My name is Shao Ming and I’ve been coming to SP on and off since 2007. I remember the year very precisely because that was the year I got married. And the main reason why I joined SP is because I needed a Pastor to marry me, and P Sam was the only one in HK who took pity on my husband and myself and let us into the church and his pre-marital classes.
I should confess upfront, that for most of those 9 years, I didn’t really believe in God. Or maybe I should say that I did believe in a God, and I vaguely believed in Jesus, but certainly I cannot say I truly believed in the God of the Bible, and certainly he was not my Lord. What I did believe in was that there was a HELL and I definitely did not want to end up there. Frankly I wasn’t even sure I wanted to go to Heaven, but I was definitely sure I didn’t want to roast for eternity. But that makes for a very shallow form of belief. So most of the time I was at SP, I sat at the back (I still do), came late (I stopped doing that) and didn’t grow.
1. Why I started to read the Bible
In Dec 2014, I had dinner with my husband (Geoffrey) and P Sam and Lisa. And I don’t know why, but we were talking about books. And P Sam looked at me and said, “I know a really good book… It’s called the Bible.” What happened next, looking back, was probably Holy Spirit intervention since I am not usually this suicidal, but somehow I wanted to be honest to my Pastor, so I blurted out.. “But the Bible is really dense and boring!“. And there was this horrible, deafening silence. I think Geoffrey wanted to dig a hole in the ground and just hide there, and P Sam just looked like how Genghis Khan must have looked before he attacked China. And then luckily for me, Lisa said “Oh yes… sometimes if you get the older versions like KJV and you start with the Old Testament, I can see how it can be difficult!” And thankfully, P Sam just let me off with “It helps when, before you read the Bible, you pray for Holy Spirit to help you.”
For whatever reason, that dinner was enough to get me to pull out the first Bible I could find, and start reading. To put things in perspective, up to this point:
- I had never really read the Bible apart from the first few pages of Genesis (and I didn’t think that normal people ever read the Bible cover to cover)
- I didn’t even realise there were different versions of the Bible
- I thought the Bible was dense, archaic and difficult to understand, and most importantly
- Some part of me suspected it was just a novel written by someone which ended up being more successful than it was ever meant to be. I did not know that the Bible was composed of 66 books by multiple authors, and these authors lived in very different times, and could not have had chance to plan or co-ordinate the miraculous similarities that the books have with each other, that make them sound like they were written by one person with one voice.
And so I started to read the Bible, a few verses a day starting with Matthew. At first it was really hard, but it helped when I prayed before I started for Holy Spirit to come and teach me. It also helped that, coincidentally, P Sam decided that 2015’s theme was to be Word and Power so his orders were that everyone should read the Bible for 10 mins a day. And then Jacky Lam did a great sermon on the Bible in Jan 2015, and it struck me how, every weekend for a season, he read the Bible until he finished the whole thing, cover to cover. And I was like “so normal people actually finish the whole Bible?” And I resolved that in 2015, I would read the Bible cover to cover, starting with the NT except Revelation, then the OT, then finishing with Revelation.
And it was really only when I was some way into the Old Testament, with the benefit of having read the New Testament first, the Bible gradually revealed to me its little secrets, its wisdom and its beauty… and suddenly it truly became the Word of God. One early instance I clearly remember:
- In Numbers 21:8 (NIV) it says: “The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bit can look at it and live.“
This seemed really bizarre, so I looked it up, and realised that the snake was a symbol of sin and judgement. The snake lifted up on pole represents our sin in Christ lifted up on the cross, so that anyone bitten by sin can look at Jesus on the Cross and live.
And this is confirmed by John 3:14 “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him can have eternal life.”
And I thought, how intriguing that there could be such truth in a sentence that at first seems so strange. So fun! Almost like a treasure hunt! And more importantly, given Moses wrote Numbers way before Jesus was born, how could Moses have predicted the Cross? In the same way, how could David when writing Psalm 22 (“My God My God why have you forsaken me”) predict the events of the Cross in such accurate, painful detail? And Isaiah did the same thing in Isaiah 53 (“He was pierced for our transgressions”). And Zechariah in Zechariah 11:12 even predicted that Jesus would be betrayed for 30 pieces of silver. There was only one explanation for all these co-incidences, despite factual evidence that the Bible was written by multiple authors living in different times, actually the Bible was only written by one Person – God.
