Now it’s time to look at why paying attention to the genre you are reading is helpful. Genre is another way of saying the category or classification, characterized by the same form, style, or subject matter. Genre is one of the first things I make sure to pay attention to because it can shape your entire reading of a verse, chapter, or book.
For example, if I read a parable of Jesus but forget what a parable means, we could have a big problem on our hands when I interpret Jesus’ words of “I am the vine, you are the branches” to mean that literally. Jesus is not actually some weird anthropomorphic grape vine. Likewise when Jesus says the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed that grew and became a tree, it isn’t really a mustard seed. There are lessons embedded in his words there.
On the flip side, if I fail to see the book of 1 Samuel as an historical account that happened to the Israelite nation, I may only regard David’s life as a nice story with a lesson. It becomes easy to take for granted that these were real people, at a real point in time.
We know that in all literature, the genre affects our reading of it. Reading a poem by Dr. Maya Angelou is going to be absorbed much differently than reading the Diary of Anne Frank. Knowing one is poetry and one is historical informs our interpretation.
As for the Bible, some people will break them into even more specific categories, but there are certain overarching genres that are typically agreed upon:
Law: The first 5 books of the Bible are typically considered books of Law, also referred to as “The Torah” and “The Pentateuch”. They include the story of how the Israelites became God’s people and the laws that were given them. These laws were meant to be the standard by which they lived under the Covenant made with God; a display that God’s people did not live like the rest of the world. The laws also served to show that no one was capable of earning God’s love. The Moral Laws (such as the 10 Commandments) are what most people are familiar with, but these books also include the Civil and Ceremonial Laws put in place to govern the Israelite nation. The Civil and Ceremonial Laws were very specific to their people, place, and time within history.
Narrative: This tells a story or provides an historical account. This is found throughout the Bible, as entire books or as chapters within books.
Poetry: These use imagery and figurative language. They often express emotion and repeat phrases for poetic flare. The books of Psalms and Song of Songs (also called Song of Solomon) are included here. However, poems and songs are found in many books throughout the Bible.
Wisdom: A collection of wise sayings, meant to influence the moral code of its readers.
Prophets (Major and Minor): Written by prophets living in a specific period of Israel’s history, these were written as reminders and warnings to the Israelites. These need to be read with an understanding of the Covenant relationship between God and his people.
Gospels: The term literally means “good news.” They were a proclamation of the new king, Jesus. These include the life of Jesus. A sub-genre, Parable, is found here.
Letters: Written about a specific circumstance to a specific group of Christians in the Early Church. It is crucial to understand those things first in order to reach appropriate conclusions regarding application.
Apocalyptic/Prophecy: Revelation and parts of Daniel are included in this genre. These are urgent messages meant to warn and/or comfort the original audience. Apocalyptic literature uses a lot of symbolic language that must be understood through the lens of similar preceding Biblical texts. They are meant to evoke emotion; not necessarily to speak to the cerebral side.
For a handy visual, download and print the Genre Guide. As with the Inductive Bible Study Guide, this can be helpful as you get started. Keep in mind that multiple genres can be found within a book of the Bible.
I wrote my first rough draft to this series 4 years ago. Four! I was perhaps newly pregnant with our youngest child. But in my typical perfectionist fashion, I tucked it away and sat on it.
Newly inspired, I polished it and planned to release it last Spring. Then COVID hit and all of our worlds flipped upside down. Just to add insult to injury, my computer crashed this summer, losing all of my documents from the past few years (yes, I know, quite the lesson in backing up files). Instead of picking myself up by the bootstraps and rewriting immediately, I wallowed in the loss of all my creative writings that were gone.
Well, after a good cry (or, ya know, three), I gave myself a good kick in the rear and started over. So let’s give this a go again:
For the past decade, I’ve had this growing awareness of something crucial; a bit of a crisis in the Christian church that needs remedying. At least from the numerous conversations I’ve had with other believers, I don’t think it’s merely a personal hunch. Many Christians do not read their own Bibles and don’t know what’s really in the Bible. As a culture, we’ve become great at reading Christian self-help books or devotionals that reference a Bible verse, but even finding a “Bible study” that reads the Bible directly can be challenging.
