Excerpt from Life with God Spiritual Formation Bible

God not only originated the Bible through human authorship; he remains with it always. It is God’s book. No one owns it but God himself. It is the loving heart of God made visible and plain. And receiving this message of exquisite love is the great privilege of all who long for life with God. Reading, studying, memorizing, and meditating upon Scripture have always been the foundation of the Christian disciplines. All of the disciplines are built upon Scripture. Our practice of the Spiritual Disciplines is kept on course by our immersion in Scripture. And so it is, we come to see, that this reading, studying, memorizing, and meditating is totally in the service of the life that really is life” (1 Tim 6:19). We long with all our heart to know for ourselves the with-God kind of life that Jesus brings in all its fullness. 

And the Bible has been given to help us. God has so superintended the writing of Scripture that it serves as a most reliable guide for our own spiritual formation. But as in its authorship, so in its presentation to the world, God uses human action.

So we must consider how we can ourselves come to the Bible and also how we can present it to people in a way that does not destroy the soul, but inducts it into the eternal kind of life.

We begin by opening our lives in Christian community to the influx of God’s life and by experientially finding, day-to-day, how to let Jesus Christ live in every dimension of our being. We can gather regularly in groups of two or more to encourage one another to discover the footprints of God in our daily existence and to venture out with God into areas where we have previously walked alone or not at all. 

But the aim is not external conformity, whether to doctrine or deed, but the reformation of the inner self — of the spiritual core, the place of thought and feeling, of will and character. The psalmist cries, You desire truth in the inward being; therefore, teach me wisdom in my secret heart. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me” (Ps 51:6,10). It is our inner nature” that is being renewed (renovare) day by day” (2 Cor 4:16). (Renovare = to renew.)

Although the many Christian traditions differ over the details of spiritual formation, they all have the same objective: the transformation of the person into one of greater Christlikeness. Spiritual formation” is the process of transforming the inner reality of the self (the inward being” of the psalmist) in such a way that the overall with-God life seen in the Bible naturally and freely comes to pass in us. Our inner world (the secret heart”) becomes the home of Jesus by his initiative and our response. As a result, our interior world becomes increasingly like the inner self of Jesus and, therefore, the natural source of words and deeds that are characteristic of him. By his enabling presence we come to let the same mind be in [us] that was in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5).

This, then, provides the orientation of The Life with God Bible. And it provides the answer to our question about how we can present the Bible to people in a way that does not destroy the soul, but inducts it into the eternal kind of life. We simply do all we can to enable people to see clearly the Life that burns brightly on the pages of the Bible and to show, by practical steps, how they can bring their entire life into that Life. An intelligent, humble, careful, intensive, straightforward reading of the Bible will direct us into life in the kingdom of God. 

Reading with the Mind 

It is genuinely helpful as we read the Bible for spiritual formation to learn to identify the literary forms of Scripture. The first form we encounter are the books of the Law — Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. In utter grace God stretched out his mighty hand to deliver the Israelites from bondage and, having delivered them, he made a covenant with them in which he would be their God and they were to be his people. The books of the Law then established the stipulations of the covenant God made with Israel. Composed of more than six hundred commandments, these laws defined the unique relationship between Israel and Yahweh. 

Carried across the pages of Scripture, these laws and the obedience they evoked, provided Israel, now the People of God, with clear directions for living: keeping God’s laws, exhibiting God’s love, expressing God’s righteousness.

The second literary form is prophecy. In its original structure, Scripture distinguished between the former prophets (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings) and the latter prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the twelve Minor Prophets). The primary purpose of prophecy is to speak for God in a particular situation. The prophets were viewed not so much as fore-tellers but as forth-tellers, constantly calling the People of God back to their covenant obligations of single-hearted obedience to God, mercy and compassion for the poor and dispossessed, and justice and shalom (“peace”) toward all peoples. 

A third form of biblical literature (and a corollary to prophecy) is apocalyptic writing. In the Hebrew Scriptures, apocalyptic literature is found primarily in Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah, and parts of Isaiah. In this form of biblical writing, the prophets cried out against the people’s disdain for the stipulations of the covenant and warned that the result of their disobedience would be divine wrath and destruction. Always, however, the apocalyptic writings held forth the vision of a coming day of hope and restoration, a day when the wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fading together, and a little child shall lead them,” a day when the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isa 11:69). 

The final literary forms of the Hebrew Scriptures are found in the Writings. In the original arrangement, the Writings consisted of poetry (Psalms, Job, and Proverbs), festal writings (Ruth, Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, and Esther), and history (Ezra, Nehemiah, and Chronicles). This narrative literature outlines God’s universal design for all creation. Scripture teaches that the forward movement of history is the dramatic unfolding of God’s divine plans for life on earth, and these narratives demonstrate the way in which God creates and calls a people to experience life in the kingdom of God. 

