September - October 2016

Written by Daron Brown
From his column Pressing On

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“What does this verse mean to you?”

“How does this verse apply to your life?”

“In what ways do you think your faith is like that of Peter?”

If you visit a typical Bible study, you are bound to hear questions like these. They may be valid, but they are not the best question. And without asking the best question first, such inquiries ring hollow and responses can lead us astray.

Whether participating in Bible studies, leading small group discussions or Sunday School classes, preparing sermons, or reading devotionally, our default mindset is to move from a surface reading of the text to practical, personal instruction for our lives. However, rushing from reading to application misses critical steps that are essential to understanding the Bible. When we approach the Scriptures in this manner, we are prone to misinterpretation. What we need is to learn to ask the best question whenever we spend time in the Scriptures.

There are a multitude of good questions that should come between reading and application. Some apply to historical context. Others deal with authorship or literary composition. But the best question for any scripture verse is simply: “What was God up to?”

There is nothing more important than seeking to discern the activity of God. Stories in which God was clearly present and active lend themselves to more easily answer this question. Other texts, such as those in which God is not specifically named or seemingly uninvolved, may make it more difficult to see what He was doing. Nevertheless, God was there. He was working behind the scenes, moving, as Flannery O’Connor says, “from tree to tree” (Wise Blood).

When we skip from reading to application without doing the theological work of discerning God’s activity, our gleanings can become moralistic and self-focused. Seeking to personally apply a biblical text without asking what God was up to is like attempting to drive a car without an engine. The result easily becomes a brand of spirituality that is fueled by our own efforts rather than God’s powerful activity. Over my years of walking with the Lord, I have come to realize that whatever God was up to in a given passage is infinitely more important than what I think or feel about that passage.

Seeking to personally apply a biblical text without asking what God was up to is like attempting to drive a car without an engine.

God is not detached, nor is He passive. He is actively involved in our world. The point of the Bible is to illustrate the activity of God. In it, He was creating, calling, moving, blessing, descending, incarnating, healing, serving, saving, renewing, restoring, sanctifying, and empowering. When we begin to discern what God was up to in the settings of these passages, the Holy Spirit leads us to understand what He is up to in our present day. God is consistent, and His seamless story continues to unfold. He is still saving and renewing and healing. His activity is ongoing.

Once we establish the activity of God in the biblical story and in our present day, we find a firm foundation on which to base our faith.

As a preaching pastor, the ways in which I approach the Bible in sermon preparation and preaching teach the congregation how to approach the Bible in their own reading and studying. We are all learning the discipline of asking the best question. Once in a while I drop in on a Bible study in my church. With a glance in my direction and a half smile, someone will say, “Like Pastor Daron always asks, ‘What was God up to in this passage?” As the group discusses the activity of God, I have an idea what God is up to—He is forming us to be His people through His Word.

Daron Brown lives and pastors in Waverly, Tennessee.

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