Spotlight on… Steve Holmes

Please tell us about a time in your life when God spoke to you most vividly and personally through the Bible. Which passage was it and what did it mean to you at the time?

I remember a few years back, I had booked a retreat day in a local Church of Scotland retreat centre. It was something important for me – I had realised that in the business of life, with a growing family and increasing work commitments, I had gradually let my own spiritual disciplines slip down the agenda; I also had a sense that I had spent some years doing things I thought I had to do, rather than the things God might have been calling me to do. I guess, rightly or wrongly, that I was feeling a bit down, and a bit overwhelmed, that I’d taken a wrong turn somewhere and needed to get back on track. Looking back now, I was probably over-dramatising the situation; but it felt like a big issue for me then.

I began the day with the set morning prayers, and the first set reading was the second half of Joel 2. It ends with those wonderful promises that Peter quoted at Pentecost, but earlier is the promise ‘I will restore to you the years the locusts have eaten’. Those words echoed through the next days and weeks for me – a promise not just that I could start living the life that God wanted me to live again, but also that, in His grace, the time I was feeling I’d lost could also be redeemed and restored. It’s not great exegesis, but that’s what God said to me through those words at that time!

I look back now and see some of the way that promise has worked out: even where I perhaps made wrong choices about what work to take on, God used those wrong decisions to prepare me to be of use to Him and to His church today.

In recent years what has helped to keep the Bible fresh for you?

Preaching always keeps the Bible fresh for me – being forced to really wrestle with a passage and find truth and sense that I can offer to people. It hurts, but it makes the Bible live for me. I also gain a lot from reading and hearing some of the insights of my colleagues who teach Biblical Studies in the university – pointing out the meaning of this or that word, or showing how one part of the Bible takes up and uses another part, or pointing out the way Biblical writers develop big themes through their books – all of this opens my eyes to new things in the text, and convinces me again just what a wonderful, astonishing book it is. In my devotional life, though, it has been learning some of the old practices of praying the Scriptures – things like Lectio Divina, or Puritan practices of Bible meditation – that have really helped me over the past few years.

What does your regular practice of Bible reading look like?

I have the privilege of using the Bible a lot in my daily work, which I don’t underestimate. This text is always with me, and always alive. When I pray in the morning, I read the set passages from a ‘Bible in a year’ pattern that I have on my mobile phone – this is just pragmatic for me; I travel a fair amount, and I am not always very good at packing the right things. I used to use books of readings, but rather too often they weren’t with me. My phone is always in my pocket, so this pattern works. In the evenings we pray as a family; we have used various published Bible reading notes for children as part of this. At the moment, on the recommendation of an excellent children’s worker we met at a Christian conference last year, we are using a resource called ‘TableTalk’.

What would you say to a Christian who is struggling to read the Bible?

I would first of all encourage them not to feel guilty – people’s struggles, in my experience, are often because someone has told them that there is a ‘right’ way to read Scripture, and it isn’t working for them. God can speak to us through Scripture in all sorts of ways, and the right way to read for each one of us is the way that helps us to hear Him. I would also encourage them not to worry too much about getting it wrong – God’s bigger than that; he can use our mistakes as well as our successes. Then I would talk to them about what had worked for them in the past, and perhaps encourage them to go back to that, or else, if there was nothing that did not feel stale, to try something completely new. We are very stuck in a ‘read a short passage (or three short passages) every day, and do it on your own’ picture of Bible reading; there’s nothing wrong with that if it is working for someone, but it’s not a pattern laid down in Scripture! Read the whole of a short book every day for a week or a month – or the whole of a long book every week for a month. I remember the first time I read Acts at one sitting – of course, I missed lots, but the sense of the excitement and sheer energy of the big story in the book was something fantastic for me. Or read one verse, many, many times over the course of a day, so it becomes almost woven into your life that day.

Actually, there is nothing that special about reading the Bible, even. Most Christians down the ages haven’t, just because they haven’t been able to read. How about listening to Scripture in the car on the way to work, or on your iPod when you are out running? Or just playing a CD as part of your prayer time? Someone else’s voice might help you to hear God’s word more easily.

Finally, Bible study in groups is almost always exciting and vibrant – you get to be a part of the way God speaks to and guides another Christian, or even the way God brings someone to faith. There is no greater privilege, and no greater food for your own faith.

What is your prayer for the Biblefresh initiative?

There was a story in the papers a couple of decades back about an elderly woman who had died in apparent poverty in Chicago, I think. Under her bed were share certificates worth tens of millions of dollars, in a box. In her youth she had kept house for one of the Getty family, and had been given these stocks as presents. But she didn’t know what she had been given, and so lived as if she had nothing. I pray that all of us – me as well – would realise more what a treasure God has given us in the Scriptures, and just how powerful they are. And as a result, we wouldn’t leave the Bible in a box under the bed – or on a table beside the bed – but would use it to change God’s world, for God’s glory.

About Biblefresh

For 2011, Biblefresh became a movement of hundreds of churches, agencies, colleges, festivals and denominations to encourage people, particularly within the church, to stop viewing the Bible as a toxic text, and find new ways to engage with passion with the Bible.