What we’re after is a life well-lived. Not just well-thought. Not just well-talked about. Not just well-reflected on. Not just well-prayed. These are all good things and a full life includes them. But a life well-lived requires action, motion.
When Peter had finished preaching his Pentecost sermon in Acts 2, the people listening responded with a request. “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’” (Acts 2:37). They wanted to know what to do.
The thing about this action is that it isn’t initiating action. It’s a response. God gets the first word — and the first deed — and we respond with a life of prayed action.
Because of Martin Luther’s emphasis on justification by faith apart from works, many Christians have an anti-works, anti-action attitude. But that’s ridiculous. God didn’t create us to be observers only. Nor did he create us to simply pray. From the very beginning, humans have been given work to do. Yes, the major work is done by God himself. We are not creators, we are sub-creators, working with the stuff of God’s creation. (Interestingly, the Hebrew word bara’ or “create” is only ever used of God in the Bible.) Similarly, we are not saviors. Jesus alone is Savior.
But we get in on the work that God himself is doing. We get in on it by design and invitation. God wants us to participate in what he’s doing.
When I was remodeling our kitchen, we bought all of our cabinets from Ikea. There was a lot of the work that I did myself. But there were lots of easier parts that I had my 5th grade son do. So, while I installed cabinets, Emett assembled them. It was a great father-son project.
I see a similarity in the story in Genesis 2, where God has the man give names to all the animals. In my imagination, I see God stepping back and bit and watching the naming process and smiling with each one. “Aardvark. Nicely done.”
Just as I took pleasure in remodeling the kitchen with my son, God takes pleasure in having us join him in the work he’s doing in the world. He knows what we can handle and gets us in on it.
So, the final aspect of Bible reading has to do with how we live.
What we want here isn’t just a check-the-box approach where we can do one thing and we’re done. We want a whole life, brought together and shaped by Scripture. This doesn’t mean that we avoid actions that can be put on a list and checked off when completed. In fact, there are plenty of those that arise from our Bible reading. But they’re not the goal. We want all of life to be included here, not fragmented moments of life.
And since this more active part of Bible reading comes out of the previous three parts, I’ll pick up on the example we’ve been looking at in the last two posts: God’s promise to never leave us or forsake us.
How can we live into a promise that God has made to us? Isn’t this one-way material, all of the action on God’s side of the relationship?
Yes, it is. That’s what makes this a good example, since most of what we read in the Bible is God’s action, not ours. This is God’s Story we’re getting into after all, so we expect him to be the main actor in it. But, again, that doesn’t mean we don’t get in on the action ourselves.
It doesn’t take much reflection and prayer on this never-leaving, never-forsaking promise of God to have a sense of how we’ve been left and forsaken by others in our lives and how we’ve done it toward others as well. It also doesn’t take much for us to remember all of the times that God has used other people in our lives to be the never-leaving, never-forsaking Presence of God to us. So, from that, we begin to see how we might be that for others.
From there, we start by looking close to home. How do I live a life that isn’t one of leaving/forsaking my family? My friends? My church community? My neighbors? My co-workers? This may come into focus when we’re thinking about switching jobs or churches. Or when we’re thinking about moving to a new neighborhood. Or when work requires longer hours and more trips away from home. Or when marriage is rough and divorce starts to be a consideration. There are times when each of these might be a necessity, but listening to this passage with our lives must inform the way we live.
All of this has to come back home to ourselves. We must never read the Bible as if it’s for other people and not for me. All of this is livable. And all of it is for me.
But we don’t stop there. We keep listening and praying and considering how we might be God’s never-leaving, never-forsaking Presence. And so we start noticing those who are left and forsaken by the world and we consider what it might look like for us to step in as God’s Presence, both individually and as part of the Christian community.
There is always both an individual and a community application. So, along with considering how a particular passage calls me to obedient action, I try to consider how it calls my Christian community to obedient action as well.
Again, returning to our never-leaving, never-forsaking passage, a community response might include reaching out to the mother of two who mentioned five times in a conversation with my wife that she’s a single parent. Reaching out might include an invitation to dinner, to a party, to a multi-family camping trip, to joining our church community as we serve meals at a transitional housing ministry.
Ultimately, our Bible-reading must lead us to obedience and mission or else we haven’t listened. Again, this isn’t us taking control or any form of works-righteousness. This is all response to the God who has acted on our behalf and is right now speaking to us.
What this call to action looks like is where prayer and Scripture and community and imagination all come together. This is where obedience to the God who speaks is worked out over a lifetime and not just on a checklist.