Every Christian has a different story about how God has spoken to them through the words of the bible. Fr Stephen Wang tells us how the bible changed his life.
By Fr Stephen Wang
When I was fifteen I had no Christian faith and no interest in God. One morning we had a school assembly, and there was a bible reading from St John’s Gospel. It went: “In the beginning was the Word; and the Word was with God; and the Word was God… The Word became flesh and dwelt among us… full of grace and truth”.
I didn’t understand what it meant at the time. But something spoke to me; there was a kind of echo in my heart, as if there was something important here that needed exploring.
Two years later, I was reading the same Gospel in my bedroom. I’d become interested in Christianity, but it hadn’t touched me in a very personal way. I read these words of Jesus: “Do not let your hearts be troubled; trust in God still, and trust in me…”
And it felt as though Jesus himself was present with me, speaking to me, heart to heart. I couldn’t see him, but his words – through the bible – felt very personal. It was like hearing a voice rather than reading a text.
Years later, when I was training to be a priest, I went away on retreat. It was a difficult time. I was very unsure about whether to continue in my training. I felt very inadequate and full of doubts. I remember sitting on the garden wall with the bible, and reading the words of John the Baptist, as he spoke about Jesus: “He must grow greater; I must grow less”.
It was like a light going on; a very clear answer to prayer. I was trying to do everything myself, and now Jesus was turning it upside down and saying: you don’t have to be perfect, you just have to trust in me, and let me work in you.
Every Christian will have a different story about how God has spoken to them through the words of the bible. I don’t think I’m special. I’m just using these moments as examples.
Sometimes it’s something completely unexpected, opening a door we didn’t know was there. Sometimes it’s a simple note of reassurance or encouragement. Sometimes it’s a very concrete message or a command: “Do this!” or “Don’t do that!” And sometimes it’s just the day-to-day reading and praying, without any big experiences.
Jesus said: if you listen to my words and put them into practice it’s like building a house on rock; the foundation is so secure that your faith will never be undermined. We just have to spend some time with the bible, and to follow his teaching and example. It might be reading the bible alone, or joining a prayer group or a study group, or hearing the bible readings at church on Sunday.
If you are not sure how to start, here’s a simple suggestion. Find a bible, and just enjoy reading through one of the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke or John) which tell the story of Jesus. Go at whatever pace suits you. There is no pressure.
See what you find interesting. If there is a passage that strikes you, then you can stay with that and mull it over, like when you pull off a motorway in order to admire a view. You are not just reading the words on the page, you are listening to what God is saying to you in your heart.
This kind of personal reading is often the first place we start. But we soon realise that if we want to understand the true message of the bible, and to unlock its deepest mysteries, we need the help of others, and we need the help of the Church. The Holy Spirit is speaking to the whole Church, and not just to me. I need the wisdom of the Church to help me appreciate the deepest wisdom of the bible.
Let me finish with a story about St Augustine. He was in a great personal crisis when he was in his early thirties. He felt completely lost. He was sitting in a garden and heard the voice of a child chanting, “Take it and read; take it and read”. He felt he was meant to pick up a bible he had seen earlier.
He opened it and read these words: “You must leave aside conflict and jealousy, and clothe yourself in Jesus Christ”. He experienced a profound peace and his soul was flooded with a light that took away all darkness and doubt.
It won’t be exactly the same for everyone. But there is an invitation to all of us to see what God wants to do for us through the power of the bible.
This article is adapted from Episode 6 (“The Bible”) of the Sycamore series. Sycamore is an informal course about the Christian faith and its relevance for life today. It gives you space to meet other people, share ideas, explore your beliefs, and think about questions that really matter. Each Sycamore session involves a short film, plenty of time for discussion, and often some delicious food. For more information about the resources and how you can use them in your parish, school or chaplaincy please visit www.sycamore.fm.