Experiences Kept In Perspective
Warren E. Berkley
Except for those who were born this morning, we are all creatures who carry in our minds the accumulated experiences we’ve been through, good or bad. There are the highlights we cherish. Those great experiences help us maintain gratitude.
Bad experiences hold the potential of creating long-term bitterness and can cause a loss of objectivity.
Illustration: I had great experiences with Christians in my childhood. My parents were committed to the Lord. While I cannot say that every member of the local church was without flaw, I can say that most of those people wanted to do what is right and that influence became a strong factor in the choices of my adult life.
In my early years of preaching, there was a bad experience. A person I considered to be godly and well-equipped as a servant of God became a great disappointment.
This second (bad) experience could have become so stuck in my mind and could have so embittered me, I could have walked away from preaching and perhaps from the Lord. Though immature, I was somehow able to keep that bad experience in healthy perspective. I knew this man was the exception. The valuable experiences I had as boy combined with my knowledge of God’s Word, afforded me the ability to keep the experiences in perspective.
In 72 years, like everybody, I’ve had good experiences and bad experiences. I’ve witnessed the rich depth of godly discipline in the vast majority of Christians I’ve known. Rarely, I’ve witnessed dark disappointments. I’ve not let these embitter me. And, when I read and study God’s Word, I strive for objective conclusions, un-influenced by experience.
When I read Romans, I want to get into my head the writer’s original intent as he was guided by the Spirit. I don’t want to read Romans through the eyes of my experience, but I do want to apply it to my life.
I cannot let outside life experience factor into my understanding of Scripture, though I must apply Scripture to life experience. If you get locked into your history, your experience and your memories and feelings about what you’ve witnessed, it can distort your reading of Scripture.
If you could hear people thinking while they are reading the Bible, you might hear something like this.
Here in 1 Cor. 5, Paul says to withdraw from a man. Well, I remember when I was a teenager, the local church got into a big fuss about all this. That really upset me. So, I just don’t like this.
In 1st Timothy 3, all this business about elders and their qualifications reminds me of what happened to my daddy. What a big mess that was. That’s all I think about when this subject comes up.
Objective Bible reading requires that we push those experiences, memories and feelings out of the way – and just read what God has said. Apply what He has said to your life experience (past, present and future), but don’t let your life experience become a filter through which you make the words mean only something to you based on your history.
Mortimer Adler & Charles Van Doren, in HOW TO READ A BOOK, describe the goal of reading: “Your success in reading it [a book] is determined by the extent to which you receive everything the writer intended to communicate.”
It follows, whatever blocks the writer’s intent works against my success as a good reader. What can block us from the writer’s message?
(1) Inattentive reading.
(2) Your mind is already made up.
(3) Someone other than the writer has influenced you.
(4) You understand what it says, but you don’t want to do it.
Searching for an answer. Good. But be very careful that you don’t have the answer you want stuck in your mind before the begin the search. Humility is the key.