“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” -Psalm 119:105
Growing up, I went to church every Sunday for worship service and Sunday school, attended Wednesday night services, completed a discipleship class as a teen, along with a mission trip and other volunteer gigs over the years. Needless to say, I wasn’t a Christmas-and-Easter-only sort of a kid. Despite that, I missed how the Bible all connected. I could tell you about individual stories, could explain salvation, and knew a dozen memory verses. But to explain the Bible as a whole, well that was an entirely different level.
Churches became really good at teaching stories like Daniel in the Lion’s Den or Jonah and the Whale, and at teaching topical series that reminded us to “have more faith” or “how to have better relationships.” Maybe I missed something, but I never saw the big picture. I don’t think anyone within my church is to blame. I think I’m simply a product of the generation, of the cultural trend of the time, but suddenly a whole generation doesn’t know the Bible. If you’re reading this and thinking “actually Renee, my church or school really did help me understand it all,” consider yourself fortunate. You seem to be in the minority.
Why does any of this matter anyway? Boy, I’m glad you asked! There are a few significant reasons why reading the Bible shouldn’t be a task reserved for your pastor.
1. We’re starving ourselves of the lifesource the Bible provides.
We were made for fellowship with God. And one of the best and easiest ways to learn about and get to know our Creator God is by opening up the holy Scriptures. We actually cheat ourselves when we don’t take time to read it. Our souls become undernourished when we fail to read and know God’s word.
Christian authors, speakers, pastors, church leaders, and devotional books are all great tools and resources, but they should remain secondary to our own reading of Scripture. When we rely only on our church leaders and devotional books for all our information about being a Christ-follower, it’s really just second-hand faith. It’s as if we’re gleaning the crumbs off the ground instead of sitting at the table and biting into the very bread of life itself. You get a taste, but you miss out on the full sustenance God has to offer.
2. We become like lemmings with no discernment of our own.
I once worked with a middle-aged woman who was quite vocal about her faith. She confidently declared that she didn’t need to read her Bible; her pastor told her everything she needed to know. She was only the first of many I encountered who seemed to hold this same sentiment.
I wish it were not true, but in this fallen world in which we live, that can be a dangerous notion to live by. I’ve seen some pastors twist scripture in order to yield power, ones who lazily added hodgepodge verses to their preferred topical series, those who’ve taught some weird theology, and one who even referred to the words of Jesus as “Christianese,” as opposed to something which to regard with reverence. I’m sure we can all picture some televangelist out there who’s had more than suspect teaching.
We don’t need to end this blog feeling a sense of distrust toward our pastors and Christian leaders. Please don’t misunderstand my end goal. There are scores of phenomenal pastors, several of whom I am honored to know personally. But in a day and age where there are so many differing opinions being thrown out there, we need to know God’s word ourselves in order to have a compass with which to distinguish. Furthermore, humans make an awfully unreliable foundation, and it is unfair to put them in that position in the first place. When we raise up individuals on a pedestal, they are bound to fall and to fail us. Be careful not to replace God with false idols. There is nothing wrong with being guided by the teachings of Christian leaders; the problem begins when we elevate them as God instead of remembering they are merely a follower of God, doing their best.
“Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way.”- 2 Timothy 3:16 (Msg)
When we don’t know God’s word ourselves, we lack the ability to discern. We may be swayed to follow our political party, our church traditions, or our family’s “way of doing things” without ever considering God’s heart on a matter. We may be tempted to spew hate instead of welcoming and loving our neighbor. We may even one day find ourselves carrying a “Jesus Saves” flag on the steps of the Capitol building, all the while acting in a way that does anything but reflect the heart of God.
3. Finally, and this might be the one I get the MOST excited about, when we fail to read God’s word, we miss out on the unending goodness and richness it has to offer.
Spoiler alert- some of the traditions I learned as a kid aren’t actually biblical. For instance, things about heaven and Revelation. I learned the cultural trend of the time; not the Biblical text. And before you go throwing stones at me for heresy, just bear with me- it’s actually better than you might think!
