My Journey with the Bible

My journey with the BibleI never heard Handel’s Messiah until I was in high school.

I had not grown up listening to either classical or religious music. (I grew up hearing “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and other such lovely little ditties). So while I was impressed with the beauty and grandeur of Handel’s oratorio, I can’t say I got much out of it. It was like drinking from the proverbial fire hydrant.

But my college performed selections from the Messiah frequently. And the church we attended the first fourteen years we were married did the same. I even got to be in the choir at church some of those years, so I learned the songs in more detail. Plus, I had become a Christian in later high school, so I could understand more of the spiritual significance and message of the piece.

When I learned that The Messiah had been composed during the Baroque era, with its “excessive ornamentation or complexity,” I understood why it was written the way it was.

As a result of hearing The Messiah over and over, becoming more familiar with it, learning more about it, and growing in the Lord, I came to love this piece of music. I anticipated each section just like I would rereading a favorite book or rewatching a favorite movie.

And then, just from growing familiarity with the music, I began to notice details. For instance, I had always thoughts of Isaiah 53:6 as somber and sad: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him   the iniquity of us all.” But the tune Handel put to this verse seemed almost jaunty to me at first. Then one day I noticed the notes on the word “astray” were going astray.

Further into that piece, on “We have turned,” the notes are turning over and over.

Isaiah 40:4 says, “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain.” In the song based on this passage, the notes on the word “crooked” go up and down—they would look crooked on the sheet music. And the melody on “straight” and “plain” is mostly straight. The notes on “exalted” go up.

The melodies illustrate the words! And I had listened to and sung this I don’t know how many times before that clicked. In fact, I just caught “exalted” going up watching this video.

In many ways, my journey with the Bible parallels my journey with this piece of music.

I had attended church occasionally growing up. I knew some basic Bible truths and narratives. But I didn’t start reading the Bible myself until high school. The church I started attending when I was sixteen strongly encouraged its people to read the Bible through in a year. So I did.

And it was like trying to drink from a fire hydrant.

But I am so thankful for that emphasis at the outset of my Christian life. That grounded me more than anything else and set me off with good habits.

I didn’t understand everything I read. Similarly, in church, I couldn’t have told you the main points of the sermon afterward. But I got enough to chew on and to nourish me. The Bible speaks of those young in the faith as taking in milk from the Word. So I took in and digested what I could, and my life was changed.

When I got to something I didn’t understand, I’d just keep going.For instance, Psalm 60:4-5 says:

Thou hast given a banner to them that fear thee, that it may be displayed because of the truth. Selah. That thy beloved may be delivered; save with thy right hand, and hear me.

And I would think, “Wow, that’s good!” Then the next few verses listed a bunch of names I didn’t know. And then I came to verse 8: “Moab is my washpot; over Edom will I cast out my shoe: Philistia, triumph thou because of me.”

And I thought, “Huh?”

And then I’d keep going to verses 11 and 12: “Give us help from trouble: for vain is the help of man. Through God we shall do valiantly: for he it is that shall tread down our enemies.” And I’d think, “Wow, so good!”

I don’t know if that’s the best way for a new Christian to go about Bible reading. But no one had told me what to do about the parts I didn’t understand. I had never heard of study Bibles in those days. Still, the Lord met me in those times with His Word.

And as I kept reading in the 40+ years since (though not through the whole Bible in a year any more), I understood more and more. I saw how individual verses and books fit within the whole. I know what Moab and Edom and Philistia are now. There are parts that are as familiar as any favorite, much-read book. There are parts holding dear memories of God giving me just the right words in an hour of need. I anticipate what’s coming next in a passage. But I am still learning new things even from old, familiar stories and chapters.

So, why am I telling you this today?

I want to encourage you to get into a habit of reading your Bible, if you’re not already doing so.

And I want to encourage you to read all of it. Maybe not in a year. There are two-year plans and five-year plans and almost any kind of plan you could think of. But if we just keep turning to our old favorite passages, we’ll miss so much.

And if you’re discouraged because there is so much you don’t understand, I want to encourage you to keep reading. You’ll “get” more and more of it the more you read it. Someone has said that the Bible is shallow enough for a child to wade in, but deep enough for an elephant to swim in. God can speak to you and minister to you even if you don’t understand every little thing in the passage. In fact, we’ll never exhaust the Bible in this lifetime.

The Bible says to “long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation” (1 Peter 2:2-3), and then to go on to solid food (1 Corinthians 3:1-2) as we “ mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil (Hebrew 5:11-13).

But even more than spiritual food, the Bible provides spiritual fellowship. We don’t read the Bible as an end in itself, but to get to know God better. The Bible is the primary way God speaks to us. From the time God’s words were first written all the way through until the end of time, God expected His people to read and follow it.

God’s thoughts are precious to us. The Bible bears witness about Christ, increases our faith, guides us, teaches, improves, corrects, trains us in righteousness, equips us, builds us up, gives us hope and comfort, helps us avoid sin, makes us stable and fruitful, gives us life, understanding, joy, hope, wisdom and discretion.

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire (2 Peter 1:3-4).

What a treasure trove we have in the Bible! May we partake of it every day.

Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts (Jeremiah 15:16).

Taking in and rejoicing in God's WordSee also:

Finding Time to Read the Bible

Ways to Both Read and Study the Bible

Real Life Devotions

Studying the Parts to Understand the Whole

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Hearth and Home, Global Blogging, Senior Salon,
Tell His Story, Purposeful Faith, InstaEncouragement, Recharge Wednesday,
Share a Link Wednesday, Let’s Have Coffee, Faith on Fire, Grace and Truth,
Blogger Voices Network. Links do not imply 100% agreement.)

