Yesterday my daughter, Hannah, and I were reading one of her books. As she typically does she grabs the book from the shelf and flips randomly to a page and begins looking at the words and pictures, pointing out words she knows or calls out the objects in the pictures. I found it incredibly adorable as usual, but it got me thinking. How often have I treated my devotional time like this?
I open up my Book with my Father and we sit together. I turn to a random page and point out words and passages to Him. I call out what I know and ask about what I do not. This process of randomly selecting a passage in the Bible and reading it is known as Bible Roulette. An individual turns to an undetermined page and selects a passage or verse on the two pages they land on. While there they try to dig up the application or find purpose in their devotional. It becomes as the title, Bible Roulette, reveals: a gambling game with the words of God.
Back in 2011 a pastor who taught theology at my University told the class straightforward that this form of devotion is dangerous and disregards the author’s intent. He said that we would not open up a book in our day and start reading at chapter 6 without first reading the first 5 chapters. “We would be utterly lost and not know who the characters are. Why are they doing what they’re doing!?”
Though, I admit I did not take to his lesson right away, the more I think about it, he is right! We wouldn’t treat Shakespeare that way. We don’t start in act II of Romeo and Juliet. We wouldn’t start the Harry Potter series with book 6 and go backward. We need context.
Context provides us with the details to put those verses or passages in the correct intent of the author who wrote it.
Let’s take Jeremiah 29:11 for an example. If I was the unlucky fool I have been in the past and I were to turn there and read this verse alone, I would come out believing that God wants me to physically prosper and that he will do everything he can to make it happen as soon as possible. Unfortunately this is not the context. God did not promise me that there, nor did He even promise that to the original audience. The Israelites that God was speaking to through Jeremiah were about to enter heavy persecution, death and destruction. It was not because of their amazing faith. It wasn’t because they were an amazing missionary force in the world. It wasn’t even because they were the city on the hill that they were intended to be.
They were persecuted because of their individual and corporal sins as a nation. God said in chapter 29:11, “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.”
The plans God knew He had for Israel was 70 years of persecution, slavery, and being foreigners of a distant land, because they sinned against him. God told them to get comfortable, live in Babylon, get married there and be prepared to die there. Their children and grandchildren would inherit the prosperity of the land, sovereign government and plentiful food that they already had, which would be taken away from them very soon. This promise would most likely pass to their descendants.
Unfortunately, we can read this verse or others like it and think that God will make us rich, healthy and prosperous if we only pray hard enough. Unfortunately this is just not the case. Almost that whole generation died before the promise was fulfilled, as God said would happen. Even after the Jews were allowed back to their inheritence, they had to put in the work to rebuild their nation. It wasn’t given to them easily. They rebuilt their cities, mounted up their walls. They reopened burnt down shops and remade their temple. It took time and effort, as it will on our part. As with that generation in captivity, we may be waiting for the fulfillment of this promise in death, seeing it fulfilled in heaven or through our children’s lives.
Whatever the result may be, the application of this would not be our prosperity, but turning our eyes back to God and work towards the process of our sanctification. God redeemed us, now it’s our turn to sanctify our thoughts and actions through our love for God.
This along with many occasions is the result of Bible Roulette. Do not make this mistake like I have many times in the past. Search for the context and follow God’s words in the way they were intended.