Encouraging or warning? Only context will tell.

“For your ways are in full view of the Lord, and He examines all your paths.”

– Proverbs 5:21

This was the verse of the day set in bold block letters against a striking image of highways and train tracks. It offered encouragement to all those sparrows who long to have the Lord’s eyes upon them, to be watched and cared for. A reassurance that not a single path escapes his sovereign attention. Safety. Security. Peace.

These were my initial thoughts upon seeing the verse broadcast at the top of the website. I took comfort in the words and connotations I had assigned to them.

Ah, and there is the rub. Connotations I had assigned to them.

Devotional websites always pick uplifting verses to feature. I get it. They want to offer a quick shot of fuel to our faith. Sometimes a blast of (seemingly) sound doctrine or an energetic burst of praise. Their job is to provide something bite-sized. That’s exactly what they do with catchy graphics you can quickly share on social media. They feature popular teachers and simple reading plans that require only a few verses a day. Snack-size spirituality.

If people really wanted a meaty meal of Scripture, they would read a book, listen to a sermon, or dive into a full Bible study, not grab a formulated devotional that can be read in less time than it takes to make coffee. Right?

We’ve tried to make faith convenient, but shortcuts can be misleading. 

We’ve tried to make convenient.

That’s a loaded statement, to be sure, and I could probably take it a dozen different directions. We could talk about assimilation to comfort and culture or entertainment churches. We could criticize “fire insurance” evangelists selling “cheap grace” or celebrity Christians and modern worship. We could point toward the publishing industry, politics, culture… a thousand labels, each one presenting their own field of explosive mines.

Right now, though, I just want to talk about Scripture and our approach to it. Let’s get back to that verse about our paths.

“For your ways are in full view of the Lord, and He examines all your paths.”

– Proverbs 5:21

As I have gotten in the habit of doing, I clicked on the tiny link below the featured verse to read “In Context.” What I found startled me. 

This verse isn’t an encouragement. It’s a warning. 

Proverbs 5 is all about faithfulness in marriage. It gives twenty-three verses about avoiding seduction and enjoying your wife. This particular verse – verse 21 – reminds us that God sees even what we think we do in secret. Within this context, the verse should fill us with reverent fear rather than cozy confidence.

I wonder how many people visited that site and applied the same positive connotations I did. How many people read it and felt bolstered rather than admonished? Encouraged rather than cautioned?

Let’s strive for more than simple faith and popular takes.

We live in a tweetable, social-media obsessed culture. We have very short attention spans and we breed false ideals of popularity, somehow equating broad appeal with “good” or “right.”

Seth Godin wrote:

“Popular isn’t the same as important. Popular isn’t the same as profound. Popular isn’t even the same as useful. To make something popular, the creator leaves out the hard parts and amps up the crowd-pleasing riffs. To make something popular, the creator knows that she’s dumbing things down in exchange for attention.

How often are we leaving out the hard parts?

Please understand I am not at all disparaging Bible apps or devotionals. I do challenge them to be careful with their presentations, but mostly my admonition here is for you and me.

Are we considering the context of Scripture or just looking for a self-help shot of faith each day?

Are we handling God’s Word with the reverence and care it deserves?

I am not saying we need to spend five hours in study and prayer. You don’t have to learn Hebrew and Greek. You can! But my point is simply to be present and aware when we approach Scripture.

Read it. Read it to understand. Think about it. Consider what it means. Pray and ask for insight. And do all that before you slap it on an image and share it with all your friends.

In our heads — I hope! — we know what Godin says is true. But in our actions, in our hearts, in our attitudes and choices, we’re still counting the “likes” and smiles we get. We still think, at times subconsciously, that voiced approval by others affirms value or goodness. Even correctness. We think that if it makes us feel good, it must be right.

We’re not just taking Scripture out of context.
We’re taking ourselves out of context, too.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s