23 thoughts on “My Journey with the Bible

  1. The Messiah has been absolutely instrumental in my love for the story of redemption. My kids have grown up with it, and I am truly grateful for it’s part in their development.
    The soundtrack of my youth was like yours. 😁

  2. Barbara,
    How interesting that the notes and melody correspond so closely to the scripture they illuminate. I am on my third reading of the Bible. The first time it was like standing in front of the proverbial firehose. As I’ve grown and matured as a Christian there is so much to take in and being that it’s God’s living word, it’s speaks to me anew each time. I am the elephant swimming in the deep and I need it especially in these turbulent times.
    Bev xx

  3. Thanks Barbara. so enlightening. I grew up with classical as well as religious music and never knew this about the Messiah. It is truly a “god-given” treasure. I sent the last part of your narrative to my adult children. Such a great description of why we should always read the Bible. Thank you and God bless! I do enjoy your blog.

  4. You know I love this post! At college I earned my tuition playing for voice lessons of kids in the music school. Those arias from The Messiah were part of their core curriculum, I guess, because I played them so many times! And I don’t know that I ever thought about it, but you described so well the way Handel did tie the music to the scriptures (I was humming along to the ones you listed, and also thought of how the notes definitely fit the one about ” … and I will shake …” I forget the rest!). Good encouragement too on Bible reading. I usually read it through every other year, but that gets “hard core” pretty fast and for 2021, I need to find a plan to that will work better for me.

    • That part about “shaking” is another place I hadn’t thought of the music illustrating the words, but it does. I can’t imagine trying to sing some of those arias as a soloist. Just being in the choir, I depended a lot on the voices around me.

      Our church has a Bible reading plan of five chapters a week (one a day, one day for catch-up). At first I was trying to do that plus my own plan, but it was too much–especially when reading Bible study notes and commentary, too. So I am just doing the church plan, and it’s been nice to slow down and dig deeper rather than doing more of a survey type of reading.

  5. Thank you for sharing your spiritual journey. I had not heard The Messiah until my adult years and only when Chuck Swindoll shared about it on his radio program 🙂 Like you, I am most grateful for the complete counsel of God’s Word, as it is always fresh and alive, bringing a fresh word in every season of life. And we surely need to be taking in a portion each and every day. Blessings!

  6. The idea of reading the whole Bible through in a year or two years or three years or five years never appealed to me and it still doesn’t. Instead, I read my Bible daily. Sometimes with a devotional. Other times not. Most times when I read it, I have a highlighter, pen, and journal in hand to take notes for better understanding. Also, I’m quick to look up verses and stories I don’t fully understand.

    • We’re fortunate to have study Bibles and tools and apps and the Internet to look up what we don’t understand. None of those were available 40+ years ago when I first started reading my Bible. I agree on the importance of reading something from the Bible every day. And since all of it is inspired by God, I like to read all of what He has to say through it. I get a lot more out of some passages than others. That’s one reason I stopped reading through it in a year–the epistles are so packed, it’s easy to zip through them quickly but without gaining much. So I slow down there. But I might speed through the temple furnishings and “begats.” Some of the OT narratives are too exciting to stop in the middle. So I just go at my own pace.

  7. I appreciate your encouragement for all to read the Bible. I’m sure it can be very intimidating to those who know very little about it, but there are so many good resources out there to help get the lay of the land and to make it easier to follow. I’m grateful for the foundation of the Bible that I had growing up; I know that most people don’t get that. (Granted, I also had to unlearn some of what I learned!)

    I know very little about Handel’s Messiah other than the common pieces of it we hear so you’ve piqued my interest to learn more about it.

  8. Barbara, I love when you say, “Similarly, in church, I couldn’t have told you the main points of the sermon afterward. But I got enough to chew on and to nourish me.” Often I have sat in a service and felt so badly for not knowing the main points or remembering something specific. But I always walk away with “enough to chew on and to nourish me.” And that is what is important to me. Thank you for sharing!

  9. I love Handel’s Messiah and also learned some parts of it while singing in a choir. I grew up in a church that did not promote reading the bible at home. It wasn’t until I reached my forties that I began to read the bible and I felt like a whole new world had been opened up to me. Thank you for your words today.

  10. Barbara, I love how you have paralleled your journey reading the Bible with Handel’s Messiah. I found this post so interesting and encouraging. I definitely find that I get more and more out the Bible the more I read it, and I am fascinated by how my perception and understanding has changed and improved over the years as I grow older. Thank you for being a part of the Hearth and Soul Link Party Community. Take care.

  11. I love the way you unfolded this comparison between The Bible, The Messiah and church. Shared on my church Facebook page. I appreciated Yvonne’s comment, because I am not a huge fan of reading the Bible Straight through, it can be easy to get lost, discouraged or otherwise give up. But it works wonderfully for some people and isn’t that part of the gift? Blessings, Michele #SENISAL

  12. I can identify with your method of delighting in those verses that you could understand and letting others go, that was my approach for years – until I discovered study guides and commentaries! So thankful now for the Study Bibles, all those extra explanatory notes, we are so blessed with resources.

  13. I think it is only human that some passages of the Bible resonate with us more than others. The beauty of music in inspirational. Thanks for linking up with #globalblogging

  14. Barbara, one of my favorite memories from high school choir was singing the Hallelujah Chorus from “The Messiah” every year at our Christmas concert. The audience would stand and those who had sung it before were invited to sing it with us. Such fun! I love your observations about how the music from The Messiah matches the words, and also how you relate this to reading scripture. I have a two-year plan that I like, although it usually takes me about three years!

  15. Pingback: End-of-July Reflections | Stray Thoughts

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