Where we start matters. We don’t read a book from end to beginning. We don’t make our bed after we get into it, but once we get out of it. We don’t put on our socks over our shoes. Almost everything we do without thinking has a logical order to it. Some things don’t work as well when done backwards. Likewise, how we view the Bible matters. We can tend to have a backwards perspective when we approach the Word of God. So, where we start in our approach towards Scripture reading affects us.
So, where do we begin? The same place the Bible begins: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). In the beginning God. Everything began with him. Many of us don’t think of the Bible as a book primarily about God. We think of it only as a book for us, like a how-to manual for life, a handbook of rules, or a self-help guide to personal growth. In fact, there are many of those elements found in the Bible and, yes, the Bible is for us. But when our primary perspective of the Bible is about us, and our personal felt needs, then we underestimate its power to change us.
Our view of Scripture can sometimes be like Moses at the burning bush. After God reveals himself to Moses in such a spectacular way, Moses replies, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Ex. 3:11). God tells Moses that he will be with him, but Moses still brings the attention back to himself, “Moses said to God, ‘Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you,” and they ask me, “What is his name?” Then what shall I tell them?’ ” (Ex. 3:13). God then tells Moses who he is, what he has done, and what he will do (Ex. 3:14-22).
In her book, Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds, Jen Wilkin comments on this portion of Scripture, saying that Moses is asking the wrong questions: Who am I? What should I do? But instead, says Wilkin, God responds by completely removing Moses out of the discussion and placing himself at the center. Wilkin says,
We are like Moses. The Bible is our burning bush–a faithful declaration of the presence and holiness of God. We ask it to tell us about ourselves, and all the while it is telling us about ‘I AM’.
All of Scripture is a revelation of God, and his revelation of himself is exactly what we need for all of life. Our how-to is God, our rulebook is God, and our self-help guide is God. When we see God rightly, we’ll see ourselves rightly. Our knowledge of God should lead to a better knowledge of self. He is our starting place. He is the lens we look through at our own lives and hearts. Beholding God first changes our view of ourselves, it then humbles us to the point of change.
Asking the right question first is key in our approach to the Bible. Wilkin suggests first asking, “What does this passage teach me about God? before we ask it to teach us anything about ourselves.” Approaching Scripture as a book primarily about God’s revelation of himself puts me in a better place to see myself accurately and respond appropriately. For instance, when I struggle to love and forgive someone who has wronged me, I can read about how God is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (Ps. 145:8), I can read about how Jesus tells us to love those who hurt us (Matt. 5:39-44) and see in Scripture how Jesus lived this truth out himself (Luke 23:24). Reading those truths about who God is helps me see how short I fall from his holy attributes, which places me in a humble position to repent of my sin, ask for his help, and seek to love when it’s hard.
Seeking to see God first in Scripture also trains us to be better recipients of his grace. Because looking first to the one who is the source of our power and strength gives us hope for change. When we put ourselves first in reading Scripture, we tend to make ourselves the source for change in our lives, and this could lead to either condemnation or a works-based approach to righteousness. Seeing God first in Scripture makes all the difference in effecting change in our lives. Starting with ourselves can leave us hopeless, but putting God first in our view of Scripture makes us hopeful. Because with him there is forgiveness, that he may be feared (Ps. 130:4). With him there is peace, joy, and love, and at his right hand are pleasures forevermore (Ps. 16:11). He is great and greatly to be praised (Ps. 96:4).
Why would we be like Moses and look at ourselves when we’re seeing a miracle? Instead, the revelations of God should make us look upwards first, then we can have the grace to look inward. Knowing who God is is the best place to start, and it makes all the difference.
This originally appeared on Morning by Morning.