How to Read the Bible – Advice from Ole Hallesby

God’s Word is living and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword. – Hebrews 4.12


Reading the Bible daily is a great difficulty for many of God’s children. They don’t stop reading, but it becomes heavy and tiresome. And they’re scared that all of their reading is useless because they think they don’t get anything out of it.

My friend, don’t let yourself be confounded if you with prayer and simplicity read your Bible every day. Perhaps you misunderstand your reading. You have thought that it’s you has to strive in one or another way to wrestle something spiritual out of what you’re reading.

No, it is the Holy Spirit who will make the words that you read into food for your soul. Remember that the Holy Spirit must perform a miracle every time that you read the Bible, if your reading is to become bread for your soul. And the Holy Spirit is glad to do this miracle.

Therefore, when you take up your Bible, fold your hands and like a child pray that He will do this miracle for you, whether you read a little or a lot. And when you have done this, you can read with cheerfulness and be certain that what you are reading goes into your soul as a spiritual nourishment.

Don’t sit there with nervous questions about whether it will become food, and whether that food will be enough for your soul. Those people, who think too much about food and digestion while they eat, unsettle their stomachs.

No, collect your thoughts about the Word while you read. And thank God for the eternal truths that have traveled through your soul. The Spirit shall do the work of making the Word work in you, even if you can’t immediately say what that work is.

From Hallesby, Ole. Daglig Fornyelse: Andaktsbok for Hjemmet. Translated by Kristofer Coffman. Oslo: Lutherstiftelsens Forlag, 1951, 36.

Who Makes the First Move? Hallesby on John 4

Though it’s been a while since my last effort, I try, every now and then, to feature translations from the Scandinavians languages here on Trout and Cast Iron. Today’s comes from one of my favorites, Ole Hallesby. 


If you recognized God’s gift and if you knew who it is that says to you: Give me a drink!, then you would have prayed to him, and he would have given you living water.  – John 4.10

This is how Jesus saves us all:

He begins, not us. He seeks us out and he begins the conversation with us. We have not desired any conversation with him and we certainly seek to twist ourselves out of it, just as the woman at the well did. But he won’t let us slip out.

He talks with us in the silence of the night. He talks with us in church, although we did not go there to meet Jesus. And it is our salvation that Jesus tells us about, and he doesn’t ask our permission to bring it up.

But, there are some who won’t listen to Jesus. They twist themselves out, just as the woman at the well did in the beginning. Is there anyone in our little circle today who’s acted in the same way? Jesus has a little word for you, before we end our little devotion today: If you recognized God’s gift and if you knew who it is that says to you: Give me a drink!, then you would have prayed to him, and he would have given you living water.

From Hallesby, Ole. Daglig Fornyelse: Andaktsbok for Hjemmet. Translated by Kristofer Coffman. Oslo: Lutherstiftelsens Forlag, 1951, 23.


Friday Facts: Lectionary A – Advent 3

Friday Facts is a new weekly feature here on Trout and Cast Iron. Every week, I’ll read through the lectionary texts for the following Sunday in their original Hebrew and Greek. On Friday, I’ll choose one of the texts, provide a new translation, and highlight one point of interest from a linguistic, ancient history, or concordance point of view. The hope is that Friday Facts can provide a spark to preachers who find themselves preparing their Sunday sermon on a short schedule. 

Isaiah 35.1-10

1 The wilderness and the desert will rejoice and the dry steppe will shout in exultation and they will blossom like the crocus. 2 They will blossom continuously and, indeed, they will rejoice continuously and shout for joy. The glory of Lebanon, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon will be given to them. They will see the glory of YHWH, the majesty of our God. 3 Strengthen the hands of the weak and make firm stumbling knees. 4 Say to those with a fickle heart “Be strong, be not afraid! Behold your God. Vengeance is coming. The retribution of God will come and save you.” 5 Then the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf will be restored. 6 Then the limping will leap like a deer and the tongue of the mute will sing for joy because water will break forth in the wilderness and torrents on the dry steppe. 7 The parched ground will become a reed encircled pool and the thirsty ground will become a spring. The jackals’ den will become a swamp and the dry grass will become reeds and rushes. 8 There will be a path there and it will be called the Holy Way. The unclean will not walk on it. It will be for God’s people. No traveler, not even fools, will get lost on it. 9 There will be no lion there, and predators will not be found there. The redeemed will walk there. 10 And the ransomed of YHWH will return, and come to Zion with singing. Everlasting joy will be on their heads; they will attain joy and gladness. Sorrow and sighing will flee.

