The other day I was reflecting with a friend on my first real reading of the Bible. I’d graduated high school but wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next. I knew I’d eventually go to college to pursue a music degree, though I didn’t know what for or when. I’d been attending church and playing in the worship band for about a year, after five years away from church altogether. I’d never read the Bible as a whole, only in little nuggets at church or youth studies.
Well, the girl I’d been dating for five months or so broke up with me. She was younger and still in high school. After a short string of girls I’d only nominally dated, I decided — likely prompted by God’s Spirit — to abstain from dating and focus on God alone.
I bought a hardcover Life Application Bible featuring the Living Bible paraphrase and I began reading alone in my room with just the lamp at my desk illuminating the thin pages. And God met with me there. He spoke to me through the ancient Scriptures rendered in a modern vernacular. The study notes helped me to see how Scripture applied to my life as an 18 year old with a promising, but certainly cloudy, future.
Eventually, I purchased a New American Standard Bible, my pastor’s preferred translation. Then an NIV, then back to NASB after it was updated in 1995. Then it was the New Living Translation sometime around 2002, when my pastor (a different one) encouraged an easier-to-understand translation for use in our services. I’d misplaced that Bible around 2006 and so purchased another NLT, which had also been updated. Then around 2007, I bought an English Standard Version after discussion with a friend who is also a pastor. Today I typically use a combination of ESV and NLT. Perhaps someday I’ll learn Hebrew and Greek and those lexicons will be my go-to Bible.
What began in my bedroom as an indecisive teenager has continued on to this day, and something Jesus promised his disciples — and us.
John 16:12-15 (ESV)
12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”
As a teenager,
I have been guided into truth.
As a 35-year-old husband and father,
I am still guided into truth.
As a pastor and worship leader,
I will continue to be guided into truth.
Over the years I’ve used various Bible tools: study Bibles like the Life Application and ESV Study Bible, commentaries, word helps, cross-reference and topical systems, etc. These have certainly helped, but probably the most helpful has been a simple notebook. God has proven faithful to speak as I place pen to paper. He directs me to certain passages and I meditate on them. He guides me into truth.
I have a shelf full of old notebooks and still more text files on my computer that comprise my journal entries over the years. Sometimes God repeats himself, evidence that I haven’t responded in obedience, that I am often found as a hearer only and not a doer. But I’ve also seen growth and how God has spoken to me about something that would take place. Like the time he asked me if I would be OK with living in Toledo, far from family and home, for the rest of my life. And how when I’d come to a place of agreement, he directed a new plan.
I cannot exhort you enough to accept Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit, that he would guide you into truth if you would but listen. Open God’s Word. Open your heart. And a journal wouldn’t hurt.