Next we encounter the Deuterocanonical literature, a body of writings covering the period between our Old and New Testaments. Most of the Church throughout much of history has accepted the Deuterocanonicals as Scripture, though Protestants do not give these writings the same authority. They deal with an important period in Israel’s historical and spiritual development and contain many helpful insights into spiritual formation. The people Jesus encountered and taught were in many ways spiritually formed by these writings. In addition, the Deuterocanonical writings can function for us in much the same way that good sermons and devotional writings do. They contain histories (Judith, the Maccabees, 1 & 2 Esdras), wisdom writings (Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach), and works of theological reflection and moral instruction (Tobit, Baruch, the Letter of Jeremiah). 

When we turn to the New Testament, we first encounter the majestic teachings of Jesus Christ in the Gospels. Here the brilliance of Jesus’ words and actions catapult us into the life that is Life indeed, and that more abundantly (John 10:10). Through the dynamic use of parables, sermons, and proverbs we learn deeply and fully what it means to live with God. Even more, by himself coming as incarnate Lord,

Jesus ushers us completely into the with-God life, a life that is in and through him who is the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).

After the Gospels comes the book of Acts, which is a continuation of the acts and teachings of Jesus through the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:1). It displays in bold relief the great variety of Christian experience: from speaking in tongues and baptism by fire to logical analysis and philosophical debate (Acts 2:1 – 13; 17:16 – 34). We see the dramatic unfolding of life with God, the breathtaking works of healing, evangelism, and demonic encounter, the infinite variety of ways God calls his people to life with him, and much, much more. All of this, remember, is through the dynamic power of the Holy Spirit. 

Following the historical drama of the book of Acts, the theological teaching of the New Testament is captured in the diverse Letters of Paul and others. Here we learn how the People of God, scattered in diverse local settings, live in the kingdom of God and, transformed by the power of God, obey the commands of God. These Letters provide the practical wisdom necessary for the with-God life. 

The Bible concludes with the book of Revelation. This pulsating drama returns us to the dramatic style of apocalyptic prophecy. The cataclysmic clash between God and Satan, between good and evil, reaches feverish pitch when Satan’s great scheme to destroy Christ is thwarted (Rev 12 – 18). As the drama moves toward its glorious conclusion, the new heaven and the new earth, God’s ultimate intention of establishing an eternal relationship with us is fully revealed: “ See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them;’… They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever” (Rev 21:3; 22:4 – 5).

Reading with Understanding 

In seeking to discover the with-God life, it is helpful to read the Bible in four distinct ways. First, we read the Bible literally, from cover to cover, internalizing its life-giving message. By reading the whole of Scripture, we begin to capture the force and the power of the with-God life. We enter into the original dynamics and drama of Scripture: struggling with Abraham over the offering up of the son of promise; puzzling with Job at the tragedies of life; rejoicing with Moses at Israel’s release from bondage; weeping with Jeremiah for the slain of my poor people” (9:1); bowing in awe with Mary at the messianic promise. 

Second, we read the Bible in context. This means allowing the way in which the author originally depicted life with God to establish the standard for understanding our life with God today. We read with a firm determination to discover the intent of the original author and then allow that intent to control our comprehension of the passage. This helps us grasp the way God continues to shape human life today. 

Third, we read the Bible in conversation with itself. In other words, we seek to understand how the whole of Scripture gives structure and meaning to each of its parts. The unfolding drama of Scripture often raises puzzling questions, which are resolved only when more obscure and difficult passages are held under the light of clearer, more straightforward passages. In biblical interpretation systematic passages interpret incidental passages, universal passages interpret local ones, and didactic passages interpret symbolic ones. In this way the whole Bible guides us into a better understanding of its particular parts.

Fourth, Christians read the Bible in conversation with the historic witness of the People of God. The Church learned from the synagogue that it is the community that reads the Bible. This, in part, is what we mean when we speak of the communion of saints.” Christians throughout the centuries help us understand the nature of life with God and provide insight and discernment that enrich our own spiritual life. So we read the Bible in conversation with Origen and Jerome, Augustine of Hippo and Hildegard of Bingen, John Chrysostom and John Calvin, Martin Luther and Richard Baxter, Watchman Nee and Sundar Singh — and many others, including wise and mature interpreters of Scripture today. This corporate reading of the Bible illuminates for us the multifaceted ways the Immanuel Principle is experienced in ordinary life. 

Reading with the Heart 

Finally, as we approach the Bible it is helpful to slow down, breathe deeply, and read with the heart. Now, this reading with the heart” way of approaching the sacred text has a very long and time-honored history among the People of God. It even has a name, lectio divina, divine or spiritual reading. 

What does lectio divina mean? Well, it means listening to the text of Scripture — really listening, listening yielded and still. It means submitting to the text of Scripture, allowing its message to flow into us rather than attempting to master it. It means reflecting on the text of Scripture, permitting ourselves to become fully engaged — both mind and heart — by the drama of the passage. It means praying the text of Scripture, letting the biblical reality of the with-God life give rise to our heart cry of gratitude, confession, complaint, or petition. It means applying the text of Scripture, seeing how God’s Holy Word provides a personal word for our life circumstances. And it means obeying the text of Scripture, turning, always turning, from our wicked way and into the way everlasting (Ps 139:23 – 24).

Excepted from the Life with God Spiritual Formation Bible.

Text First Published March 2005