Avoid the “Calendar” Approach to your Bible

Dear friends,

Imagine you have a lodger whose rent is six weeks overdue. You write a letter that includes this sentence:

“I cannot cancel the rent you owe but I can give you another month to pay it later”.

How would you feel if the lodger circled the five words “Cancel the rent you owe” and sent you a text to say ‘Thanks!’?

This is similar to reading the Bible picking out the phrases we like. And it’s so easy to do. I wake up feeling flat and weary – everything seems bleak and depressing – but in my psalm of the day I see “cast your cares on the Lord” (Psalm 55:22) and I think ‘that will do me!’ – missing the message of the psalm.

In his excellent book “Teaching Psalms”, Christopher Ash calls this “the calendar verse approach” where we pick out the heart-warming texts that would look good on a calendar photo. But we all know that such texts are often like marshmallows – sweet but lacking substance.

As we begin two new brief series – in the morning on the psalms and in the evening on the second coming – here are some fresh and weighty lessons from Christopher Ash on reading the psalms.

1   We should pray the psalms.
   
We aren’t good at praying and this ‘songbook’ gives us rich things to say – especially straightening out our views of God and self. (We as a church should track down the ‘metrical psalm hymnbook’ so we can sing them).

2   We can’t pray the psalms.
Because they sometimes say things beyond our experience – for example “I cut down the nations” (Ps 118:10) or “I have planned no evil” (Ps 17:3). And what about “I will praise the LORD all my life” (Ps 146:2) – is that really true?

3  See the psalms as “the songs supremely of Jesus”.
Jesus is the great singer of the psalms – “it is his voice we hear praying, lamenting, teaching and praising” (p. 30). So not only do the psalms spring from David’s experiences, but they find their depth and fulfilment in Jesus.

Even where there is confession for sin (as in Psalm 51) we know that Jesus had our sin laid on Him and therefore Jesus could express true sorrow for sin as our substitute and saviour.

4   We are the choir.
If Jesus takes the lead in singing the psalms we who belong to Him become the “choir” – not just listening to the songs but singing them too (p. 58).

    
“We must take the psalms away from anyone who thinks they can sing them as an individualistic ‘me and God’ thing, as if they are valid outside of Christ. We cannot do this with integrity. There is too much that simply does not fit… (but after we have insistend on that painful prohibition) the good news is that in Christ we may indeed take back the psalms” (p. 59)

As one single example in Psalm 63:1 David says “my whole being longs for you”. It’s no good reading this and then just bragging that we do too or lamenting that we don’t. We know that in some measure David longed for God, but that in perfect measure Jesus longed for God – and I who belong to Him enter into His ‘success’ because He is my Saviour.

Don’t let this sound too complicated or daunting! It just means that we must read the psalms (because they are wonderful) and be mindful of David’s situation, Jesus the true expression of the text and all the benefits that come to us as we belong to Him.

Yours in fellowship,
Simon Manchester