For the first eighteen years of my life, I lived in southern California, a land of dry scrub and chaparral. Every year, I went camping with my father and brother in the White Mountains, a mountain range in the desert that straddles Nevada and California. We camped next to a creek, less than three feet wide in most stretches, but large enough to transform the landscape. On the banks of the creek, green grass and willows flourished. Trout swam in it and voles scurried through the meadows that it watered. But walk 100 feet away, and you’d wander into a wilderness of sage brush and cactus and scrubby pine trees.

This passage from Isaiah makes me think back to those mountain camping trips, but even more so, it makes me reflect on the topography in Minnesota, where I live now. Here in Minnesota, I have to take care not to trip, otherwise I’ll end up in a lake or a river or some other body of water. It presents a question to the translator: where does translation end and interpretation begin? For instance, should I adapt Isaiah 35:6-7 for my Minnesota readers and render it: “Then the limping will leap like a deer and the tongue of the mute will sing for joy because the sun will break forth on the prairie and summer on the frozen hills. The frozen pond will become a swimming hole and the dead grass will become a flowery meadow.” It may get the point across, but it definitely changes the metaphor. It’s a slippery slope that I’m not sure that I want to walk down. But as a preacher, I think it’s important to keep your climate in mind. If your congregants have never been to the desert, you may have to think about whether “jackals’ dens” becoming “swamps” is translating for them.

This is a slippery question, and one that I’ll continue to reflect upon throughout this feature. If you’re interested, I encourage you to take a look at my earlier post on a similar desert problem, translating the Hebrew word nachal (incidentally, the word nachal appears in Isaiah 35:6, where I’ve translated it ‘torrents’).

What Does it Mean to Repent?

Which person among you, who has a hundred sheep and loses one of them, will not leave the ninety nine in the wilderness and go after the one who is lost, until you find it? Luke 15.4


We have talked about those people who employ God’s love to run away from religion and afterwards smile all the time. But there are others who don’t smile.

There are never many. Jesus gives an illustrative expression in the parable where he talks about the one and the ninety nine.

Listen here, you lonely, fearful, wandering soul: Jesus loves you.

No, he doesn’t love me, you say. He’s mad at me. And rightly so! I have never done anything but sin against him.

Yeah, you’re right. If you look back on what you’ve done, you’ve got no hope. But all those things that you’ve done Jesus took upon himself. “He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our misdeeds, the punishment lay on him, so that we should have peace.”

That’s how He loves you.

In the same way, he’s worried about you when you run away. He’s been looking for you day and night. Haven’t you heard him calling?

Yes, yes you have. That’s why you’ve become ill at ease. That’s when your sins started to get so heavy.

But what do I do to find my way to God? you ask.

You don’t. And God hasn’t asked you to either. He’s the one who’s been looking for you. And now He’s found you. Now all He asks is that you hold still and He’ll put you on His shoulders and carry you home.

That’s what it means to repent.

Adapted from Hallesby, Ole. Daglig Fornyelse: Andaktsbok for Hjemmet. Translated by Kristofer Coffman. Oslo: Lutherstiftelsens Forlag, 1951, 177.

Go Away from me Lord! Hallesby on Luke 5.8

But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down on his knees before Jesus and said: Lord, go away from me, for I am a sinful man! – Luke 5.8


If the Lord will live in a person’s heart, He first must crush it. And the hearts which He will use in His work, He will crush the most thoroughly.

It was not only Peter who recognized the terror in his heart. If the Lord will make us useful, we must be able to see our sin, and seeing sin breeds terror. We must look so deeply at our own heart, our own god-fearing, our own Christian work, such that it becomes our despair. If we shall receive “the wisdom which comes from God,” we must first see our own stupidity.