A couple of years ago I sat across from a woman who began to share during a small-group discussion in a New Testament Bible class we were attending. All her life she had grown up in the church and even attended Christian school. She fought back tears as she pointed at her Bible and said, “None of this is anything like I learned, but it is so much better!” It was as if her eyes had been opened to the message of the Bible and the extreme depth of God’s love for his people for the first time. It was life changing for her.
“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12-
Guys! That is what I don’t want you to miss out on! The Bible is like an onion: the more you peel back and learn, the more layers you find. It’s incredible! I remember a moment last year in a Bible study on Acts where a passage in Acts 3 meant something so much deeper to me because of something I learned the year prior (that will be an exciting blog to share later!). But we all have to start somewhere. Without understanding the greater context, the small moments and details won’t make sense. We aren’t going to be great theologians overnight. But you’d be amazed at the growth that happens with 10 or 15 consistent minutes a day. Little by little. Or, as a favorite pastor of mine likes to say, growth through “slow and steady faithfulness.”
I’m not here to slap anyone on the hand or make them feel shame. Quite the opposite! I’m hoping to enrich, educate, and empower. Many people don’t open their Bibles out of pure intimidation. Let’s be honest, it can be confusing, especially if no one ever taught you how to read it. Knowing how to study the Bible shouldn’t be a skill reserved for Bible students and theologians. Yes, there are amazing layers that can be delved into after one studies Greek or travels to the Holy Land themselves, but nothing about Christ’s saving message for all mankind should require a PhD to open up his Word. With a few simple tools, you can confidently read your Bible.
Over the next few weeks, I’m going to teach you what I can from my humble wheelhouse (remembering that I am merely a servant of God myself; don’t go putting me on that pedestal).
Learn what Inductive Bible study is, what it means, and why it’s useful
Learn why Genre matters
Learn why Context matters
Look at the Bible from a bird’s-eye view to understand the BIG story, one big rescue story; the cliff notes version, if you will
Talk about using the Inductive method to apply passages to our life, and how to do it in the correct order
Look at tools I find helpful
Practice what we’ve learned and dive into some scripture
Discuss why the head to heart connection matters
If you’ve made it this far- a gold star for you! I hope that you choose to journey with me over the next few weeks to learn and grow as a consumer of God’s holy Word.
Growing up, our church had the tradition of reading The Tale of Three Trees every Christmas. If you haven’t read it, you should.
I was always drawn to the 3rd tree. In the story, the 1st and 2nd trees had more material ambitions. The first tree wanted to hold beautiful treasure; the second wanted to be the strongest ship in the world. Ah, but the 3rd tree, all she wanted was to grow so tall that whenever people looked at her, they’d look up and think of God. My little girl heart wanted so badly to glorify God; to point to God in everything I did.
Sadly, in the story all three trees get axed down and thrown into lumber yards.
I seem to be finding myself sitting in the metaphorical lumberyard as well. Nothing has quite gone as planned so far, at least not in regard to how I thought I’d point to God.
As a girl, I always imagined I’d bring glory to God through singing. I didn’t have any grand aspirations of fame, or even earning an income through music, but I thought I’d always use that gift of voice for Him. A shy little girl who hated speaking in front of people, singing was a platform for me to share my heart for God. I would carefully select songs that conveyed truths I found important to share. During my teen years, God opened so many doors for me to sing at church, school, and in the community, it made sense that I’d continue to serve God in that way.
From the moment I graduated high school, went to college, and began to spread my wings, however, God seemed to frustrate all my attempts. Every time I knocked on that music door, it seemed to slam shut or creak irritatingly. Nothing seemed to work out. I was either too young or not classically trained enough or wasn’t friends with the right crowd or people dragged their feet on promises made….and so on and so on. At one point I was so humiliated by certain feedback regarding my apparent lack of expression on stage, I almost gave up singing altogether.
Then about 10 years ago I felt God tugging at my heart to go into ministry. I can still remember the exact chapter I was reading in a book and the precise spot I was sitting on my couch when I told the Lord, “Okay, I’m in.” So in tandem with being a mother, I directed the energy I had left toward women’s ministry. Zeal in my heart, fire in my soul, I set out on my journey for the Lord. Surely that was how I would bring glory to Him!
Yet a decade later I am lacking any direction.
