When I’ve given someone their very own Bible, I’m typically met with much excitement. I have them write their name in it, date it. It’s a special thing for sure. Most cannot wait to dig in and start to read it. And that is also the first question I get: where should I start?
It is a good question for sure but I’ve come to understand that there are a few more questions that should come before that question. I can point students to the gospel of John or Genesis and just let them dive in. I can even meet with them every week and answer all their questions. But what inevitably happens is over time they start to misunderstand texts, and they start jumping around from one text back to one of their old favorites. Student ministry over the years has done a poor job of teaching our students HOW to read the bible. Because we have not done well, students are forming bad habits when it comes to reading the bible. I want to address two big habits that students develop, which result in them misunderstanding how to read the bible, and then we’ll talk about setting the right expectations and practices.
Bad Habit #1: Emotional Reading.
Students are looking for passages of scripture that changed their life. They go to passages they have heard preached or from when they were saved because it’s familiar. They go to passages of scripture like the crucifixion and get emotional because they are reminded that Christ died for them. They run to Genesis 1 and read it under the stairs and gaze up into the heavens thinking about how wonderful, powerful, and wondrous our God is. But what they are really doing is reading scripture looking to “feel something”. If they have an emotional response, then it was a good time in the word. If they cried or were stirred up with feelings, it was a valuable time. Their assumption is that feelings equal productivity.
The problem is that our emotions and feelings change all the time. The result? Our students are thinking that God’s word is coming up empty and void because they “didn’t get anything from it”. That continues into doubts about God’s word and his presence in their lives. It is a dark bad rabbit hole to fall into. If you consider this way of thinking as something of a dark hole, it reveals a deeper and more scary problem. When students are feeling depressed or anxious and they rightly run to scripture. But because they get no happy feelings from it, they stop going to the word. They never receive their live-giving fruit because they are expecting the wrong things.
The ultimate issue here is that this generation of Christians (parents, caretakers, leaders, and pastors) must ensure that the next generation learns to process their emotions and Scripture in context. Otherwise, they will end up tossed to and fro by the waves of misunderstanding by both (Ephesians 4:14; James 1:6).
Bad Habit #2: Tweetable Texts
Our culture loves information that is given to them in 180 characters or less. If we can tweet it or fit in into a cool graphic for Instagram (IG), then it qualifies as a “great scripture.” When we ask students what they have been reading this problem comes up a lot. “I’ve been enjoying John 3:16” or “I’ve been encouraged by Psalms 23”. Students with this bad habit only flip to familiar passages, ones that make them happy or that they feel fix their immediate problems. Two big issues with this habit.
First, they are again making themselves susceptible to taking scripture out of context. Misunderstanding breeds misapplication. We see it most times when people post “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” Philippians 4:13 or “Where two or more are gathered…” Matthew 18:20. Students read random verses and without knowing context, audience, or authorship, apply it to something in their lives. This is one major way bad theology is formed in our lives.
The second big issue is that students are taking scripture and using it as a bandaid. This is coupled with the “no context” issues, but follow me on this. If they are going through a tough season in life, they read Jeremiah 29:11. It reads, “For I know that plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Now the student is thinking that God’s plan for them is to prosper, succeed, triumph over this. They think God will lift me up and I will be “known”. In context this is a promise to a specific, historical people group:
ancient Israel. This promise is one of spiritual freedom and salvation for them. It’s a promise that God has not forgotten his people. We cannot apply a time-bound (specific to the past) truth to today. The Scripture is filled with these, and our students must be able to discern the difference.
I’d like to provide some help for you to talk with your teens. I hope these are helpful.
A question for your teen:
What do you expect from scripture?
Teenagers might expect emotional interactions with the bible every time they read it. They might expect the bible to be their espresso shot of spiritual energy that will keep them good for the day. Ask them what they expect from God when they read the bible. Be ready to share your answer to that question too.
Things To Expect
Expect to know God and His will.
Scripture is God’s words for us to read, know, and enjoy (2 Tim 3:16). Everything within this book is everything God wanted us to know. Is God loving? Look in his word. Does God care? Read his words. Can God do this? Read and see.
Expect to know God’s expectations
Have you ever played a game and the leader does not explain all the rules? It’s so frustrating because multiple times they are pausing the game to give more rules and instructions. GOD DOES NOT DO THAT. We have all of his expectations. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17.
A question for your teen:
In what way has God’s word led you to repentance?
Expect to be comforted.
The promises of God are so foundational to our lives. Knowing and enjoying the promises of God will help our students have the assurance of their salvation and know God will never throw them out. Teenagers need to know this! Ephesians 1:13-14
“In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.”
A question for your teen:
What scripture has brought you comfort recently?
The Verge team is always praying for the families at Bethel. We know that raising students is not a simple job or task but it is a God-given one. We pray that the Spirit is leading your conversations with them and that this week you will see fruit in their understanding of God’s word.