Therefore, do not become discouraged, my dear co-laborers, when you experience this crushing blow from the Lord. You think that everything is impossible, but nothing is as impossible as you doing something righteous in God’s kingdom.

You think that you are unworthy? Yes, but who is worthy? No one. It is only through grace that we become co-laborers in the Lord’s work. As long as you realize this, it will go well with your labors.

You realize that you’re ill-fitted for the work? Good. As long as you realize it, the Lord can use it. For there is nothing which can make you fitted that you don’t receive from God, and He gives grace to the humble.

No one is so well-suited to win over people as a humble person. A humble person never takes a high position among the believers. A humble person never sows splits and disagreements in the Lord’s flock. And a humble person has an entrance into the heart and conscience of the unconverted that nobody else has.

From Hallesby, Ole. Daglig Fornyelse: Andaktsbok for Hjemmet. Translated by Kristofer Coffman. Oslo: Lutherstiftelsens Forlag, 1951, 104.


A Meditation for Long Friday

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God. – 1st Corinthians 1.18

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God has spoken to us many times and in many ways through the prophets. “In these last days,” He has spoken to us through the Son. And it was a powerful speech, spoken both with his words and his deeds.

But the cross is without comparison his most powerful sermon.

The cross on Golgotha is history’s and the world’s turning point.

It is the most dreadful and the most lovely place on our earth.

There, on the cross, God reveals the two most powerful and secret realities in existence: sin and grace.

No person knows sin before they stand at the feet of Jesus’ cross. And because the majority of people will not stand at the foot of the cross, they look thoughtlessly and heedlessly upon their sin.

What does the cross say about people’s sin?

It says that people are enemies of God. It says that people are not only evil; they are so evil at they can’t endure good. So evil that they killed the one good person. And they didn’t kill him by accident. They killed him deliberately with an expertly prepared execution. And it was our world’s most religious people who did it.

Further, Christ’s cross proclaims that sin is so awful that the almighty and all-loving God cannot forgive it without atonement.

But he cannot demand the atonement of anyone else. Instead, God himself becomes human in order to suffer and die for his enemies.

Dearly beloved children of God, let us behold sin’s horrible seriousness. Let Jesus’ lament from the cross pierce us to the bone, so that Jesus’ suffering can give us the fear and trembling that preserves us from despising his grace.

From Hallesby, Ole. Daglig Fornyelse: Andaktsbok for Hjemmet. Translated by Kristofer Coffman. Oslo: Lutherstiftelsens Forlag, 1951, 82.




A Meditation for Palm Sunday

Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, “I do believe, help my unbelief! – Mark 9.24


Thus cried out the believing father in his need. And thus cry out all the faithful in their need. The Scriptures tell about faith’s secret, and, in truth, faith is a secret-filled thing. Among others, we find the secret of faith, that one can never be born again without the old self dying. The self’s death and faith’s birth are inseparable.

And death is always painful; the death of the old self is no different, and so, there will always be a painful side of faith. A sinner cannot come to faith in Christ, without at the same time losing faith in himself.

Therefore, in its beginning, faith is always a sorrowing, sighing, crying, doubting faith, because a sinner doesn’t see his faith; a sinner only sees his unbelief. And so we pray unceasingly, like the desperate father, “Help my unbelief!”

But, in other ways, we can see that faith is there. First and foremost, because the sinner suffers on account of his unbelief, and prays for faith.

At that point, faith is already a reality with him, for to believe is to come to Christ with your sins, as the Haugeans say.

He who comes to the feet of Christ’s cross with all his daily sins, he believes, even if he can only see his own doubt, and cannot yet see his faith.

Faith only lives as long as it is wrestling, says Luther.

Here this, you dear children of God, who so often are unsettled and never can grasp your faith as well as you wish.

Cry out like the father in the text: I believe, Lord, help my unbelief!

From Hallesby, Ole. Daglig Fornyelse: Andaktsbok for Hjemmet. Translated by Kristofer Coffman. Oslo: Lutherstiftelsens Forlag, 1951, 81.