“Fill the center of your mind so as to have your plot of land moistened and watered by fountains from the family estate. Accordingly, he who reads [the Scriptures] much and also understands is filled; he who has been filled [like a cloud] sheds water upon others.” –Ambrose of Milan to Constantius
Reading the Bible is important. Completing it is even more so. Reading it regularly over the course of a lifetime is better than the first two scenarios.
Image © Daniel Hanna 2017
In the early church, there were many people who read the Bible regularly. Among the more memorable examples, Aphrahat the Persian is reputed to have the read the Bible over 1,000 times in the course of his life. John Chrysostom read and completed the epistles of Paul once a week. Even as recently as the early 20th Century, Abraam of Fayoum completed the entire Bible during the Great Lent every year. These three men are saints. They are saints not simply by virtue of their reading the Bible often; they are saints because of the transformation and renewing that the Bible had in their lives and because of how that transformation radiated to those around them and changed those people as well. Even now, these people still teach us how to live, and this way of life comes through the teachings of the Scriptures.
When we look into the lives of those who read the Scriptures regularly such as the above three, we see that reading the Bible transformed these people immensely, and it can transform us as well. Three ways the Bible transforms us is:
1. Reflection: How we view our lives and work
One time I was at a church convention, and I was talking to a person I met there who does not read the Bible. During our discussion, I mentioned and explained the verse, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). I explained how we do not seek our goals and then pray about them, but we pray first and let God guide our path. This is one way of viewing our lives differently than those who do not access the Scriptures. To be honest, I have never seen such interest in and receptivity to the Bible like I saw in this person. He had never heard or understood the verse before. At that point he began to experience the transformation and renewing that the Scriptures bring. He began to view his life and work much differently than how he had been viewing it his whole life.
The above verse alone has changed people’s lives. I read a story once about a man who lived in Abu-Dhabi in the 1980s, who was a Christian in name only. His wife, however, was a faithful, practicing Christian. He was successful, arrogant, and a smoker. He never read the Bible. Eventually, he began reading spiritual books that his wife gave him, and he came to the above verse. As he prayed and became serious about his faith, he eventually found his character and habits changing; he became humble and dropped the smoking.
Then, he lost his job, and for 3 years he was unemployed, but this did not bother him. Anybody else would have been in despair and frustration. He rather saw it as an opportunity to grow in his faith through prayer and reading. His reaction was due to the way prayer and the Scriptures had changed him. In 1990, he received two job offers. One of which was in Kuwait, and it paid much more money than the other job, the equivalent of which would be $14,000 more today. He did not look at the money but prayed about the two offers seeking “first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.” After praying, he found himself not able to accept the job in Kuwait, so he took the other offer. That year, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait happened, and the company he was to work for lost everything. Not only had his view of the world changed, but by praying and reading the Scriptures and becoming close to God, God guided the man on the way that saved him and his family from ruin.
2. Reaction: How we deal with events and with others
There are so many things in the world that are out of our control. Actually, when you think about it, almost everything is out of our control except for one sure thing, which is our reaction to the circumstances around us. By reading the Scriptures, we learn how to pray, deal with others, react to the world, and live a life of goodness. We meet our Teacher, our Lord Jesus Christ, in the Scriptures and we see how He lived and how He teaches us to live.
Saints are not people who live in good circumstances; they are people who live well despite their challenging circumstances. They are the ones who have learned to keep the teachings of the Bible and allowed these teachings to transform them.
Regularly reading the Scriptures throughout the course of our lives changes the way we think, view the world, and work. We have often seen people get frustrated, discouraged, and full of wrath over their work, over their interactions with others, and even with their families. The Scriptures give us examples of people who went through the same struggles, but they reflected on them through prayer and no longer reacted in the usual way to these events and interactions but were calm and hopeful because of their trust in God.
Moses the Prophet practiced reflection. The entire book of Deuteronomy is his reflection on his entire journey with Israel. King David reflected throughout the Books of Samuel and the Psalms, and the Psalms have taught generations how to pray and approach God. Paul the Apostle reflected on his life and work as is evident in Acts 20:17-38 and the whole of 2 Timothy.
Most of all, our Lord Jesus Christ reflected. It is especially clear in the Gospel of John chapters 14-17.
By reflecting, all these understood their lives and work differently. They looked for God’s work and plan in their lives, and they understood it looking back, and it helped them look forward because they saw God’s work, and seeing that, they had the trust, the faith, to move forward. They were calm, focused, and their faith in God was strong. Their reactions were much different than what is natural, which would be hopelessness, anger, and frustration.
I have seen that those who read the Bible as a habit become more patient, careful in their words, gentler in the way they deal with others, harder working, and more honest than they were without the Bible. Their characters change for the better.
3. Radiation: How we affect others
These above saints that are mentioned in the Bible were not only transformed, but they became the channels of God’s grace to transform others. They became like clouds that bring rain on barren lands, and those lands become full of flowers and life afterward. Moses led an entire nation to follow God. That nation produced King David. King David taught countless generations how to pray and approach God, and his Psalms are still prayed every day by millions of believers. They help people glorify God, thank God, approach God in order to repent, and cry out to God when they have difficulty in their lives. Paul was sent to bring faith to people across Asia Minor and Europe, and he succeeded in this work. Until today, his life and epistles instruct us in the faith and deepen our relationship with God.
Our Lord Jesus Christ changed the world. He brought the people out of misery into hope, out of bitterness into joy, and out of darkness into light. That is what we will find when our minds are soaked in the Scriptures. We will become like our Lord Jesus Christ, like Moses, like David, and like Paul, and not only that, but if our minds are soaked in the Scriptures, they will be, in the words of Ambrose of Milan, a cloud that “sheds water upon others,” and through us, others will be transformed as we are transformed.
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