Reading a book about someone’s life can quickly become arduous, not so much due to loaded content as for the snail-paced progression. Besides a general admiration for a particular author, what is the purpose of reading about someone? How can we get the most out of these books and make them applicable to our lives? I believe that there are three themes that we should look for as we read an autobiography. Like a car that requires fuel and a road to travel on, so a person’s life requires passion as fuel for life, a skill to operate with, and an opportunity to travel on.
Any person worthy of an autobiography will have passion for something specific. For example, Mother Teresa had passion for orphans and the poor. The ability to help the helpless and those who were in need pumped blood through her veins. Martin Luther King’s passion for equality and freedom had him dreaming for the day where little black boys and girls will be able to grab hands with little white boys and girls. His boldness and resilience gushed from passion. Arguably the greatest and most brilliant mind that America gave birth to, Jonathan Edwards, had a passion for integrating the mind and heart. Billy Graham’s passion for lost souls drove him from churches to stadiums to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. Without passion, the life of a person stalls.
So as we read books about people who made great contributions to societies we must look for where their passion was. Every book that we read about someone great entails a passion. We must excavate what it was as we read. Passion is the starting point for greatness. After all, you are reading a book about this person because there is something great and worth reading, right? So, what is your passion in life? What makes you tick?
At a Bible College I once attended, I saw many aspiring, passionate musicians who thought they would be the school’s next worship leader. There was one problem, they didn’t have enough skill. Their passion was overflowing and evident, as fuel being pumped out of the gas nozzle and onto the asphalt. Skill, the operation expertise for passion, however, was absent.
Every great person had a remarkable skill in his or her arsenal. Winston Churchill was a rhetorician that had a way of captivating the ears and hearts of his audience like no other. Alexander the Great had the greatest skill in war strategy that man has ever seen. Whoever it may be, the great ones had skill. So as we read autobiographies we must look for their particular skills possessed by these individuals. Were they born with their skills or did they cultivate it through strict discipline?
Are passion and skill enough for greatness? I think not. Many possess those two but lack one more key ingredient, opportunity.
What does American Idol, The Voice, and The Apprentice TV shows have in common? No matter how bizarre and unpredictable they may get, they provide opportunity. Most contestants on these shows have passion and skill (except for Idol’s beginning episodes). What these shows do is provide a platform of opportunity for people to show the world their passion and skill. I have met plenty of people that possessed both passion and skill but were ineffective because they had no opportunity. When opportunity comes knocking at the door, there begins an inevitable path to greatness.
Whether you’re reading about Tolstoy, George Washington, or the Wright Brothers, you will inevitably see moments where opportunities came their way or how they fought for their opportunity. Nonetheless, opportunity was essential. What is very saddening is when those that possess passion and skill never have opportunity. Even worse, when they do have an opportunity but they lose it through a poor decision. Some of the most gifted and talented people are also the ones who hold up “I’m hungry, God bless” signs at highway off-ramps.
What will be your story?
As your read autobiographies, think about your own passions, skills, and the opportunities that you will need to become great. As a Christian, I believe all our passions, skills, and opportunities come from the Lord. We must not squander the things He has given us but excel in everything that we do. May every admiration and awe that we receive when reading about great people be directed towards our Creator and Maker who has breathed into us life and has given everyone skills and passions. Now I dare you to pray for opportunity to come knocking at your door!
5 Tips for Better Bible Reading
1. Context, Context, CONTEXT!
This could probably be numbers 1-5 and be the most important part of reading the Bible you could ever read. Reading scripture out of context has perhaps done the absolute most damage to believers in their walk with God than any other. One thing must always be understood. Every portion of scripture means a particular thing to a particular audience. We cannot mold some words to what we desire them to say or put our own ‘revelation’ into them. The Bible means what it is saying. Nothing more, nothing less.
Here are a few common misconceptions that are often heard. Perhaps the most common is Jeremiah 29:11. It says “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Again in context this is a promise to ALL of Israel. A collective promise. Not individual. Context also shows us that they suffered for 70 years in captivity until this was fulfilled. The damage comes when someone is suffering and we just throw this scripture at them like a copy and paste answer. Does this really help when they are truly suffering? It’s not even God’s word as He revealed. And if i hear the “pressed down, shaken together, running over” misuse in Luke 6:38 I might go insane! (Not really but close). This verse is absolutely speaking of grace not money or possessions. Read this in context. Wouldn’t this just be a weird way to read that?
Context helps deepen our faith as well. Knowing that Paul was in prison for the book of Philippians helps us to understand that his joy came despite physical circumstances. A fancy word for this is simply called “exegesis”.
2. Study Bible/Commentary
A good study Bible and commentary are an invaluable tool to study a bit more deeper in God’s word. They help us to understand whatever the context says and the history of the scripture’s writing. I am forever indebted to those scholars who have put in this work to help me understand. Because if we’re honest we have read things sometimes and just been like “Por que”? (even if we only speak English that’s how confusing it can get). Getting a good study bible will help immensely. A couple of good study Bibles/commentaries I would suggest are the ESV Study Bible, NLT Study Bible, and the Tyndale New Testament Commentaries.
Often this is a very neglected part of understanding scripture especially in our individualistic culture. I am pretty sure every bad Bible study starts with “well what it means to me…”. In a huge way what the Bible means to us is irrelevant. As previously stated in context of scripture it says what it says. However while saying that different people can understand different portions of scripture in a new way. Imagine you are in a community of people studying the Bible. You come across Luke 14:26 which says “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.” We might read such a passage and simply say well what he means is we just have to love Jesus a little bit more than our family. However what about the girl from the Middle East. Who literally gave up her family in order to serve Christ? She understands this scripture in a totally different light yet it is the same truth.
