The surprising thing that happened when I quit applying the Bible to my life
"Jesus, what do you have to say to me through these Bible verses today? How do they relate to my life and how can I apply them?"
This has been the prayer on my heart as I've read the Bible for the past two decades. It's a common prayer—one made by most Jesus-followers who are attempting to take an ancient book of stories, poems, and letters and find wisdom and direction in them for life today. It's not always an easy task, but persistence brings the rewards of knowledge, insight, and comfort.
Like me, most Bible readers seek practical application
I'm not the only one who seeks this kind of truth from the Bible. According to a recent Barna study on the Bible in America, "...a majority of people sees the Bible as eminently practical for life." In addition to bringing us closer to God, a third of Bible readers say they turn to its pages looking for comfort, to solve a problem, or for direction. I suspect that if you're reading this article about the Bible, this group includes you, too.
Unsurprisingly, trying to apply the Bible to our lives works. In my pursuit of finding direction from the Bible, I can say that I've truly found it. Scripture has helped me choose a college, commit to a spouse, and chart my career. It's also brought comfort during times of financial hardship, sickness, and grief. The Holy Spirit has faithfully related its pages and passages to my life for years.
An unexpected shift in how I read the Bible
Perhaps because the way I'd been reading the Bible was so helpful, I was genuinely surprised when this unexpected question recently stopped me in my tracks:
If the Bible is God's grand story of redemption through his son, Jesus, then why am I always trying to apply it to ME? If it's truly Jesus' story, shouldn't I be applying it to HIM instead?
Friend, this question has changed the way I read the Bible. And it's changing my life as a result.
First let me say that reading the Bible, seeking insights for how it applies to our lives personally, is good. It's a timeless, wonderful guide that God intends for us to use. But let me share something that happens when you quit trying to apply it to your life and start applying it to Jesus instead: first you find relief, and then you find worship.
What happened first when I quit applying the Bible to my life: I felt relief
As it turns out, applying the Bible to Jesus is easier than applying it to ourselves (read how I made the shift, here). Like a round peg in a round hole, Scriptures fit with Jesus naturally. My life, on the other hand, is more like a square peg. It fits in the hole, but not as well. There are gaps. You've probably felt these gaps yourself while reading the Bible. They show up as confusion, disconnection, and difficulty focusing.
When you exchange your peg for Jesus, however, the gaps disappear. You can immediately feel the relief that comes with a good fit. Confusion is replaced by intrigue, and what's disconnected suddenly lines up. It's fun and insightful in an entirely new way.
There's an even greater relief that happens, which comes from surrendering a self-centered perspective for a Jesus-centered one. As Jesus promised, again and again, when we take our eyes off ourselves and place them on him, we find the truth. And it's a liberating truth. As tantalizing as it is to place ourselves at the center (which is what we're doing when we read the Bible looking for how it applies to us), it's more freeing to place Jesus at the center. Try it and see for yourself. (Start here.)
What happened second when I quit applying the Bible to my life: I found worship
Allow me to propose something for you to consider: what if you quit viewing the Bible as practical and started viewing it as mystical instead?
This is one of the side effects I've experienced since changing the way I read the Bible. Freed from the pressure to apply its passages to my life, my heart has been drawn to something far more intriguing: worship.
What I'm just barely starting to learn is that if practical application is the homely pigeon of the Bible, worship is the peacock. Worship transcends this earth, soaring above time and sin and death. And it takes us with it in a mystical, mysterious way—like a song in our hearts that gives us goosebumps when it swells. We feel it cannot be contained—that it's seeking to burst forth from our spirits and expand into all the world. (This description admittedly sounds a bit hippy-dippy, but considering that Ezekial described worship as spinning celestial wheels, I feel that it’s a justifiably challenging sensation to describe.)
Reader, practical application NEVER offers this soaring feeling. By attempting to pull the Bible down into our lives, we box it in. It's useful but stifling. When we let go and focus on Jesus instead, the box disappears. Because Jesus is eternal and mysterious, the melody of our hearts starts to hum with his frequency. And we remember things that are easily forgotten, like heaven, and eternal life, and his throne. When we remember these things, we start to glimpse what all of this is really about. It's not about us. It's much, much bigger than us. And we're left with only one adequate response: to worship.
Here’s a challenge for you:
In sum, here's my argument: Practical application is good. Worship is better. And here's my challenge for you: spend one month applying the Bible to Jesus instead of yourself and see what happens. Here's how to get started...