I’ve read oodles of books by Christian women, many of them in ministry, and I am always amazed at the apparent ease with which their path guides them into teaching, preaching, writing, nonprofit ministries and so on. Two ladies in particular graduate college, decide to start up a blog and next thing they know they’re reaching tens of thousands of women through a bona fide non-profit. Another lady decides to write a book, as if it’s so easy to even get published in the first place, makes friends with a nationally known speaker, and the next thing she knows, she’s part of another nationally known women’s ministry. I can’t even find a niche in my local church while big things seem to just fall into others’ laps. It’s hard not to be left feeling a little dumbfounded or to question your calling altogether.
“Am I missing something, Lord?”
Earlier this summer I was having some much needed quiet time with the Lord, perusing through some old journals. Suddenly my heart stopped when I came across a poem I’d entirely forgotten about, written 4 years ago. Somehow it still seemed so relevant to my heart’s current condition:
The 3rd Tree
Girl of eleven wished to be that tree.
Heart pure and sweet, with a zeal for the King.
“May all I do point to you.
May I grow tall and free so they lift their eyes to you.”
Then life had its way and cut her down.
They spit, they mocked, they pushed her to the ground.
“Maybe I’m not enough.
Perhaps I heard wrong.
Maybe I’m not called.
Maybe I’m not an appointed one.”
Dreams lay dead in the lumberyard.
A broken spirit blackens her soul.
But the King so sweetly raises her head
He dries her tears and comes to make her whole .
“Don’t you know the rest of the story?” he whispers.
“Don’t you remember that tree did bring me glory?”
Still your heart, sweet child of mine
Wait on the Lord.
Still your heart, little child of grace
Let the Sovereign One sit on the throne.
You see, as our story of the Three Trees concludes, it does not end with the trees rotting in the lumber yard. The tree who dreamed of holding treasure became the manger in which Christ lays at his birth. The 2nd tree who dreams of being a strong ship becomes the fishing boat who carries Jesus and his disciples through a storm.
And as for the third tree, who lays in that lumber yard the longest, she gets put together only to have the nails of Christ’s crucifixion pounded into her. Sounds real nice, right?
Yet thereafter, every time people looked at her, beams formed into the cross, they would think of the Savior God.
I wish I could say that I have reached that beautiful ending. That I could tell you, “Aha! This is what God had planned all along and why so many things seemed like dead ends along the way.”
But I can’t.
The truth is, I’m still in the part of the story where I’m laying in the lumberyard, wondering what in the world God is thinking. Too often we only hear peoples’ stories once they can be wrapped up nicely with a pretty bow. But I think it’s important to share about the time in-between. The waiting. The uncertainty. Otherwise we’re left with a false sense of how easily everything is supposed to go.
Only God knew how badly my heart needed to hear the truths I penned in that poem all those years earlier. More than ever, when we’re in the valley, when we’re in the waiting, we need constant reminders of God’s truth. I need only to wait on the Lord and let Him sit on the throne. As for the rest? I guess that’s part of the adventure of life.
So far in my faith walk, God seems to present me with themes, or teaching moments, that span over several years. Hopefully that isn’t a sign I’m just a slow learner.
I can remember in high school God poking at all my wounded places until I would fully surrender to Him. Giving over those false idols and footholds that would mar His image. All of me for all of Jesus. But these past few years there has been a running theme of “Trust”. Trusting when everything seems so uncertain. Trusting God to be enough. Trust.
A couple years back, already in my theme of “Trust”, I mentioned to a dear friend that I didn’t understand how things could be so easy for others. Their plans all seemed to align so well in life and they were just where they pictured they’d be. That hadn’t exactly been the case for me. The title of my blog should really be called The Girl Who Runs Into Another Wall; The Girl Who Feels Aimless; The Girl Who Finds Another Roadblock. Take your pick.
My friend was so sweet and shared the story of a woman she greatly admired. This woman had diligently followed God’s tugging at her heart to start a ministry in one of the least reached people groups in the world. For 20 years, she was told “no”, “not yet”, “it’s too dangerous”. She was given discouragement even by other Christians. But she kept trudging forward. Long into the woman’s journey, my friend ended up becoming a missionary on this woman’s team, the first team to be stationed in that part of the world. But before the team was sent abroad, after all those years of preparation and groundbreaking, the mission organization the woman worked with decided to remove her from the team entirely. They wouldn’t even allow her to serve in the same city. My friend wrote, “She never got to serve with us.”
