LIFE: Dig In

At the beginning of our John sermon series, Pastor Nate encouraged us as a faith family to three challenges: Be Present, Dig In and Pray. In this blog series, we are exploring those challenges.


One summer during college, I worked at the Alaska Zoo. From painting the den of the black bears, to feeding Siberian tigers, this was a summer I’ll never forget. I even had an animal named after me. Few creatures are more mighty or majestic than Eric the chinchilla! Honestly, a wimpy rodent with a fury tail and big velvety ears isn’t that cool.

The zoo started in 1966 when a man in Fairbanks, Alaska won a national contest, and the grand prize winner could choose between $3,000 or a baby elephant. The promoters of this campaign never thought someone in their right mind would choose an elephant. Clearly, these marketing executives had never met an Alaskan. This is how Annabelle found her home in the Last Frontier and the Alaska Zoo began.

Elephants are magnificent creatures. With ears that flap like wings and legs that are stronger than trees, there’s nothing like standing in the shadow of an elephant. It’s impossible to not marvel at the size of these grey giants.

But have you ever seen an elephant swim?

When my children were young, we watched a family of elephants swim at the Indianapolis Zoo. It was like watching a herd of rowdy kids taking over a neighborhood pool. They splashed. They rolled. Fully submerged, these elephants dove under into the deep blue and sprayed geysers of water through their trunks like giant Super Soakers. Elephants don’t tip toe along the edge. Elephants swim!

There’s an ancient saying about the Bible that makes a lot more sense if you can imagine an elephant swimming. The original source goes back fifteen centuries to an early church father Gregory the Great (540–604AD).

“Scripture is like a river again, broad and deep, shallow enough here for the lamb to go wading, but deep enough there for the elephant to swim.” [1]

What this means is that Scripture can nourish even the smallest and youngest minds. Yet at the same time, the Bible is so profound it can stretch the smartest scholars. This is especially true of John. The gospel of John is simple enough to be understood by new believers, yet deep enough to challenge life-long disciples. Have you noticed this combination of simplicity and complexity? John writes on different levels as he captures and intertwines the story of Jesus.


Earlier this fall, Pastor Nate challenged us to go deeper and dig into the gospel of John. More than skipping across the surface or wading along the edges, we want to be the kind of people who dive headfirst and swim like an elephant.

1. Read by slowing down—waaaayyyyy down.

Have you noticed how much energy a young child puts into reading? Children don’t skim. Instead, a child points to their book and reads each word one at a time. Big words are broken down as a child sounds out the letters and reconstructs the word. Reading is slow. It’s less about counting down pages and more about wrestling through phrases.

As humans, we’re wired for efficiency as our brains look for ways to conserve energy. As we become proficient at reading, we skim familiar words with eyes that dart across the page. But reading isn’t the same as comprehending. Just because you can read a sentence doesn’t mean you understand it. Have you ever found yourself nose deep in a book but once you arrive at the bottom of the page, you have no idea what you read?

The first step to digging into Scripture is to slow down. Read each word. Read slowly. Read sentences out loud and pause to think about words and phrases. If God’s Word is intended to nourish our souls, we shouldn’t be scarfing it down quickly. Enjoy the meal and savor every word. Put your brain to work and read like a child.

2. Read with curiosity and ask questions.

Once you slow down and focus, your brain shifts from conserving energy and directs calories to reading. As your brain is engaged, this is when the text comes alive and interesting details stand out. Since none of us were around when the Bible was written, our job is to ask questions to understand the author’s intent.

Where is this happening? Is this in a crowded market or on a quiet hill? Is this happening in a private home or somewhere in public? Many settings are universal. Is Jesus at a wedding or funeral? This is relatable. Is Jesus hanging out with His disciples or did any angry mob pick up rocks to stone Him? If you identify the setting, it’s easy to grasp the context and relate to how the people involved are feeling.

Who are the people involved? Is Jesus preaching to a crowd or talking one on one? Is Jesus meeting with a solider or His mother? Is this a religious leader or a leper? Is this person demon-possessed or a close friend? Like the setting, it’s easier to relate to the people involved and understand the unique dynamic of what’s happening in the text. Who is speaking? Who is listening? Who is watching in the background? Every scene is centered around specific people. While we need to be careful to not jump to conclusions or make assumptions, identifying the people and their relationships in a passage help us understand more clearly what is going on.

What are the action words? As you read the Bible, one important thing to do is to look for action words. If you see a word that is repeated, especially an action word, the author wants you to pay special attention to this word. Words matter. Each word is inspired and has a purpose. In addition to helping us see what is going on in a specific passage, sometimes action words are commands and may apply to both the original audience as well as modern day readers. It’s tempting to over-complicate the Bible or make it less concrete, yet action words make the message of the Bible relatable and sometimes they give us clues as to how we should respond.

3. Read the passage before Sunday.

Now that you have taken the time to slow down, ask questions and look for action words, the next practice will change the way you come to church.

Since most of our preaching at Radiant is expository as we go through books of the Bible, it’s easy to anticipate what’s coming up the next Sunday. If we read John 14 this week, guess what the sermon will be next Sunday… surprise—John 15!

Reading the passage prior to Sunday is one of the best ways you can dig into the Bible. Rather than hearing the passage for the first time, you will come to church with questions and will be curious about specific words or phrases. Having spent time in the text on your own, you already have a general sense of what the passage says, and now the sermon will solidify what the text means and provide ways to apply it.

When we approach Scripture and consider what it means to ‘dig in’, let’s be like an elephant. Let’s dive in and get completely, unashamedly drenched in God’s Word. Together, let’s dive headfirst and go deeper.