think that our consistent devotion merits freedom from fear and want, from sorrow and discomfort.
Steve Johnson, a wide receiver on the Buffalo Bills, received a lot of attention this week for dropping a potentially game-winning pass in the end zone and then blaming God. After the game he tweeted, “I PRAISE YOU 24/7!!!!! AND THIS IS HOW YOU DO ME!!!!! YOU EXPECT ME TO LEARN FROM THIS??? HOW???!!! ILL NEVER FORGET THIS!! EVER!!! THX THO…”
I don’t mention Johnson in order to castigate him, but to point out that we are all alike. How many chapters of the Bible have been read, how many prayers have been prayed, in a vain attempt to get God to do what we want him to do? We view God the same way Elijah’s opponents viewed Baal. Give him what he wants, and he’ll give us what we want. Let’s pray for grace to identify this sin whenever it arises in our hearts.
3. I use the Bible to demonstrate my superiority over others. This is just as obnoxious and prevalent as the last one. We read so that we have something to tell others in small group. We increase our Bible knowledge so that we can wield it on an unsuspecting younger Christian. We’ve got all the answers, but our lives are a wreck. We say, “I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing,” but we don’t realize that we are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked (Rev 3.17). Jesus has strong words for those who look on others with contempt (Lk 18.9-14). May he give us the grace to pray, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner,” no matter how many times we’ve read the Bible.