At last check we were making our way through a series on “tipping points” in the Christian experience. This current post looks at the crucial adjustment that helps ignite our affections for God. In our Christian lives, we may believe the right things in our minds and practice the right things in our habits, but what helps our hearts to be drawn towards God in ever-increasing affection for him, so that we worship, trust, and obey him from the core of our being?
A critical step, or tipping point, for capturing our affections towards God is to learn to read the Bible with in a way that is sympathetic, first and foremost, to God’s perspective, rather than a human perspective. In other words, read the Bible with a sense of wonder, looking to appreciate God’s glory as we read. God cannot capture our affections for him if we are unwilling to trust him, by submitting ourselves to his revelation of himself in the Bible and see him for who he really is.
We are naturally inclined to place ourselves at the center of the universe and judge what we read in the Bible from that perspective. This can create skepticism and resistance towards God, especially when the way he acts fails to conform to our sensibilities. A great starting point for reading the Bible with God’s interests and viewpoint guiding us is found in Isaiah 55:8-9 – “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Submitting to God’s revelation requires trust that “the Judge of all the earth does what is right” (Genesis 18:25).
It is entirely appropriate to read the Bible in this way, since the Bible is written with God as the hero of the overall story and in the individual passages. In Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart’s influential book How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, the authors remind us, “In any biblical narrative, God is the ultimate character, the supreme hero of the story. . . . To miss this dimension of the narrative is to miss the perspective of the narrative altogether” (page 98).
Why is this approach to reading relevant to our affections towards God? Without an appreciation for God as the hero of the Bible we will yawn at glimpses of God’s holy majesty, bristle at scenes when God judges, underestimate the gravity of sin, or overlook the riches of God’s blessings for us. We need to have our attention focused on the beauty, power, justice, and grace of God at the center of the Biblical storyline. This grand vision of God’s greatness has fueled the worship and devotion of generations of believers. We should expect no less when we give God a chance to impress us when we encounter him in the Scriptures.
This process takes time. But once we are open to God being the center of the story, we learn to appreciate him on his own terms, without requiring him to fit into our preconceived notions of him, notions which are usually shaped by our own short-sighted goals and needs. And when we see God on his terms, we will grow in awareness of his beauty.
When we value God’s perspective and his glory above all things, Bible reading becomes a gateway into increased affections towards God and more ardent worship. We can emerge from reflecting on God and his word with the same sentiment that Paul expressed in Romans 11:33-36: “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.”