I have big ideas about where I want to go with things at church – and I have had those ideas for quite some time. Particularly regarding the study of the Scriptures. In order to implement these big ideas I need to continue to grow exponentially in my understanding of the Scriptures…Which means reading big chunks of Scripture at a single time…but there is a problem, when I read significant portions of Scripture I become depressed.
I know, that isn’t what pastors are supposed to say about reading Scripture…but stick with me. I know why I become depressed. I have an automatic “worldview” which clicks into place when I begin reading that hooks onto the negative and difficult aspects and fails to ponder and contemplate the positive and uplifting aspects.
If I read an entire book of Scripture in one sitting (say Hebrews), I end up depressed. Why? Because what sticks out to me is everything that is difficult for me to understand.
Now, the funny thing is, I also know how to read Scripture in a way that doesn’t cause me to become depressed – but it also requires me to slow down. I have to emphasize quality rather than quantity. In other words, I have to read smaller portions of Scripture and spend more time intentionally unpacking them – good and bad (though I usually need to spend more time unpacking the good than the bad – the bad I see automagically).
Up until this point I’ve been extremely frustrated b/c I seemed to have two choices (a) learn/teach more about Scripture and be constantly depressed or (b) read less Scripture but experience more peace. Neither of these is satisfactory to me…but I think I have found a way around (and this way is so simple, I’m not certain why I didn’t think of it before…I guess b/c sometimes I think in very all or nothing terms, I see only the extremes and not the middle course).
So what I am doing now is trying to read a smaller portion and process it deeply, then read the larger portions – and use the smaller portion as my anchor when dealing with difficulties in the larger portions.
See, I want to be able to get the big picture of Scripture, and to be able to point to its grand themes, etc. but traditionally I get hooked on the (relatively few) texts which cause my difficulty. In this case I give my permission to “not understand” those passages for the time being – as long as I am taking time to understand in detail the smaller passage I’m spending time on…and if the larger text still becomes overwhelming, I can use the smaller text to battle the larger text. This process is somewhat similar to what John Bunyan outlines in his book Grace Abounding – though in his case he was pressing like against like (e.g. one verse against another, using a verse he understood to battle a verse that depressed him).
Right now I’m working through (on the smaller side) the Gospel of John. Here are my notes from this chapter:
- “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (1:3-4, ESV)
- “He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him.” (1:7, ESV)
- “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…” (1:12, ESV)
- “For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (1:16-17, ESV)
- “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (1:29b, ESV)
- Jesus, you are portrayed as coming into the world to save the world, to rescue us from darkness. We reject you, but your purpose is to save us. You come revealing what the Father is like. What we have seen before has only been a dim reflection of who you really are, now we see you so much more clearly. I must look to you when my faith struggles, when the Scriptures confuse, frustrate, and anger me. You love me and you love all people. You love this world, there is no limitation upon your love, you desire to redeem the whole world. You are powerful and able. I do not know if you do not redeem everyone why not…but I know this, you love everyone.
I started by writing down the passages which I can use to battle the negative/depressing auto-worldview that sprouts when reading larger passages. Then I contemplated what the meaning of this passage is.
It really isn’t anything special, but for me I think it is a good step in a positive direction. I know many don’t face this same struggle with Scripture that I do. Praise God, you are blessed. 🙂
I’ve been reading a lot – that is what you do when you are on leave, isn’t it? Here is what I’ve been reading:
- Barbara Leahy Shlemon. Healing the Wounds of Divorce. [Finished] – This is a short book written by a Catholic Christian about her experience with divorce and what she has to teach others. She writes from a general standpoint that appeals to both Catholic and Protestant readers. The work is more devotional in nature, a blessing in that it helps one recognize the feelings and experiences one is having as being common to others – you aren’t alone, I’m not alone. My favorite part of the book, however, is her prayers. At the end of each chapter she has a prayer – she weaves Scripture and meditation upon Scripture into her prayers in a beautiful and powerful way and many of her prayers can be adopted for more generic situations than divorce.
