Scripture Union’s Bible Reading Guides help Canadians read, reflect and respond to God’s Word. Working systematically through the Bible, a person reads consecutive passages from a book of the Bible every day. Each selection includes a reflection (exposition) by an experienced Bible teacher that helps the reader reflect on the text.
In this article, we ask Annabel Robinson to share her process for writing daily Bible reflections for Encounter With God.
What is Encounter With God?
Encounter with God (EWG) is a Scripture Union’s Bible reading guide for experienced Bible readers. Scripture Union describes it as “designed to lead you to a deeper understanding about what God is saying to you and his world today. You’ll find its thorough and energetic investigation of the whole Bible inspiring and stimulating. And you’ll discover that its biblical exposition is complemented by pastoral warmth from a strong field of writers and contributors.”
How did you start to write for EWG?
To answer that question, I have to tell you a story.
One day, after I had been a reader of EWG for many years, I opened up my Bible and the notes (Bible reading guide). The passage for that day was Esther 1. (If you have the time, read that chapter, and you’ll better understand what I’m talking about).
It’s a description of a party. Not the kind of party that you might be thinking of. This one lasted six months! It happened at the court of the King of Persia, Ahasuerus, or Xerxes. All the governors of the land were invited—men only, you understand. During the last week of the party, Ahasuerus threw the invitation open to all the men in the capital city of Susa. Then, on the final day, “when his heart was merry with wine,” he ordered his wife, Vashti, to come “to show the peoples and the officials her beauty; for she was fair to behold.” (Esther 1:11)
And Vashti said, “No.”
Pause there. What do you think was going on? What do you think of Vashti?
I can tell you what I thought. “One smart woman.”
Then I turned to the notes and couldn’t believe what was written. The notes blamed Vashti for what happened, suggesting it was all because she disobeyed her husband.
Well, this called for a letter to the editor. I took the time to craft the letter, stressing that I loved and had benefited from Encounter With God for many years, but this comment was just plain wrong, and I gave my reasons.
Long story short, I got a phone call from Scripture Union inviting me to write for them, and I’ve done so ever since.
How do you approach writing the daily reflections?
I’m aware that EWG readers usually understand the Bible well, so I spend a couple of months contemplating the whole section I’m assigned. I study it in Greek if it’s from the New Testament.
I spend a lot of time studying the context.
I study all the background information carefully, including the geographical setting.
Connections and Storytelling
I look for connections all through the assigned section.
Realizing that our memories are selective and telling a story even more selective, I notice details that may seem odd. Why has the writer included this particular piece of information? (If I had Esther 1, I would ask myself why the writer bothered to mention that the king’s heart was “merry with wine”). In the Gospels, I try to pay attention to what is happening in the narrative and how the evangelist tells it.
In the Gospels, I try to pay attention both to what is happening in the narrative and the way that the evangelist tells it.
For example, in writing about Mark 1:35-39, I wrote:
Simon, already the leader, took the others and went looking for him, and on finding him, declared (with some exaggeration?) that everybody was looking for him. One cannot help sensing that Simon and the rest felt that Jesus’ responsibility was to be with them, preaching and healing, and not playing hooky on his own.
Underneath lies a darker narrative. In Galilee, with Herod Antipas watching, Jesus needed to keep on the move. Herod’s father had tried to assassinate “the baby born king of the Jews,” and Mary and Joseph had fled to Egypt to keep him safe. Now Jesus is back in Antipas’ territory, attracting large crowds. Mark’s words are suggestive: “very early,” “while it was dark,” “Jesus went out,” “solitary place,” and “everybody is looking for you.”
Yes, they were, and not only so they could learn from his teaching and be healed by his miracles. Some had more sinister motives.
Old Testament Connections
Where there is an OT quote or allusion, I look up the passage and its surrounding context to make the connection. Often when the NT quotes the OT, the writer has the whole passage in mind.
I also ask God to speak to me through the passage.
I also ask God to speak to me through the passage.
Using Other Helps and Resources
I use commentaries and read what others have said. (I have 1677 commentaries online on Logos Bible Software. Plus, I have built up a good library).
The last set of reflections I wrote was on Mark 1-3. I saw new things. Reading between the lines, I noticed how much Jesus was moving around, careful to keep away from Herod Antipas. By studying the demographics of Judea, I noticed how much of his ministry was among Gentiles.
Entering into the Story
Then I put myself in the story and ask myself, what would I expect to happen next?
After Jesus’ baptism (Mark 1:9-12), I thought, “If I did not know the story, I surely would not have expected what we read in verse 12. This is not what happens after an inauguration.” (Jesus spent time alone in the wilderness.) Why does he do this?
When I read about the paralytic who was let down through the roof (Mark 2:1-12), I wondered, “What did Simon think about his house being torn apart?” Then “We might have expected [Jesus] to indicate compassion for the paralytic and heal him. But the story doesn’t go that way. When he saw their faith, he forgave the man [his sins].”
Then I look for a new application to a current life situation–politics, world news, life situations like depression, et cetera. Our shared pandemic experience has furnished many new possibilities for application.
Then I write the first draft, put it aside and sleep on it.
I do a final review about two weeks before it’s due. Sometimes I haven’t used precisely the right word. Sometimes something is redundant and can be taken out.
Now, finally, it’s ready to go, and the editing begins.
Writing Bible reading guides is a tall order, and the authors take it seriously. They pray, research, and study the passage. If you’re ready to read the Bible better, our reading guides will help you develop the skills to interact more deeply with the text.
Bible Study Tips
Here are some Bible studying tips we can learn from Annabel’s writing process:
- Pray and ask God to lead your study
- Understand the context
- Study the background
- Consider the geographical settings (flip to the back of your Bible and look at the maps)
- With narratives pay attention to both what is happening and the way the author tells it
- If you see an OT quote in the NT then read the whole OT passage, not just the quoted verse
- Use commentaries
- Put yourself into the story
- Consider how the passage connects to your life
We have three daily Bible reading guides for adults: Encounter With God, Daily Bread and theStory – take our quiz to discover which is best for you (Encounter With God is for more experienced Bible readers and church leaders, Daily Bread is for everyone, and theStory is our digital Bible reading guide).