Wondering, Imagining, and Listening: The Hidden Bounty of Daily Bible Reading

May 15th, 2014

I will never forget it. As I read Matthew 27:1-5, the scripture that chronicles Judas’s fatal remorse over having betrayed Jesus, I suddenly found myself in an unscheduled moment of silence and meditation. I wondered about Judas and the depth of his pain. I wondered about the story turning out differently: Judas turns Jesus over, but instead of allowing himself to be overcome by guilt to the point of suicide, Judas turns himself over to God’s grace and mercy. Finally, I heard and listened to a voice in my spirit saying, “Tell them, I was sorry.” It was Judas talking, gently requesting that talk of him focus not just on his betrayal, but his being genuinely sorry afterward.

My devotional reading called me to a place of wondering. To wonder is to allow the mind to loiter and to saunter about matters that call out to us to go deeper. Given the premium placed on moving fast in today’s world, to simply walk about in body or mind may appear and feel like negligence. But how else is mystery best served, but to engage it slowly and softly, as unhurriedly as possible? Such delicate engaging of scripture by pastors and leaders cultivates a more appropriate mind-set and heart-set for receiving and imparting scripture. There is too much of what really matters most in scripture to dash our way through it in mindless and heartless haste. The depth of God’s word invites us to journey in faith and wonder, savoring as we go.

Slow wonder yields what fast certainty cannot: imagining. The Bible, when read in a wondering kind of way, lulls us beyond mere surface eavesdropping to becoming more deeply involved, without our realizing it. Once while reading about a conversation Jesus had with a woman at a well in John 4:4-26, I found myself visualizing within myself what Jesus describes in verse 14 as “a spring of water that bubbles up into eternal life.” Later, as I sometimes do in my devotional playtime, I doodled the spring of water within me, including symbols of sources of unusual vitality for me, such as musical instruments and notes, indicative of that magnificent exclamation point behind the resurrection commonly referred to as jazz.

As well as being a book of history, teachings, and poetry, the Bible is a book of dreams: God’s and Humanity’s. Sometimes the dreams converge; at other times, divine and human dreams conflict with each other. But the grace in it all is that no matter how distorted and diminishing some dreams of humankind, God keeps on dreaming. God’s deliberate, creative, and relentless imagining of new possibilities is, in part, what makes the Good Book so good! As God’s dreams are remembered through daily devotional reading, we are inspired to live divine visions with deeper confidence and joy and to risk dreaming new dreams of our own. The Dreamer-God never stops dreaming and breathing new life into creation. In this respect, devotional Bible reading for pastors, church leaders, and anyone so daring, is a way of imagining or dreaming with God and of receiving the fresh winds of God’s Spirit.

Though such winds cannot be seen, they can be felt, heard, and listened to. Once, our youngest daughter Jovonna called me from college to share an experience that was still fresh. Just moments earlier, she’d been involved in an emotionally-charged exchange with another student. She confessed that at one point, she felt ready to go at it with the other student, full-force. Anyone who knows “JoJo” understands that “full-force” means energetically and efficiently wielding a formidable double-edged sword of keen intellect and verbal prowess. Instead, for some reason that was strange to her, Jovonna sheathed her sword and chose silence. She listened with deliberate sharpened intention. In a short while, her adversary softened his tone and began sharing more personally and deeply, to the point of tears. Listening, not speaking, proved to be the formidable instrument of understanding and transformation.

Daily listening is the continuing essential prerequisite for spiritual pastoring, teaching, and preaching. In order to listen, what is needed is not just a willingness to lean into God with one’s ears, but one’s heart. It is the only way to stay in tune with what God was up to back then and, even more importantly, with what God is up to right now.

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