Dr. John E. Johnson

Dr. John E. Johnson

When Words Feel Empty

Late yesterday I was crammed (shoved) into a budget airliner headed from Amsterdam to Beirut. My travel agent had not warned me in advance. Four and one-half hours squeezed between two Dutch travelers on a no-frills flight (even water was for purchase). Thankfully the flight came with free seat belts. An hour out the pilot gave the standard, “Sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight.” More appropriate would have been, “Sit still, hold your bladder, and endure the flight.”

It did not help that I had just flown eleven hours and waited seven more in an airport.

Given I cannot sleep on a plane, I prepared for the worst—a flight that would feel longer than a line at passport control. I attempted to read something from God’s Word, but I was too spent, too comatose, my eyes too glazed over to gain any insight. I broke all the rules. I read with distancing eyes absent a listening ear. I was reading for personal reasons—hoping for some spiritual charge to keep me going.

This is something I have done far too often as of late—reading for my purposes, and not for God’s. It’s a bad devotional habit to get into. In the process, I was performing a huge disservice to God.

I needed an awakening of sort. A splash of cold water aimed to rouse my soul. In the seat pocket was a book I had thrown in last-minute entitled Pastoral Work. I began reading the chapter “Wanderers Between Two Worlds” by Mark Ralls. Paragraph by paragraph, I was drawn in. God began to both stir and agitate. Sometimes God has to do this: bring us into dry dock and scrape off the bad habits we get ourselves into.

How should we read the Bible? What are the appropriate rules? Ralls, who reflects on the impact of Eugene Peterson on his life, notes that it begins with accepting the strangeness of a world that does not fit our preconceptions. We acknowledge its staggering largeness. If God’s word seems something we can get our arms around, we need to reread. Finally–and this is critical– we allow God to both read us, disarm, dismantle, and finally form us.

Simply put, read—
-not as a means—but as an end
-not to grasp—but to be grasped
-not because we choose—but because we must
-not to add to who I am—but to be broken and put back together
-not for information—bur transformation
-not acquisitively—but receptively
-not for my purposes—but for his
-not to live up to—but to live in to
-not to chart—but to explore—the infinitely broad horizons of the purposes of God.


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