2. How the Bible Helps Me
Once I was that the Bible truly was the Word of God (and there are many other reasons, like the how can John, a fisherman, write the Book of John which contains such beauty and depth in its prose), it started to really enrich my life in many ways. In particular:
- It gave me a personal relationship with God
- It is a constant reminder that God knows better and He is real and relevant today
- It improves my everyday life in practical ways
- It shows me Jesus is special
- It helps me to pray
a. Personal Relationship with God
Because I believe that the Bible is the Word of God, I am very happy every time I get a new revelation from the Word… especially if it’s before I’ve looked up any other sources on the subject. Here are 2 examples:
- Example 1:
In Genesis 8:11, the first time Noah knew that the wrath of God had abated, and the time of redemption/renewal had started, was when the dove he sent out came back to him with a leaf. How elegantly symmetrical that it was also the Spirit of God descending on Jesus as a dove “as he was coming up out of the water” (Mark 1:10), which commenced Jesus’ ministry which signaled the end of God’s wrath and the beginning of redemption?
- Example 2:
So we go to the familiar verse in John 15:5: “I am the vine, you are the branches, he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” So the first layer of meaning is easy to get .. we can accomplish nothing in God’s Kingdom without Jesus. This in itself, is thought provoking and a reminder to us to constantly abide in Jesus and bear fruit. Then I think, so I am a branch, what do I need to do to bear fruit? Then I read Hudson Taylor and realise that a branch needs to do NOTHING, apart from making sure it remains connected to the vine. Then I think, what does a branch do when it is connected to the vine? It receives living water (i.e. Holy Spirit) from the Vine which is Christ, and it also makes food (photosynthesizes) by stretching towards the Light which is Christ. And then God will naturally cause the branch to bear fruit. And the primary purpose of fruit? To sustain God’s creatures and to carry the seed of the vine, which is the Word according to the Parable of the Sower, which, when planted in good soil, ends up growing and propogating/increasing God’s Kingdom on Earth by bring more people to Christ.
And Jesus communicates all of this in 8 simple words, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” Only the Word made Flesh could do that.
And how beautifully this imagery of us as branches feeding on Living Water and Light by abiding in Christ the vine ties in with John 1:3-4: “All things came into being through Him [just like a branch comes into being through a vine] and apart from Him, nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men” and John 7:37-38: “Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me as the Scripture said, “From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.“
When the Word gives me these little revelations, I feel like God is teaching me personally and He becomes real and I feel He loves me. Then I know in my heart the truth of John 14:26:
“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.”
Through the Bible, I have a direct, personal relationship with God. I feel like I felt when in the beginning of my career when I was a trainee solicitor and one of the most famous corporate partners decided to take me under his wing and teach me personally. Sometimes when I pray, I feel like nothing special happens. I have never seen healing miracles before personally. But to me, the Word is a daily miracle of revelation just waiting to happen, a guaranteed personal experience of God which is always there, if only I pick up the Bible and read. I think this is why, when I feel stressed, or frustrated, I just read the Bible, and somehow, I feel better.
b. The Bible is useful for everyday life
The Bible also helps me be a nicer person in everyday life situations. Once I was in a patch where I had been quarrelling with Geoffrey for 2 or 3 days in a row. I was about to lash out at him again over something, but I felt so upset I thought I’d read the Bible to de-stress first. Co-incidentally, I was at Proverbs 19, so imagine when I read in quick succession:
- Proverbs 19:13 “a quarrelsome wife is like a constant dripping“.
