Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long.
Your commands make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever with me.
I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes.
I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts.
I have kept my feet from every evil path, so that I might obey your word.
I have not departed from your laws, for you yourself have taught me.
How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path.
I have been privileged to sit all my life under the ministries of men who believed that the bible is the Word of God, a living and powerful means by which God speaks to and transforms people. Week by week, I have listened to sermons which present the words of these ancient texts as relevant to my life, full of meaning and to be taken seriously. I have been comforted, challenged and taught – and I pray that will continue, as I am by no means a finished piece of work!
In addition to believing that the bible must be preached in order to see lives transformed, my ministers have all practised what is called “systematic exposition”. This simply means that they have chosen not to avoid any part of the word of God on the basis that it is too hard, too embarassing, or in some way irrelevant. A book is preached through from beginning to end, and studies undertaken in the Old Testament as well as the new. Our current series in church is looking at the visions of the prophet Ezekiel – challenging for both minister and congregation! It is not a radical approach to preaching, but puts into practice what Paul said to Timothy in his second letter to the young pastor :-“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man(and woman) of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2Tim.16&17)
Naturally, different types of book require a different approach – the visions of Revelation and Daniel for example cannot be preached in the same way as the Gospel narratives; while the epic stories of the Exodus and early days in the Promised land are different again from the letters to the young churches in Asia. But the basic fact remains, that all of our bibles are there for a reason, for our good as we hear what God will teach us through them.
I think it is wonderful that every kind of literature is found in our bibles – and every aspect of life and feeling too! There is nothing about life on earth which is outwith the interest of God, and no area of our lives which is beneath his notice. He knows that some of us are moved more by great stories than by poetic images; that some respond better to direct instruction while others learn through narrative and example. That is not to say that it is good for us to only study those parts of the word which appeal to our own temperaments – that would be like basing our weekly family menu around everyone’s favourite holiday treats! I am grateful to my ministers over the years for making sure that I study the parts of the bible which I find harder to deal with, and for giving me the conviction that the struggle is worthwhile!
Recently I have been reading in Nehemiah, a book which contains many names of people long dead, and it is tempting to wonder why anyone recorded, let alone bother to read them. But have never found yourself scanning a long list for one particular name, perhaps a friend who is due to qualify in a particular course? Or perhaps you had a family member who engaged in past conflict overseas, and you search the records for their name, for proof that they were there and perhaps of some award for bravery or endurance? Sometimes, the presence of a name is of huge importance for us.
The book of Nehemiah records a significant time of national rebuilding, of re-commitment and return to faithful worship of God after exile. In the years after it was written, one can imagine the descendants of those first returnees listening eagerly as the story is retold, waiting for the name of their ancestor to hear again the confirmation that they played their part, and obeyed God’s call. I picture the children cheering when they hear that particular name, rejoicing that their family is recorded as being part of God’s great people, that they belong. I like to think that one day in glory I may meet these faithful servants, and rejoice with them that my name too has been included in the lists of those whom God has called to be His own for ever!