This being shared amongst people will encourage us to grow in confidence of God who reveals Himself through the scriptures. It is the same as if people were describing a cell phone and one person would describe its function whereas another would describe the cell service and still yet another person would describe the camera. All the same item just different perspectives on the same thing.
4. Delightful Discipline/Prayer
Why would I write the word delightful and discipline together? When we hear delight we typically do not think of discipline and vice versa. However think of it this way. When I grew up playing football the discipline was not always fun. Working out in the summer until we were close to throwing up (or past close) was not always delightful. However winning 20 home games in a row and getting to at least the semi-finals 3 years in a row including playing in a state championship was very delightful. It is often the same when we commit ourselves to not just here and there reading but intentionally digging into the Bible to the point that these truths begin shaping our hearts which shape intentions which then shape actions. Don’t think a casual approach to scripture will reap a harvest of deeper knowledge of God.
5. It’s All About Jesus
If we desire to understand scripture perhaps the best teacher would be Jesus himself. What would the God of the universe have to say about the scriptures? What would he say about how we should look at the Bible? In John 5:39 he says to the Pharisees “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me.” Later on post Resurrection he puts it this way when talking to some astonished disciples ” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”
One of the biggest tips of advice besides reading in context would be this. All of scripture is about Christ. We are not the hero. I have been to so many conferences hearing about how we are David, Daniel, Moses, etc…but only highlighting the heroic aspects. That however is not us. I used to feel so guilty constantly because I wasn’t achieving something “WORLD CHANGING!”.
However, I know I am typically more the cowardly part of Moses, the falling part of David, and the denial of Peter. I am freed to be okay because Christ is all of those for me. I receive grace that I am not pressured to imitate them but that Christ is the ultimate fulfillment. Christ is the better Adam who obeyed when presented with another option. Christ is the better Joshua who brings us into the ultimate land of freedom. Christ is the better Moses who leads us against the enemy. He is the better Daniel among a foreign people glorifying God. Hebrews and Romans help show the centrality of Christ in all of these things. All of scripture is a picture of us failing the Law and how by grace Christ obeyed it for us. We are dependent not super Christians who never fail. This is the central theme of scripture and important to read all in light of this.
Why We Love the Oscars So Much
My favorite part of this year’s Academy Awards ceremony wasn’t when Jennifer Lawrence tripped over the stairs after her best actress win. It was actually when Hugh Jackman, in a flash, raced to her aid. He was like lighting. After seeing his reflexes, it’s hard for me to believe that Wolverine is just a character Jackman plays on screen.
I look forward to the Oscars every year. You just never know what’s going to happen. It’s gotten to the point where I won’t look at Facebook because I tape the show and don’t want to ruin any surprises. I mean, what’s the point of watching if you already know that Daniel Day-Lewis is going to win for Lincoln?
I’ve always loved stories. As a child and teenager, my brothers and I used to put on productions for our whole family. My favorite person to play was Abraham Lincoln. It’s amazing how we could detail his whole life in a fifteen minute presentation. The last scene of the show always ended the same. I sat center stage in a rocking chair, laughing hysterically at an imagined Ford’s Theatre play. My brother would sneak up behind me like a silent film actor, pull out a toy gun, and then loudly yell “BANG!” In an impressive feat, I reacted to the shot while shooting a packet of ketchup into the crowd. It worked best if my parents brought French fries to the show. As I got older I graduated to film and began producing my own home movies.
The reason the Oscars, and subsequently movies in general, are so popular is because humans desire a good story. For me, creating and producing a story was a euphoric experience. The only problem is that a great story requires something bad to happen. Conflict must arise. All the good movies have it. Bradley Cooper is estranged from his wife in Silver Linings Playbook, Lincoln details the president’s fight against slavery, Ben Affleck has to sport a Justin Bieber haircut for Argo. Imagine what each of these films would be like without conflict?
“Argo details the incredible story of how American hostages were fed caviar by the Iranian government and then immediately set free.” Sounds like a best picture winner to me.
For any film to be successful, there must be conflict. Conflict is crucial to story. Donald Miller, in his book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, says this about conflict:
Somehow we realize that great stories are told in conflict, but we are unwilling to embrace the potential greatness of the story we are actually in. We think God is unjust, rather than a master storyteller (31).
Seeing conflict as part of a grand story doesn’t mean we think that God is the author of sin or that we even look forward to difficult circumstances. It should, however, cause us to see conflict as an opportunity for growth rather than the end of life as we know it.
James, the brother of Jesus, seems to have this same perspective about conflict.
Count it all joy my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4, ESV).
Count it all joy? Really? Joy? Are we using reverse psychology here, James?
With each conflict we face in life, whether it is occupationally, relationally, spiritually, or financially, we are given the opportunity to create a beautiful story. Heroes are born in the trenches, not sunbathing on a beach. Hostages were taken in Iran, the Thirteenth Amendment was on the verge of being squashed near the end of the Civil War, Bin Laden went in hiding. Yet in each of these tragedies, a beautiful story was created.
One day we will all die. It might not be by an assassin’s bullet like Lincoln, but it will happen. When it comes to this world, no one gets out alive. Will we leave a great story that overcame conflict or will we leave a story of defeat that ultimately garners no awards? Let conflict improve you, not destroy you. The next time a difficult circumstance comes your way, decide to tell a story that will one day make a great movie.