We all have an internal reservoir. In the natural sense, a reservoir is a body of water that is used as a resource and supply. It is a reserve that people can draw from in times of need. The term “reservoir” in the context of Bible study was coined by Stephen Manley years ago to refer to the “reservoir” we draw from in daily living. My reservoir contains:
- my knowledge
- my experience
- my culture and background
- my understanding of the Word of God
- all the sermons I have ever heard
- the stories I know
- the books I have read
- the facts and information I’ve accumulated
- my “perspective”
When someone asks us a question, we often turn to our reservoir to discover what my experience, knowledge, and culture say about the subject. We consult our history, the morals we were taught, and our understanding of the subject to come up with an answer.
We often do that with Bible study. When we come to a passage, rather than allow the Word to speak for itself, we often interpret it through our personal filter (reservoir) and come to a conclusion. We say things like: “This is what the passage means to me.” We deem the meaning based upon us not Scripture.
Your reservoir is not bad. It has shaped who you are. But when we come to the Word of God we must not interpret Scripture through our perspective or lens, we must allow Scripture to interpret Scripture.
Many pastors and teachers speak from their reservoir. Have you ever heard someone start a sermon or lesson by talking about a story they heard or a juicy tidbit from the news, later trying to get a Bible passage to relate and fit with the theme? This is backwards from where they should start.
Rather than begin with your reservoir, trying to come up with something to teach or preach, then find a passage that would fit, you should begin with Scripture. As you study and saturate within the Truth of God’s Word, the concept (meaning) of the text becomes clear. Then (and only then) as you prepare the message, go to your reservoir and find illustrations, stories, and examples that illustrate the concept from the Word.
You do use your reservoir, but not at the beginning.
A Reservoir of Change
One reason we always start with the Word of God is because, despite what many of us believe, our knowledge, experience, and perspective isn’t always correct. God’s Word is. When you begin with your reservoir you assume the reservoir is perfect.
When I begin with God’s Word and come openly before it, I often find that my reservoir has been wrong. How many times has Scripture changed the way I always thought or believed? Many. I want to live and think Biblically, and though I assume I make decisions based upon those truths, I discover at times how different my thinking is from Scripture. My reservoir needs to change.
Every time I look at my bank account I am gripped with worry. How am I going to pay this months rent? How am I going to make it to the end of the month? My reservoir has informed how I respond. As I get into the Word, I realize that my reservoir is wrong and I need God to change it. “Do not worry” declares Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. “Rejoice always,” writes Paul to the Thessalonians.
As I study Scripture I will be challenged and pressed in my thinking, living, and focus. The Word of God is the plumb line that my life is constantly measured against. As I am brought before its perfect standard, I realize how much I lack, how wrong I have been, how much I need Jesus. My reservoir needs transformation.
I grew up in Sunday School but what I learned on the flannel boards in those classes, I have come to realize, weren’t always great theology. It wasn’t always Biblical. Some of the sermons I heard growing up were lacking Truth, victory, and the Gospel. Though I learned a lot through my education, it wasn’t complete. The stories and illustrations I know are good, but as I reevaluate the books I’ve read and the movies I’ve watched, I now see how far many of them are from Scripture. My reservoir needs fixing.
Setting the Reservoir Aside in Study
It is nearly impossible to set aside your reservoir when you study. Your background, your theological understanding, your previous experience will influence your understanding at some level. But it is important as we come to study the Word of God to set aside our reservoir as much as possible. We do not want to interpret Scripture through our past, experience, or understanding. We want Scripture to interpret Scripture. Scripture is its own best commentary.
Be truthful with what you study. Though you may come from a particular theological perspective, don’t force the text to fit within the framework already established in your mind. Allow the Word to speak for itself and be open and willing to change your framework (reservoir) if God begins to reveal Truth through His Word.
I do not take Scripture and bend it around my life, I bend my life around Scripture. I do not force Scripture to say what I want it to say, I come beneath its authority.
Question: have an example of how Scripture has transformed your “reservoir”? Leave the story (or a comment) in the section below.