- Proverbs 21:9 “Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.” and then even worse
- Proverbs 21:19: “Better to live in a desert than with a quarrelsome wife.“
Suffice to say I shut up and repented.
c. The Bible reminds me that God knows better
There are some passages in the Bible which, at first, seem outdated, difficult to understand, or even outright offensive by modern social norms. But every time I dig deeper into one of these passages, God shows me that really, I can trust Him because His thoughts are higher than my thoughts and He knows better than me.
For example, it was only when I read Genesis 2:9 that I realised that the fruit which Eve ate was not an apple (I know I’m a clown) but literally the fruit from “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil“. I literally did a double-take when I read this and read it again just to be sure. Why would “the tree of knowledge of good and evil” be a bad thing? Is God so petty?
Then I read Genesis 3:6 “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.”
And it’s true, I fall when I think I know better than God. And I mostly think I know better than God and disobey him (just like Eve) in these areas – (1) How to provide for myself. (2) What is attractive to me. (3) How to get ahead in life.
And then I recalled the last sentence of Judges, which sums up our fallen, human condition in this way “In those days there was no king in Israel, and everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”
And then I remembered how Jesus said to the rich young ruler in Luke 18 “Why do you call me good? No one is good – except God alone.”
Yes I get into trouble when I think I know what is Good better than God, when I think the teachings of the Bible are outmoded in the modern world, when I just do what is right in my own eyes. And if I’m honest, that’s precisely why (like the Rich Young Ruler) I have trouble giving up everything to follow God – because I think I know better. And that is why God is right! Making Christ my King is key to my progression from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil to the Tree of Life in heaven.
d. The Bible helps me to pray
The Bible teaches me how to pray. I was trying to learn how to pray, and I realised that I was praying like God was an ATM machine… God please give me this, God please give me that. Something told me this would not cut it, and I wanted to pray in conformity with God’s will. But how does one do that? Then I remembered that someone once said that sometimes he just prayed the scriptures. So I tried that, and since then, I feel like I am on much safer ground when I pray, and I also feel much more the presence of Holy Spirit. On this, I want to share a quote from George Muller quote which I have found hugely useful:
“The most important thing I had to do was to read the Word of God and to meditate on it. Thus my heart might be comforted, encouraged, warned, reproved and instructed.
Formerly, when I rose, I began to pray as soon as possible. But I often spent a quarter of an hour to an hour on my knees struggling to pray while my mind wandered. Now I rarely have this problem. As my heart is nourished by the truth of the Word, I am brought into true fellowship with God. I speak to my Father and to my Friend … about the things He has brought before me in His precious Word.
It often astonishes me that I did not see the importance of meditation upon Scripture earlier in my Christian life. As the outward man is not fit for work for any length of time unless he eats, so it is with the inner man. What is food for the inner man? Not prayer, but the Word of God – not the simple reading of the Word of God, so that it only passes through our minds, just as water runs through a pipe. No, we must consider what we read, ponder over it, and apply it to our hearts.”
So where does this leave me with the Bible today?
In the beginning, the most unattractive thing to me about the Bible was the large chunks of the Bible which I did not understand. Now this is one of the things which excites me most about the Bible. The bits I don’t understand are like unopened presents waiting to be unwrapped. Even the bits I think I understand reveal more truths to me everytime I read them again. The Bible, to me, is a personal present from God that never stops giving.
To me, the Bible is God talking about God. It is the most accurate rendition of God, like a photo of God, that is out there. So I want to read the Bible to see God as He really is, from His own mouth. And I find the God of the Bible more awesome, more terrible, more profound, more complex, more demanding, more loving and more compassionate and ultimately, more God-like, than the politically correct, user-friendly God that people sometimes tell me about. And I find this God, as revealed in the Bible, far easier to believe in, trust, and call my Lord.
I cannot resist ending with Isaiah 55 on the Bible – “Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live. …. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth, It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire, and achieve the purposes for which I sent it.” My sincere prayer for all of us is that when next we say the Lord’s Prayer, and we get to “Give us this day our daily bread“, the first thing that will come to mind is not food or material provisions, but a daily dose of the Word and the Truth as revealed in it. May the Word sustain you, nourish you, revive you, and bless you. In Jesus name, Amen
Thanks for listening.