Take up and read!

As the New Year begins I once again pick up my Bible and start reading from page one through to the end. I don’t know how many years I’ve done this now. I do recall a point in my life where I was prompted to do it. Within the same week I heard two sermons from different preachers and read an article all centred on the theme tolle lege. It’s a Latin phrase previously unknown to me. It means “take up and read.”

Later I learned that Augustine attributed his conversion to the same phrase. Having heard a child-like voice say it, he took it as a divine command to pick up his Bible. He turned to the book of Romans and turned away from his sinful life.

I’m not in the theological league of Augustine. But I did take the conviction to read the Bible in its entirety seriously and I’ve been doing it ever since. Some mornings the fog in my head refuses to lift and I don’t absorb much from the page. When I return the next morning I might have to look back and try to remember what I actually read. That doesn’t stop me. I ask God to forgive me for being so dull and pray that the Holy Spirit will help me take in today’s passage. There’s nothing ritualistic or legalistic about it. I am not a better Christian for having spent the first half hour of my day reading the Bible. I am, however, better off having invested 30 minutes of quiet time with the Maker of time.

Genesis provides a magnificent start to the New Year. I read of the astounding beauty of God’s creation and am wonderstruck by his generosity. This is no stingy God. Heaven and earth burst with light and life. The rivers, lakes and oceans teem with creatures great and small. At the end of each day the Lord pronounces his benediction – it is good – in the purest sense of the word.

The world we live in
Days of forming, days of filling, then comes the crowning of creation when the Triune God makes humankind in his own image. It’s all incredibly glorious until chapter three, when everything changes. Now the world as I know it emerges, page after page, stained by sin and irreversibly marred by sadness.

Yes, this is the world I live in. A whole new year has dawned with all its wonderful potential and my sincerest intentions of walking closer to God. But the TV news and the Internet bombard me with images of disease, calamity and wanton violence. I spend time in prayer and thank the Lord for abundant blessings and the life he’s called me into. Then I go out and want to ram the guy who cuts me off in traffic. I covet. I complain. I worry. (And those are just the sins I’m willing to admit publicly.) In short, I start the day with God and then I go out and live as if he doesn’t exist.

The next morning I pick up my Bible and learn that I’m not so unusual. There I see saints of old who walked hand in hand with God, until it seemed like a good idea to sleep with a servant, or steal a brother’s birthright, or take another man’s wife and then murder him to cover it up. But God prevailed and would not let go of his own. The whole book of Judges, much of the Old Testament really, is a continuous cycle of disobedience, desperation and deliverance.

I plod through Levitical laws concerning mildew and leprosy and remember what Matthew Henry said: “Where God had reason to write, we have reason to read.” I marvel at joy and sorrow, triumph and defeat in the Psalms. Ecclesiastes tells me there’s nothing new under the sun. Job reminds me we don’t have the whole picture and God doesn’t owe us an explanation. I see prophesies fulfilled and promises made in the New Testament. I have hope because I have Christ. And in the last days of the year, I read of the last days of all time to come in the book of Revelation.

There won’t be any clocks or calendars in the New Jerusalem. No deadlines, due dates or time constraints will pressure us. In the meantime, our days are literally numbered. God only knows exactly how many days he has ordained for each of us. The good news is that he promises to be with us through every one of them. So, for as long as I’m able, I’ll get up every morning, pick up my Bible and read. Tolle lege. Happy New Year. 

  • Arlene Van Hove is a therapist, a mother of four adult children and a grandmother to an ever-increasing brood of delightful grandchildren. She also belongs to the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign, a subsidiary of the Stephen Lewis Foundation, which raises funds for grandmothers who are raising the next generation in countries devastated by the Aids epidemic.As a writer Arlene hopes to provide a comforting voice for all those who struggle with the complexity of life. At the same time, she believes one of the roles of a columnist is to unflinchingly challenge 'the map when it no longer fits the ground.' And while she has less advice for others as she herself is aging, she hopes her columns will encourage her readers to develop questions and answers for themselves that continue to be worth asking and answering in the 21st Century. She is a member of the Fleetwood CRC in Surrey, B.

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