I was looking for the answer for the church I was leading. I wasn’t sure what the next step needed to be. After a season of prayer, I opened the Bible and a verse leaped out at me, “Build ye the Sanctuary of the Lord, that you might bring the holy vessels of God into the house built in the Name of the Lord.” These words from Chronicles became a guiding verse as we began a journey to build a new sanctuary, words from the Bible that spoke directly to me, in the context of my circumstances and my search to know God’s will specifically. This changed the direction of a church and a community.
Understanding the Bible is something most of us want, and yet it can be very difficult. I learned in Bible College and in seminary that there was a number of important considerations in reading and understanding the Bible. I was taught there was the context in the Bible itself, meaning the verses before and after the part I was reading. I also learned there was historical context, the times and seasons the verses were written from and to. I learned this context was the key to understanding the Bible. But I realized that after years of reading and preaching it this way, often connecting with an expository understanding of Scripture, that maybe I was missing something. Of course, there is great value and meaning in reading and preaching the Bible this way, but still . . . where had the direct connecting with God gone in the reading of the many great verses in the Holy Bible?
Yes, I believe the Bible needs to be understood in the context of the text and the historical context but also in a direct understanding — “What is God saying to me?” Is there a transcendence in the reading where God is speaking beyond text context, beyond historical context, speaking directly to the reader in a “Holy Spirit is working” way?
I want to give some support for this kind of direct, occasional reading, especially when we are looking for direction, assurance and transformation. This is often how Jesus used the Bible, in an out-of-context, direct connection. Paul often preached and taught the Book this way as well, completely out of the context in which we are often told to read and understand the Bible. For them both, it was most often just what the verse said to a specific situation.
I really connected with this some years ago when I was on vacation and realized I had so moved into the more academic reading and understanding of Scripture, looking for the lessons, the examples, the stories that might teach me something (and they often did), lessons I might offer in preaching and teaching, that I was missing the direct voice of God to me in the Book. I repented and asked God to forgive me and restore to me the joy of reading the Bible in a direct-to-my word way, the way Jesus used it, and the way Paul taught it.
The verses in Chronicles, “Build ye the Sanctuary of the Lord,” in a historical context are talking about Solomon’s temple. In a textual context, they were part of the instructions King David was giving his son Solomon as well as the people of Israel. But for me, that day they were words of God to me about a small sanctuary we were going to build together on Brown Street in Waxahachie. A year later, we had the consecration service with our bishop and a new sanctuary packed with people who were the holy vessels God filled it with that Sunday morning.
When we want to hear the voice of God, most often that voice can be heard in a direct reading and understanding of Scripture. This gives the Holy Spirit an opportunity to speak to our hearts in a life-transforming way.
We don’t always need to know the textual context or the historical context to understand, “Lo, I will be with you always,” these words of Scripture that speak directly to us. It’s not a lesson, not a story, not about historical or textual context, just a promise that God will be with us. God can’t be more direct than that. The point is that it’s not the Bible we are trying to understand, it is the voice of God we are trying to hear.