Reading the Bible with All Your Heart
Understanding the Bible can be a challenge. We often mistake being inspired or learning something new for truly understanding God’s Word. We open up the Scriptures to find a word that stirs us, encouraging us to take on the day. Or, we read to learn more: to make sense of a doctrine or to glean principles for a better life. We fall into the trap of reading the Bible merely for inspiration or for information. Augustine (345-430), an early Church Father from North Africa, points to a better way. He contends that we have not truly understood the Bible until it reaches our hearts. Drawing on Jesus’s teaching about the first and second greatest commandments (Matt 22:34-40), Augustine encourages, “If it seems to you that you have understood the divine Scriptures, or any part of them, in such a way that by this understanding you do not build up this twin love of God and neighbor, then you have not yet understood them.” (Augustine).
Truly understanding Scripture grows our love for God and for our neighbor.
For this twin love to grow in us, we need to read the Bible with our hearts, opening the Scriptures to know God and to enjoy him. While the Bible certainly inspires us, teaches us truth, and shows us how to live, the Scriptures are, above all else, God revealing himself to us. First and foremost, then, we read the Bible to know God. We open up the Scriptures to hear from God himself, to spend time getting to know him. When we read in this way, we encounter the Father’s love for us in Christ that has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Coming to know God through his Word will transform us into people who love him and love our neighbors as ourselves.
Here are three steps we can take as open up God’s Word to read the Bible with our whole hearts:
Ask the Right Questions. What does God reveal about himself in this passage? Why is God worthy of praise for who he has shown himself to be in this passage?
Pray these truths to God. Continue from reading to prayer. Turn the truths about God into prayers of thanksgiving and praise to him. Ask the Father to work by his Spirit to conform you into the image of Christ so that you can reflect his love in the world.
Read for life. Being transformed by encountering God in his Word is a process. Our time in God’s Word is less about what happened that day than what God is doing by a lifetime spent getting to know him as he has revealed himself in his Word.
When we read with our hearts, opening the Bible to know and enjoy the Father, Son, and Spirit, we will be transformed by his grace into people marked by this twin love of God and neighbor.
Augustine, Teaching Christianity (De Doctrina Christiana), trans. Edmund Hill in The Works of Saint Augustine: A Translation for the 21st Century, ed. John E. Rotelle, I/11 (Hyde Park, NY: New City, 1996), 1.36.40, p. 129.