Spotlight on… John Stevens

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?

When I had been a Christians for a very short period of time I was going through a difficult time. A relationship with a girl I had expected to marry had ended and my family were very hostile to the fact that I was intending to enter Christian ministry. I remember God speaking to me vividly and powerfully through John 15v1-2: “I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” It was tremendously helpful to know that God had not failed me because life had not turned out as I had planned and expected, but that he was pruning me to enable me to be more fruitful in serving him. This revelation of God’s character and ways in his word has been a tremendous comfort and encouragement through the years and has helped me to trust God and his good purpose even when life has been hard.

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

I have found it especially helpful to listen to preachers who have opened the Scriptures in a fresh way and have helped me to see things that I have missed or taken for granted. I have been especially helped by Tim Keller and John Piper. Although I don’t agree with everything that they say, I have also been helped by reading Tom Wright and Ben Witherington, who have helped me to be much more appreciative of the original context and rhetorical power of the Scriptures, and have forced me to apply what God says in his word to all aspects of my life and church community.

What does your regular practice of Bible reading look like?

I spend most of my life studying and teaching the Bible, so sometimes it can be hard to just read the bible to hear what God is saying rather than as an object of study. I try to read the Bible every morning and to make sure that I am reading something totally different from what I am preaching or teaching at the moment. I find it helpful to follow a disciplined system, and in the past year I have been reading through the Bible in a year. I don’t approach this legalistically,  so it will probably take me two years! Prior to this I was using Search the Scriptures as a guide to my daily reading. I am working through this excellent resource for the second time since I became a Christian. I have also found D A Carson’s For the Love of God very helpful. I have increasingly found it important to ensure that I balance the time I spend reading the Bible with an equal amount of time praying, so I pray that God would give me insight and reveal himself to me through his word, and I respond to what he has said to me with prayers of worship, confession and asking for help to be obedient.

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

You’re not alone! I regularly have times when reading the Bible seems dry and difficult. I think the key is to persist even when it doesn’t feel easy, and to keep praying and asking God to speak by his Spirit through his word. Often in retrospect I realise that my struggle with reading the Bible was a result of some issue in my life rather than with the Bible itself. I think that for most of us routine is essential and we need to find a routine that works for us. Make sure you are able to find a time and a place where you are comfortable, and don’t make the mistake of trying to do too much. If we set ourselves the goal of reading too much each day we will find this impossible to sustain. Reading the bible is like healthy eating rather than binging and dieting.   Above all remember that your relationship with God is established by his grace, not by your “work” of reading the Bible. Don’t feel proud just because you have taken time to reads the Bible, and don’t feel despair because you haven’t managed to today. We need to want to read the Bible because we crave a deeper relationship with the living God, not just because it is a duty.

What is your prayer for the Biblefresh initiative?

The Bible is not just a history book recording what God said in the past, but is the living and active word of God. God inspired the writers of the Scriptures to speak his word by his Spirit, and God gives us his Holy Spirit so that we can hear and understand his voice in the Scriptures today. God speaking in the Scriptures reveals himself to us, makes us wise for salvation by faith in Christ Jesus, and thoroughly equips us to serve him and others. My prayer would be that the church would recapture the delight of hearing God speaking today through Bible, that church leaders would make proclaiming the living voice of God in the Scriptures the focus of their ministries and that Christians would long to declare the good news about Jesus to a lost and dying world which urgently needs to hear God’s word of warning of coming judgement and promise of salvation in Christ.

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.