How Studying the Bible Restores the Soul

A Testimony: Morning and Evening

Psalm 19:7 says that God’s word restores our soul, which means our lives. I have found this to be true, and I hope you will also. Let me share what I have learned.

When I was called to preach, I was just beginning junior high school. My parents and siblings were supportive then and remain supportive now. At that time, my parents bought me two new Bibles: one a King James Version and the other a modern language version. Dad gave me stellar advice. He said, “If you are going to be a preacher you must preach from the Bible. So, you should read it every day.” I set out to read the Bible every day, and I have done so most days for over fifty years.

For many years, I read and prayed the hour before I went to sleep. That practice allowed me to read the day through a biblical lens. It helped me pray about what had happened. It set my heart at ease and prepared me for the next day.

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Though I do not recall exactly, I think I switched to the morning when my teenage daughter needed more of my time late at night. For twenty years or so now, I have begun the day with Bible reading and prayer. Influenced as I am by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I read before I eat, seeking God’s bread of life before I enjoy God’s blessing of food. To be clear, I drink coffee as I read, since I want to hear from God, not the devil. My wife reverses that order, finding it hard to focus on God on an empty stomach. Either way is fine. We read the Bible and pray in order to put the day in God’s hands.

Reading at night reminded me that all the past events of my life belonged to God. Reading in the morning reminds me that I am totally dependent on God for what happens next. Whether I read at the end of the day or at the beginning, my soul, my life, comes from God.

A Text: Psalm 19:1–14

How is this so? How does the Bible restore our lives daily? I find no better explanation of what I have learned than the words of Psalm 19. The Bible gives life by reminding us of creation’s testimony to the Creator (Ps. 19:1–6). It gives life by stirring our thoughts and guiding our actions (Ps. 19:7–12). It gives life by teaching us to pray about what we have read (Ps. 19:12–14). The Bible gives life by inspiring, instructing, and forming us.

Psalm 19:1–6 reminds us of what we see every day. Each day we awaken in the world, the home God has made for us. Yes, there are troubles here, but the world is not at fault. All day long the world does what God asks. The sun goes from east to west. Days and nights unfold, teaching us that we have not made ourselves and that we do not rule nature (Ps. 19:1–3). These reminders reach everyone (Ps. 19:4). Nature is as hopeful as a bridegroom, as cheerful as a great athlete competing with ease (Ps. 19:5). Hopefully, as we live under the sun’s penetrating rays (Ps, 19:6), these basic truths penetrate our minds. God’s “glory,” his well-deserved fame, is everywhere. Many of us feel closer to God when we see nature’s beauty. I think that is because we sense God’s glory.

Psalm 19:7–8 explains how different portions of Scripture shape us inwardly and outwardly. God’s law (torah) is perfect (Ps. 19:7), blameless, like a prize-winning animal. It is the right thing, just what we need. Thus, it “revives,” or brings back, our souls, our lives. God’s commands bring us back to moral life—in right relationship with God and our neighbors.

Life is more than existence. It is more than survival. God’s word makes us aware of where we are and who we are.

God’s “testimony,” his historical records, lead us to maturity as we learn about God and his ways with his people (Ps. 19:7). These historical narratives give life by keeping us from repeating mistakes and by giving positive ways to serve God. The Bible’s “precepts,” its case laws and proverbs, “rejoice the heart” as they explain how life works and show God’s guidance. The parts of the Bible that focus on “the fear of the Lord” are always relevant (Ps. 19:9). Books like Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes explain behavior that fits every life in every era. God’s “decrees” about justice are completely just (Ps. 19:9). Hope is possible, even in adversity.

God’s words touch the heart and enlighten the eyes (Ps. 19:8). They are sweet to the taste for all who consume them (Ps. 19:10). They protect from danger (Ps. 19:11). God’s words save lives, spiritually and physically.

Psalm 19:12–14 leads us one step farther. Having seen the world and taken in Scripture, one more life-giving practice remains. We pray. We ask God to show us where we are wrong, so we can turn to him (Ps. 19:13). We ask God to shape our prayers and our hearts in the right ways as we live in his presence, in the world he created (Ps. 19:14).

Life is more than existence. It is more than survival. God’s word makes us aware of where we are and who we are. God’s word stretches our minds, helps us see how things really are, and shapes our actions. God’s word teaches us what words to say to God. Those who read often and well find that it gives life.

A Task, or Two

But how can people read the Bible well? How can they access the life it gives? These days I spend most of my time teaching believers in churches and pastors in seminary settings. I also write and edit books that I hope will help Christians understand the Bible.

I often stop to thank God for what the Bible is saying about him, his creation, and our place in it. I still see some things I have never seen before. I see Paul and Timothy learning about Jesus’s life from Mark and Luke. I consider how Jeremiah felt while stuck in a muddy cistern, or how Titus felt about being sent to Crete on the latest hard job Paul had for him. Doctrine and imagination are not enemies.

While caring for a sick family member, reading the Bible reminded us that God heals the sick and raises the dead. In an age of pandemic, the quarantines and precautions in Leviticus were brought home to life as part of life, and as life.

Conclusion

Tomorrow, I hope to wake up healthy. I want to see daylight declaring God’s glory. I want to have some coffee and see what God is up to in the Bible. I want to live with my eyes and heart wide open.

Paul House is the general editor of the ESV Concise Study Bible.



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