It’s not enough to read your Bible – you have to pay attention

The first time I listened to a music CD was in late 1986, at my friend Tim’s house. I’d been out of the country for some years, so I was probably the last of my circle of friends to actually hear one. Tim had a monster sound system, and he put on “In the Digital Mood” by the Glenn Miller band.

He had me at “Chattanooga Choo-Choo.”

So I bought a CD component for our stereo, and picked up a few discs, but got a harsh surprise. When I put one on for the first time, I heard all the pops, hisses and scratches that my old LPs had. What a rip-off!

I went over and turned the music up louder, and listened very closely. The noises disappeared, and I heard only the pure digital sound. Huh. I turned away, got involved looking at the paper, and it happened again – my CD sounded scratchy. Again, I listened closely, and the noises disappeared.

It took a few minutes to figure it out: my mind had tricked me.

I was so used to listening to records, that when I turned on my stereo, the brain knew what a recording should sound like. And so it fed me the music that I expected to hear, not the music that was playing. In a day or two, the residual effect wore off, and whether I paid close attention or not, it started to sound like a CD.

How often do we see or hear what we expect, instead of what’s right in front of us?

Reading your Bible is not enough. You must read with great care, making sure that you see precisely what is there or not there. It is natural that when you study the Bible, your mind is rigged to jump ahead – “I know what this says already” – and skips lightly over the text. Or it says, “Ah, I already know what this means, think no further!” You once heard someone say what it meant or you have a neat theological pigeon-hole for its message.

The Holy Spirit wishes to steer us, and we must consciously ask for his guidance every time we open the Book or meditate on it. This is pure grace; nevertheless, we shouldn’t give the Spirit more responsibility than is his due – why demand that he give the white flash of illumination to dull students of his Word?

The next time you see a difficult verse (turn the other check; give away your coat; give up everything to follow Jesus), take your time. Ask for help. Forbid your first impressions from becoming the Truth.

Additional note: a percentage of textual errors in the ancient Bible manuscripts are due to scribes hearing or seeing the text of, say, the gospel of Mark, but perceiving that it said something different. That’s why Mark includes wording or snippets of phrases that are found in Matthew or Luke in the better manuscripts, but which crept into Mark by accident. The scribes copied down what they “knew” they had seen or heard, not what was actually there.

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