This was originally written for LRBC on October 29 2017.
Recently I have been teaching selected psalms in my young adults group, and have found it more difficult than other series I have taught. More so than things like the NT letters or Gospels that I have done in the past. How a given psalm coheres, develops or applies doesn’t always easily emerge for me. The commentaries I look at don’t always help. It is in these times I am reminded of my need for light on scripture from the divine Author, and for good ‘teachers’ who can help me grasp the text in a way that helps me to explain and apply.
Pleading help from God for understanding a passage has been something that has helped me in the past. But it is when I have been driven to prayer that has actually been the times when I have gained the breakthroughs that have been the most helpful. The old-time pastor Charles Spurgeon likened the practice of prayerfully reflecting on and wrestling with a text to hammering at a chunk of rock containing precious gems – for a time it may not give way, but after some persistence it will suddenly crumble open and surrender its treasure to you. I have found this to be true.
Much of my best learning and understanding can be attributed to ‘teachers’ that have shown me helpful ways to think about Scripture. Sometimes these are sermons, often they are commentaries – books written to explain a section of the Bible. Not all are useful, and some are useful but not user-friendly. But the best are like seasoned adventure guides. They know their terrain well and have long experience of sharing it with others. They escort their journeyers through the Himalayas of Isaiah or the Sahara of Leviticus or the Redwood forest of Matthew. They show us the beauty we ourselves would miss and help us through the parts that are beyond our own skill to appreciate. They can help us to see the whole landscape and how the parts contribute to the whole. The best commentaries combine a rare balance of competence, clarity and clear-sighted purpose. These ones have been my best teachers.
These are some of my thoughts on my experience struggling with scripture as a teacher. I’ve shared them so that you can be encouraged to do likewise as you read and consider the Bible yourself – to persistently ask help from the Spirit who inspired them, and also find ‘teachers’ who you can be led by in order to maximise your experience of grappling with Scripture.