From our perspective that seems like a huge blow. I’m sure it felt that way at first, but my friend made some beautiful points. One, this woman was in God’s will, despite it being a hard fight. The Bible supports anything but a prosperity gospel. More times than not, those champions of faith—Elijah, King David, Jeremiah, Paul— endured awful trials despite their devotion to the Lord. Easy sailing does not equate with faithful living. Secondly, while it is disappointing through our human lens, the vision God gave this woman was accomplished! Regardless of whether or not she gets to see it through to the end, she did help create a ministry team in one of the least reached areas of the world. And only six months after what felt devastating, God used her to start a team and school in another unreached city. From there, she plans to train individuals to go into more unreached towns. So her removal from the team actually led to the Gospel being more widespread.
In 1 Corinthians chapter 3, Paul addresses the church in Corinth regarding quarrels between Christian believers. Apparently, there was conflict over which apostle they followed. In our culture, it would be like people arguing over which pastor they like the most. In verse 5 Paul writes,
“What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grows. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor.” 1 Corinthians 3: 5-8
What a poignant reminder. It’s not all about us. We are mere servants. It is God who moves and changes hearts and lives. We are nothing; at least, we are nothing without Christ. This world tells us we are defined by what we do. But God reminds us our worth is not wrapped up in our actions. Our value lies in who, or whose, we are: children of God. So whether we take part in God’s plan by planting or watering, it really doesn’t matter. Just that we show up and do our part.
Ironically, at the time my friend was encouraging me and shared her story about that woman, life was going pretty well for my friend. She had dreamed of being a missionary since her teens. She was one of those crazy people excited by the idea of going to the remote parts of the world, even if it meant danger and “roughing it.” And here she was doing just that: married, baby on the way, and living overseas to love on these least reached people. She was in her happy place.
But later that year her world was flipped upside down. Due to some health issues, she had to uproot her family from international serving to return stateside. She initially felt utter despair; like the rug had been pulled out from under her. Why did God bring her so far along in her dream just to take it away? Yet with each month that passes, she has begun to see more and more glimpses of the beautiful plan God has for her here. She’s now planting the first church among the same people group, only in the States. Some of the families she met abroad have even had connections to the same immigrants she’s met here. It was never the plan she would have chosen and yet she is still doing the very thing her heart always longed for.
Time after time, we see that God disrupts what we view as our perfect little plan. Only later do we see a glimpse of how He was using us for a greater purpose in His plan.
Now able to look on it with a sense or humor, my friend laughed that she had so badly wanted the experience of living abroad and doing the ministry she had envisioned, it really would have needed to be something drastic to make her change course. She wrote to me,
“Neither my friend nor myself would have ever willingly chose our present locations, but God moved us in order to spread His gospel around. That reminds me of the ‘Diaspora.’ Acts 8:1-4 talks about a great persecution that broke out against the church in Jerusalem. Because of that, the church was scattered and ‘those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.’ Time after time, we see that God disrupts what we view as our perfect little plan. Only later do we see a glimpse of how He was using us for a greater purpose in His plan.”
We don’t always understand why the Lord wills things in the way he does. But that’s not really our job. We merely need to rest, to trust, and go along for the ride.
“Who has understood the mind of the Lord, or instructed him as his counselor?”- Isaiah 40:13
“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.” – Isaiah 40:28
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”- Proverbs 3:5-6
When we are in the valleys, the waiting, the unknown, we have a choice about what we will do; about who we will become. The choices we make now affect who we become 20 years from now. Will we grow angry and resentful? Or will we allow our faith and depth of trust to root deeply?
More than ever, when we are in that land of exile, we need to be reminded of God’s truths. We need to remember all the times he has already proved faithful to spur us on and to give us hope of his continued faithfulness. So in this short series, Stories of Trust, I hope to remind you, along with myself, of God’s truth. In this way, we can stand firm with the belt of truth buckled around our waist and finish the race strong.
Grace and Peace,
“Therefore, put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground…Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”