- Gordon MacDonald. Organizing Your Private World. – MacDonald is a Christian leader and pastor who, imho, seems to have ADD. He writes about his struggles to become more organized and professional (and I can identify with much that he writes) and offers the ways in which he has overcome – it has been a good read thus far.
- Elisabeth Elliot. Loneliness. – The movement from we to I is extremely painful. I have to relearn what it means to be an individual who stands alone. I’m scared of being overwhelmed by people and I’m scared of overwhelming people. Elliot lost two husbands in tragic ways and offers insightful commentary on the Christian and loneliness. I’ve been moved and challenged by this book thus far.
- Russell A. Barkley. Taking Charge of Adult ADHD. – This is the best book I’ve read on AD(H)D. I’ve already read it once and am now going through and reading all my notes. I think stress and depression amplify my ADD and this past year has been very stress and depression filled. I’m seeking to grow in my abilities to manage my ADD in positive ways. I’m many times better than I was ten years ago – but I still have a long way to go. I want to become better, but in the meantime I’m also working (desiring) to surround myself with people who have strengths in the areas I am weak in.
- H.B. London Jr. & Neil B. Wiseman. They Call Me Pastor: How to Love the Ones You Lead. – This is another good book I’m reading. It consists of relatively short articles written by London and Wiseman on numerous aspects of effective pastoral ministry.
- John White. The Sword Bearer. [Finished] – This is a fiction novel by one of my “inner author” circle (I have certain authors who I am always in the process of reading whatever they have written – e.g. John White, Henri Nouwen, Stephen Brown, William Barclay…), it was a good and entertaining read with allegorical elements connecting to Scripture.
- William T. Pyle and Marice Alice Seals, ed. Experiencing Ministry Supervision. – This was written for seminary students performing ministry internships, but I’m reading it to think through ways in which I can improve the intern program at CCC. It has been a great read thus far.
- John White. Eros Redeemed: Breaking the Stranglehold of Sexual Sin. – White was a Christian psychiatrist, author, and pastor. This is the sequel to Eros Defiled (which he later regretted writing, but I thus far prefer Eros Defiled to Eros Redeemed).
- Jim Collins. Good to Great. – This is a really good book, though the challenge is for me thinking through, “This is a great way to build a company…but does it translate to the church? Would Jesus build His church this way?” In some ways I think yes, in other ways no…and teasing out the difference between the two is challenging me.
I have a bunch of other stuff I’m working through as well. I try to keep myself reading a devotional or two (right now Dangerous Grace by Colson), a book of quotations (one covering Christians throughout history currently), a book of prayers (I continuously feel like a weakling in prayer, so I love hearing how others pray), William Barclay’s biography, Christianity Today (I try to read through the interesting articles each month to keep abreast of what is happening in the Christian world – fascinating article on Ted Haggard’s church post-Haggard), and so on.
I’ve eliminated around 2/3rds of my library. This helps clear brain clutter for me, helps clear physical clutter, and helps me focus in on the books and topics I really want to grow in…and I still have hundreds of books. I’m making a concerted effort currently to finish up those books I am halfway through. I probably have around 100. I want to get myself down to a manageable number – perhaps 15-20 (including books of devotions/prayers/quotes which I read only two or three pages of each time)…and I’m trying to get rid of any books I’ve started but don’t intend to finish (which is difficult, my OCD says I should finish every book I begin).
For the past number of months I’ve been experiencing life primarily as pain with occasional bursts of sunshine – or at least a halt to the downpour of agony. For some time now (I’m not sure how long now) with the exception of Thanksgiving Break (I had a really rough time then) my life has been primarily cloudy skies, but not downpours. The sight of sun is more frequent than it has been in the past – and the downpours are spacing themselves out.
They still come. I’m not sure how to describe them. The best term – though not entirely correct or adequate – would be flashbacks. But before they would overpower me and I could think of nothing else – these days they seem to be intense but not as powerful in holding me down.
I feel optimistic about the future. For a long time I was in a tunnel and there was no light ahead – I see the light. I experience periods of darkness and expect they will continue for months to come – and perhaps for years with lesser frequency. But I feel like I am returning to living life – and for this I am thankful.