Reading the Bible Supernaturally: Seeing and Savouring the Glory of God in Scripture

Does it take a miracle to read the Bible?
God wrote a book, and its pages are full of his glory. But we cannot see his beauty on our own, with mere human eyes.
In Reading the Bible Supernaturally, John Piper aims to show us how God works through his written word when we pursue the natural act of reading the Bible, so that we experience his sight-giving power — a power that extends beyond the words on the page.
Ultimately, Piper shows us that in the seemingly ordinary act of reading the Bible, something miraculous happens: we are given eyes to behold the glory of the living God.

I’ll be honest, I was one of those who were born into Christian families, familiar with the stories of the Bible, well-versed with doctrines taught by our church, but when it comes to reading the Bible, I have never been consistent and for the majority of the time, I just read for the sake of reading. This year was the year I started praying daily for the desire to read the Bible every morning and by the grace of God, He has answered this prayer daily, too. This year was also the year I started reading books to gain wisdom and insight from Christian authors and preachers, and also to replace the time I have been using to endlessly binge watch worldly TV and film. As Charles Spurgeon had said, “The man who never reads will never be read; he who never quotes will never be quoted. He who will not use the thoughts of other men’s brains, proves that he has no brains of his own. Brethren, what is true of ministers is true of all people. You need to read. Renounce as much as you will all light literature, but study as much as possible sound theological works, especially the Puritan writers, and expositions of the Bible. We are quite persuaded that the very best way for you to be spending your leisure, is to be either reading or praying. You may get much instruction from books which afterwards you may use as a true weapon in your Lord and Master’s service. Paul cries, ‘Bring the books’ – join in the cry.”

So it is no wonder that the next book I read was John Piper’s book ‘Reading the Bible Supernaturally’. The book focuses itself on the author’s proposal on what should be the ultimate goal in reading the Bible – “that God’s infinite worth and beauty would be exalted in the everlasting, white-hot worship of the blood-bought bride of Christ from every people, language, tribe, and nation.” Almost half of the book was dedicated to defending this proposal, firstly to say that reading leads to seeing God’s supreme worth and beauty, which leads to savouring His excellence, which then leads to readers being transformed from one degree of glory to another, and being filled with joy that overflows so that every people, every nation, every tribe will worship God.

The second part of the book is about the supernatural act of reading the Bible, in that only God could open our minds to understand the Scriptures, and that is why reading for the sake of reading does not lead to the ultimate goal of reading the Bible. The Pharisees have studied and memorised every inch of the Word but they never really read and understand what the Word meant, because reading the Bible and seeing and savouring the glory of God through the Scripture can only come from divine power.

The practical application is taught in the third and last part of the book which is about the natural act of reading the Bible supernaturally. John Piper shows us that in order to receive the divine power that enables us to see and savour God’s glory through the reading of the Bible, we need to

  1. humble ourselves, admit that without Christ, we can do nothing (including understand His word),
  2. pray for God’s help, whatever form of help we need, especially to incline our hearts to His testimonies and not to selfish gain, to open our eyes that we may behold wondrous things out of His law, to unite our divided hearts to fear His name, and to satisfy us in the morning with His steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days
  3. trust in general promises of God that covers lots of situations, and in specific promises of God that is tailor-made for our situations
  4. act in obedience to God’s word, expecting God to act under and in and through our acting, so that the fruit is decisively from His acting
  5. thank God for whatever good comes and give Him all the glory.

Lastly, the appendix of the book taught a Bible study strategy called Bible arcing, which studies how Bible verses are linked to each other, because the Bible isn’t just a string of nuggets, but rather forged chains. (I am yet to fully understand how to apply this method but I get the logic and the purpose.)

Needless to say, this book has changed how I read the Bible. I found that I now spend longer time to pray, and when I read, I try to read aloud, searching my mind for what could the author be intending to communicate by his words. This book has stirred my love for the Scripture, and my desire to read actively and attentively the inspired word of God. His Word is indeed more to be desired than gold, sweet to the taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!

My favourite quotes are:

One of the greatest tragedies of the fall is that we get tired of familiar glories… which means I loathe the thought of speaking of the glory of God in a way that is so familiar or stale or cliched that it wakens no sense of wonder. Of course, I realised that only God can waken true wonder at the glory of God. The fall has left us deeply dysfunctional emotionally. We are excited by trivia and bored by grandeur. We strain out a gnat to admire and swallow a camel of glory unnoticed.

Sinning is a discounting of the value of the glory of God.

I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are, the delight is incomplete until it is expressed.

…the Bible’s words for happiness are stunningly diverse and touch on every dimension of the heart’s positive experience of life and God: ‘I looked up all references to these words in the English Standard Version: happiness, joy, enjoy, rejoice, gladness, merry, pleasure, delight, celebration, cheerful, please, pleasant, laugh, laughter, smile, jubilant, jubilee, relax, rest, feast, festival and exult. These and their related words appear more than 1,700 times. When we add the times the word blessed is used to translate words that mean “happy”, the total comes to about two thousand.”

At every turn of the page, rely on God. That is a supernatural transaction. If more people approached the Bible with a deep sense of helplessness, and hope-filled reliance on God’s merciful assistance, there would be far more seeing and savouring and transformation than there is.

Bible reading that only collects facts, or relieves a guilty conscience, or gathers doctrinal arguments, or titillates aesthetic literary tastes, or feeds historical curiosities – this kind of Bible reading Satan is perfectly happy to leave alone. He has already won the battle. But reading that hopes to see the supreme worth and beauty of God – reading that aims to be satisfied with all that God is for us in Christ, reading that seeks to “taste and see that the Lord is good – this reading Satan will oppose with all his might. And his might is supernatural. Therefore, any reading that hopes to overcome his blinding power will be a supernatural reading.

The most basic prayer we can pray about reading the Bible is that God would give us the desire to read this book. Not just the will – that would be next best – but the desire… And the first and most decisive blow we can strike against the”desire for other things” that “choke the word”, and take away our desire for God’s word, is the daily cry to God that he would “incline” our hearts to his word and “not to selfish gain”. Don’t wait until you have lost the desire before you start praying for this desire. If the desire is present, give thanks and ask him to preserve it and intensify it. If you sense that it is cooling, plead that he would kindle it. And if it is gone, and you do not feel any desire to pray, do what you can. Repent. Tell him you are sorry that your desire for his word is dead. Tell him how you feel. He knows already.

Paul does not string nuggets, he forges chains.

As soon as God’s Word becomes known through you, the devil will afflict you, will make a real doctor of you, and will teach you by his temptations to seek and to love God’s Word. For I myself… owe my papists many thanks for so beating, pressing, and frightening me through the devil’s raging that they have turned me into a fairly good theologian. – Martin Luther

Trials teach you not only to know and understand but also to experience how right, how true, how sweet, how lovely, how mighty, how comforting God’s word is: it is wisdom supreme. – Martin Luther

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