by Steve Elworth
What is the Bible? That might be a strange question to start off asking in an article written by a pastor. However, the answer to this question determines how we live our lives as Christians, and how we do church. From what I have seen, there are two general ways to answer this question. The Bible is either a book about me, or a book about God. One way to approach the Bible is to come looking for me and me alone, answers to my questions and problems, for comfort, for guidance, for the next steps for my life. This first way uses the Bible like a map, seeking clear and tangible landmarks, turns, mountains and valleys in my life, and trying to follow the path laid out for me to find the ‘X.’ There are very few people who would say the Bible is a book about them, but actions speak louder than words.
The other way to approach the Bible is to come looking for God. Who is He? What is He doing? How can I join Him? This is looking at the Bible like a compass, not asking for each step, but rather a direction. Looking at the Bible this way still gives us answers for our lives, but those answers are grounded ultimately in him and his eternal purposes. This is the way most Christians would say they approach the Bible, but do they know where the compass is pointing? If the Bible points to God’s eternal purposes, do we know what those purposes are? Do we know how our short lives fit into his grand story? My desire and prayer is that every church and every person would not only know where the compass of God’s Word points, but also how to navigate his or her life by it.
Steve Hawthorne, editor of the “Perspectives on the World Christian Movement” course, once wrote: “The story of God accomplishing His mission is the plot of the entire Bible. God’s mission is the backbone upon which the Bible is built and is best understood. Therefore, God’s mission is the reason there is a Bible at all.” The mission he speaks of, as we will see, is God’s plan to be worshipped by all the peoples of the world. That quote might come as a shock. Mission is often something we see as, “one of the ministries of the church,” that certain people are “called” into. It all comes down to how we really view the Bible. The Bible is clear that God is on a mission, and His mission encompasses the whole world. If we view the Bible like map, the obvious question that arises is, “is God’s mission on my map?” “Is God’s mission something I’m supposed to do?” as if there is a yes or no answer. But, if the Bible is a compass, only two questions follow: where does it point, and how can I follow?
A thorough study through the Bible will reveal the missional thrust of all that God does, plans and proclaims. Space will not allow such a survey, but two examples will make our point. Both are stories many are familiar with: the plagues of Egypt during the Exodus, and the story of David and Goliath.
A Quick Journey Through the Bible
A first time reader of the book of Genesis will readily encounter the drama, intrigue and action of the patriarchs of our faith. Experiencing Abraham’s belief that God would cause him to become a great nation, and that faith counted to him as righteousness; watching that promise passing onto Isaac, then to Jacob, whose sons sold Joseph into slavery; seeing Joseph end up in leadership in Egypt to ultimately save the very brothers who sold him – these are the makings of a great Hollywood story. But the beginning of Exodus introduces us to a new king in Egypt, one that does not know Joseph and his family, and one that enslaves all his descendants. That first-time reader must be wondering, “What will God do for his chosen people? Surely he will act; surely he will make a way.” And after 400 years of slavery, God does act. With all the power in the universe, God sends 10 plagues upon the land, and we cheer, watching the classic animated movie, The Prince of Egypt. As we follow the story, we celebrate, seeing that finally God has acted for his chosen people … or at least that’s how we often read it. Looking to the text itself, however, we see something slightly different. God gives us the reason for acting in such a way in Exodus 9:16, as God speaks to Pharaoh, “But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.”
Often, we interpret this story to say that God destroys the Hebrews’ enemies and finally sets his people free, showing how much he loves them. But what the Scriptures portray is not a God who is acting just for his people, but a God who is acting through his people, for all people. This is a story not primarily about God’s blessing of a people, but of God’s reputation among all peoples. The focus is on God, not on people. Reading the Bible as if it’s a map beckons us to draw the conclusion that God will always rescue me because he loves me, and he will always act on my behalf. But a reading of this story as a compass shows us that although God does act for those he loves, he works through his people for all people, and ultimately, for his namesake. He blesses his people in order to bless the world. The compass points toward God, not toward me.
Fast forward through the story of Israel. Read the great stories of wandering through the wilderness, taking possession of the land of promise, and the tumultuous times of the Judges. See God establish a king in Israel, despite his desire to govern his people. And see the little shepherd boy and future king, David. Many of us will recall the Sunday School stories of the courage and faith of David as he confronts Goliath. We celebrate as children and adults alike as David fells the giant with one smooth stone from his sling. We thank God for an example that if we will only have faith like little David, God will fell the giants in our lives. Looking at this story through the lens of a map would call us to apply this story in just that way. And of course, God is able to topple any giant at any time. But as we read the Bible as a compass, we see the reason the Scripture itself gives for this encounter. David himself exclaims in 1 Samuel 17:46: “This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand … that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel …”
Again, the compass points to God’s ultimate purpose. Yes, he will save those that trust in him. Yes, he will act on behalf of the little guy. Yes, there is no giant that he cannot conquer, but it doesn’t end there. God blesses David with strength to defeat the giant SO THAT the whole world would know of this God. God blesses His people SO THAT the whole world would be blessed. These are not two isolated incidents, but part of a grand story of God’s plan to bring his message everywhere in the world for his name to be worshiped.
Lay Down Your Map – Follow God’s Compass
The Bible as a compass is a worldview that will radically change every Christian, every family and every church. God does not exist for me. I am not the center of the story. God is not working to give me the best life possible. God is not doling out blessings just so that we can enjoy them. God is, and has always been, working for his glory in every corner of the globe. We are blessed to be a blessing. The goal is not for us just to live an acceptable Christian life and enjoy our blessings in the process; it’s to join God in his mission to be loved and worshipped by all peoples. This does not mean that God does not love us and delight in us. He has come to offer life and life abundant, but that is only half of the story. He wants us to live a joyful Christian life so that I can be used for his glory, to be part of his story to redeem people from every tribe, tongue, people and nation.
This worldview changes the way we pray – for God and his glory rather than for me and mine. This lens changes the way we give – sacrificially, because we’ve been blessed to bless others rather than trying to squeeze more enjoyment out of our blessings. This compass gives direction to every aspect of our lives showing us what God is up to and inviting us to join him. The best way to find our place in this world is not to look within ourselves and what we want and desire, but rather to look at God and his Word to find out what he wants and what he desires. So pick up your Bible, find the true north of God’s compass, and follow it wherever he leads you.