What I'm reading...in the Bible
I’m going to tell you something shocking right now: I don’t read the Bible through each year. I feel like a bad minister somehow admitting that, but I learned years ago that trying to read through the Bible in one year, every year only set me up to read meaninglessly and for a silly checkmark on a photocopy of a reading plan stuffed in the back of my Bible. While I started every year with good intentions, I always got overwhelmed, and then when life got busy suddenly I was trying to catch up with endless chapters. And constantly jumping from Luke to Leviticus wore me out.
So two years ago, I decided to focus on one section of the Bible and use my time more intensely to read for understanding and application, instead of mere accomplishment. And I benefited from it! I loved being able to enter into serious study of various versions and commentaries. And I pretty much decided that *for me* a focused study was where true connection could be found.
So this year I’m doing the major and minor prophets ALL YEAR. I’m going to know those guys inside and out by December. And I can’t help but appreciate how God orchestrates my life--now that I’m changing my ministry focus to the “at risk” community in Madrid’s streets, I’m also reading daily about justice for the oppressed, the way we treat the outsiders of our community, and how God views the poor and defenseless.
I’ve been in Isaiah for the 50 days of the year we’ve already spent in 2019. Isaiah is the longest book of any of the prophets (although word-for-word, Jeremiah is slightly longer). What I’m LOVING about Isaiah is the balance between prophecies of judgment -- which frankly can be pretty intense --and the glorious visions of the future day we’re *still* awaiting, when God will wipe away tears and conquer death. “He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth. The LORD has spoken.” (Isaiah 25:8, NIV)
It’s like a constant reminder of God’s faithfulness. He gives us beautiful promises of the Messiah to come, which Jesus fulfilled, and He gives us these prophetic visions of our New Testament “Blessed Hope,” too.
And he writes with such beauty and passion! I was reading this morning in Isaiah 35:10, “And those the Lord has rescued will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.” How inspiring is that image!
I know these verses well because I sang them as a child; it seems like many of the choruses of my childhood were straight scripture put to music, and I value that now in my older age. In fact I miss the days when music was based so completely on scripture. But that’s another blog post for another day.
These verses are so joyful, such an epic anthem of the promises of God coming true in the lives of the God’s people. That one day everything that they were experiencing in the “here and now” would pass, and God would answer his promise of bringing them together, giving them a future and a home, and taking away the pain that they were experiencing.
I’ve been reading a lot of Henri Nouwen this year, and his works speak of the intimate relationship of joy and sorrow. They’re always connected: to fully understand joy, one must pass through heartbreaking sorrow. And even in the hardest moments of sorrow, one can feel joy, knowing in faith that the circumstances will change or perhaps experiencing the love of friends that surround us in those awful moments. We have joy that God is who he says He is, and He will deliver from the deepest grief, or the harshest heartbreak that we experience. So we experience joy even in sorrow. The more I’ve read his work, and the more I’ve reflected upon this, the more scriptures jump out at me with the connection of joy and sorrow mentioned together.
“The ransomed some captives will enter Zion with singing. Joy will crown their heads; gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will fade away.”
How beautiful it is in moments of sorrow to know that it won’t last forever —that sorrow may endure for a night but joy will come in the morning. For those of us who still wait for Joy, because we’re currently in sorrow, we have the promises of God to sustain us until the moment when Joy “overtakes us.”
I doubt many people read the major prophets for their emotional healing; I figure most folks head to the Psalms for that. But I’m enjoying Isaiah and his vision of the redeemed future and joy that comes with it.