For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
A couple of years ago, I received an unexpected package in the mail. It was unexpected because it had come from someone I hadn’t spoken to in a while. As I opened the package, it was a mason jar filled with thin strips of paper. The lid had a beautiful cross on it. As I took out the pieces of paper, I was surprised to find that each one had a Bible verse on it, and not only that, my name had been inserted into each of the Bible verses. Needless to say, I was surprised that someone had taken the time to do all of this. The accompanying letter told me that there were hundreds of verses in the jar and to take out one each day and read it, or to pull out one when I needed some encouragement. To this day, this is one of the most thoughtful gifts I have ever received.
The gesture of putting my name into each verse is actually how we should read the Bible. In a way of speaking, the Bible is God’s personal love letter to each of us. First, it is a letter, albeit a very long one. It recounts how God created us to be like Him, and how He created us out of love. It talks about how when we fell away from God, how God’s love made a plan to redeem us. And it relates how that plan came to completion in the person of Jesus Christ and how His salvific work has been built on through the church, beginning two thousand years ago on Pentecost and now continuing through today.
We know that Christ summarized all the commandments of the Old Testament into two—to love God and to love our neighbor. He told us that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for His friends (John 15:13) and that He then did just that. If we were to summarize the entire Bible in one word, it would be the word “love.”
The Bible should also be read in a personal way. What does that mean? If one hundred people were to sit in a church and write about what they see, someone will comment on the stained glass windows, someone else will comment on the size of the building, and someone else will notice a spot of the wall that needs repainting. And they’d all be correct. That’s because when we look at someone, even if it is the same something, we will all take something a little bit different away from it.
The Bible in some sense works in the same way. When we read it with an open heart and a soft soul, God will speak to us through its words. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read a passage that I have read many times and still take a new thought away from it that I hadn’t had before. If a person were to read the Bible and take notes about the things that come to his or her mind, those notes would be the best book one could ever read, because it would be the thoughts that God brings to the mind.
Back to this gift, allow me to share a few verses that I randomly selected from the jar. I will write “your name” in place of mine in the verses. See how these read when you put your own name in them, how encouraging and comforting they are.
But now thus says the Lord, He who created you, O Jacob, He who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you (insert your name); I have called you (insert your name) by name, you (insert your name) are mine. When you pass through the waters I will be with you (insert your name); and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you. Isaiah 43:1-2
Be strong and of good courage (insert your name); be not frightened, neither be dismayed; for the Lord your God is with you (insert your name) wherever you go. Joshua 1:9
Hearken to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne by me from your birth, carried from the womb; even to your old age I am He, and to gray hairs I will carry you (insert your name). I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save (insert your name). Isaiah 46:3-4
I (insert your name) can do all things in Him Who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13
Which brings me to the verse of day, Romans 15:4: For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. We know that encouragement from those around us builds us up. It can turn a bad day into a good one, or a hopeless situation into a more hopeful one. That is the kind of power encouragement has. If this works among peers, imagine how encouragement works from Scriptures. When we can personalize Scripture, it is as if we are receiving encouragement directly from God. This is yet another reason to read the Bible, to receive encouragement.
Lord, thank You for loving me more than I deserve, and more than I know how to love others and even myself. Thank You for the love letter that is the Bible that speaks to each of us in such a personal way. Help me to read its message and accept it as Your personal encouragement and guidance for my life. Guide me to use it to help encourage others in their lives. Amen.
Learn to read the Bible in a personal way. Put your name in passages. Hear God’s voice calling you through Scripture because that’s exactly what He does!