Spiritual Practice

It’s Personal

Kara Oliver

Thanks to some wise and faithful spiritual friends, I have discovered that no matter how clever the Bible study activity, there is a limit to how deep I can go into scripture until I admit that it’s personal. The history, poetry, and commandments are not two-dimensional, irrelevant, long-ago stories that will grudgingly reveal a moral lesson if we read the right translation, study the context, and pray fervently. No. The scripture passages we study are stories our ancestors loved and told over and over to their children and grandchildren until they were written down for us, their descendants.

devozine Bible Reading Guy TS 137299797The history and poetry reveal that the people who loved God before us had different ways of telling the story. Some were practical and valued the facts. Others were artists who told the story in verse and song. The laws and commandments were not recorded by a monotone scribe in an ancient cave simply to plague us thousands of years later. They were passionate words of guidance from faithful parents, teachers, young people, and students who had learned through trial and error how to live in harmony with God.

I am drawn to the words of scripture. I retell and ask questions of the same stories 2000, 3000, 6000 years after they were written. It’s personal, and that truth has slowly been revealed to me by saints and prophets on my own faith journey.

devozine Jail Cell2 TSP 73979720Harmon Wray read the prophets of the Old Testament as if they were letters of encouragement from dear friends. As he fought to eliminate the death penalty, he drew strength from others who had stood against injustice, cried for the persecuted, and believed that God would bring justice on the earth. He heard scripture speak to the most personal trials of his life. He dug deep into the prophets’ words for direction and hope.

Pat Barrett was a guest Sunday school teacher. She read the story of the Prodigal Son and asked the usual questions. Then she asked, “What do you imagine the father and his sons talked about at breakfast the next morning?” Suddenly, the story was personal. The characters were no longer confined to Luke 15:11–32. They were three men—living, breathing, angry, forgiven, and confused—trying to live life together. I wanted to dig a little deeper.

devozine Questioning Teen2 TS 86540850At a church retreat, Leon Franklin asked the youth to read the story of the paralyzed man who was lowered down to Jesus by his friends (Mark 2:1–5). The story concludes, “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven’” (NIV). Leon said, “That doesn’t make any sense.” And we discussed why, when the man’s friends had demonstrated faith, the paralytic’s sins, not theirs, were forgiven. Leon gave us permission to ask questions of scripture, to question even Jesus’ words and actions. When we could bring our personal intellect and reason to the scripture, we were able to explore depths we had never seen before.

Digging deeper into scripture is a revelation, a commitment, and a heart-warming belief that it’s personal.



What type of writing do you enjoy? What are your deepest passions? What circumstances are you facing? What questions do you have?

If you are a poet, imagine sitting with the author of the Song of Songs. If you’re not quite ready for a challenge, read the story of Moses. If your family argues, read about Isaac and Esau. If you wonder where God is, read about Elijah or Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions or to imagine the story before and after the verses you read. Talk about the Bible with a trusted adult or a friend who loves scripture and knows that it’s personal.

Kara Oliver can provide a creative way to dig into scripture—with magazines and glue or an ancient spiritual practice; but she’s found that digging deeper is more about perspective than tools.

—from devozine (July/August 2014). Copyright © 2014 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.

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