Well, I can honestly say that it was on a very long drive up to Sunderland to watch them play West Ham that I really discovered reading the Bible.
I was already a student, training for ordination, so I’d heard many Bible readings in church and I’d even led Bible studies looking at whole chapters of Scripture, but I’d never really read it in the way that you might, say, a Le Carré thriller or a Harry Potter story (or whatever else you enjoy), turning page after page and letting the story unfold.
One of my fellow students, Phil, was from the North-East, a Sunderland fan, and in a moment of madness we agreed that we would go and watch our teams play each other home and away. Hence, we found ourselves driving north when we should have been revising for a test the next day on the historical books of the Old Testament.
The solution was obvious. While one of us drove, the other would read aloud, swapping over from time to time, for five hours there and five hours back. It was meant to keep us awake, but it did much more than that. As we rattled our way through Genesis and Exodus, Numbers, Joshua and Judges and, I think, I fair bit more, we discovered that – far from being dry and heavy – these books were full of amazing stories we had either half-forgotten or had never heard in the first place about all kinds of people in all sorts of scrapes and situations – and all of them people who were part of God’s story.
I was hooked. To this day, I much prefer reading the Bible for an hour or two, really getting into it, than hearing the short passages we read in church. Those should really be the tasters that make us go back and read more. So, for example, when I was first a vicar I started a tradition of having Mark’s Gospel read aloud – all of it – in one sitting in Holy Week. I would recommend it; it really doesn’t take very long, and it’s an incredibly moving experience. We did the same with Ruth – again, a wonderful story, made all the more powerful by hearing it in one go.
There are three good reasons why this is a great thing to do.
Firstly, it helps us in our relationship with God, to love him and to know his love for us. Kriss Akabusi once likened the Bible to the letters that his wife used to send him when he was abroad on training camps, before the days of email. They were expressions of her love for him, even when they were just about what was going on at home. It was unthinkable that he’d have left them unopened in his case. The same was true, he said, of his Bible, through which God speaks to us of his love for us.
Secondly, it helps us to love people, to love our ‘neighbour’. If you think the Bible is full of plaster saints, you haven’t read much of it. All human life is there – people like you and me – rich and poor, successes and failures, men, women, black, white, old, young, people with disabilities, people who struggle – and all of them people through whom and in whom God works and who he loves and wants you to love. And so when you’re struggling to like someone, yet alone love them, you will find their equivalent in the Bible and will understand.
Finally, it helps us to encounter Christ, in whom we find our purpose, our life and our destiny. It is possible to be totally into the Bible and yet to miss out completely on knowing Jesus – like being an expert on the workings of a car but never experiencing the joy of being out on the open road, or reading cook books but never tasting real food. Imagine if Kriss Akabusi had read all his wife’s letters, knew all there was to know about her, but never actually spoke to her or spent time with her. Apart from anything else (and it is many other things), the Bible is a lifetime of love-letters to you from God. It is an introduction to Jesus Christ, who longs for us not only to know about him, but to enjoy living in a relationship with him to spend time with him, to open up our lives to him and to place our hopes in him.
You don’t have to be a football fan to read the Bible. And you don’t have to be Kriss Akabusi to know what it is to love and to be loved. But on this Bible Sunday, I pray that you might be inspired afresh as you read the great story of God and his creation and may find in those pages the knowledge and love of our Father in Heaven and of his Son, Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit at work within you.