December 20, 2005

Bible Study: Bible Needed

1549 page8 capHORTLY AFTER GRADUATING FROM college about a decade ago (say it isn?t so!) I decided I really needed to get in touch with God through His Word. Prayer was already a major factor in my life, but I craved more--I wanted to discover God through sermon, parable, and account. To me, it was almost a tangible way to know Him, to touch God intimately. And so I started out ?scientifically?--I would let the Bible fall open to a section, and I?d proceed to read wherever my eyes first fell.

After reading half of Isaiah 67 about 20 times and Matthew 6 about 10 (I had a church bulletin stuck in that spot), I figured out there was probably a better way to study the Scriptures. I decided to read books of the Bible that contained stories that meant, for a variety of reasons, a lot to me. I read Genesis, Psalms, 1 and 2 Samuel, Proverbs, Judges, Daniel, Jonah, most of the New Testament, and (of course) Isaiah. It was nice reacquainting myself with Cain and Abel, David and Bathsheba, Solomon and his wisdom, and many of the other well-known characters and stories.

Since then I have followed other strategies for Bible reading and have enjoyed them immensely. Right now I?m immersed in a plan of my own making that combines Old and New Testament books--I?m actually finding fun in this new scheme.

I have also, on occasion, picked up a Yancey, Goldstein, or Lucado book and read the scriptural lessons based in these tomes. It is exciting, to be sure, to see the Bible through someone else?s eyes and to discover that people don?t always see the same story the same way.

I?ve also tried different Bibles that cater to different people. You know the kind: the ?single-woman-who-works-professionally-but-also-enjoys-mountain-climbing-on-Sundays-in-the-fall-in-the-Adirondacks? or the ?married-twenty-something-couple-who-are-active-in-church-but-don?t-teach-any-classes-or-sing-in-the-choir? Bibles that have built-in, focused study assistance. They were entertaining and certainly got me thinking about Scripture and its application in my life in myriad ways.

All these experiences, however, have taught me a lesson: there is nothing so good as the Bible itself. And there is nothing that can replace simply reading the Bible (in whatever version) for yourself, in your own way. It is only in this way that you can discover Jesus personally. It is in this way you can learn of and experience--sample--the vast love He has for you.

While most of the Bible-reading books and formulas and supports out there help foster a person?s relationship with God, some of the profound communication between Father and child is compromised, and a deep, very intimate conversation between God and a person is lost when one does not read directly from the Bible. Some lessons are not typically found unless one discovers them in his/her own Bible study.

Unsung Heroes
Here is one example (of many). It?s from 2 Kings 13. After an illness, Elisha the prophet died and was buried (verse 20). A group of Israelites was in the midst of a funeral when they spotted a band of Moabite raiders. The Israelites quickly tossed the body into the prophet?s tomb and fled. ?When the body touched Elisha?s bones, the man came to life and stood up on his feet? (verse 21).*

1549 page8We tend to talk more about the relationship between Elijah and Elisha, about the boys who made fun of Elisha?s lack of lustrous locks adorning his head, about floating axheads. These are all fine things to remember and discuss. But think about this for a moment: God is so awesome that even His dead servant?s bones were still warm with power, still infused with His might! I am so glad I serve such an amazing and powerful God!

Here?s another example involving life and death, found in Acts 20:7-12. While listening to the apostle Paul preach late one night during a seven-day stop in Troas, a young man named Eutychus fell asleep. Unfortunately, he was sitting in an open third-story window trying to catch a cooling breeze, and he fell to the ground below. Everyone rushed outside to help, but the fall was lethal. Paul stopped preaching, went downstairs, leaned over the young man?s body, and hugged him. Paul then looked at the people gathered and said, ?Don?t be alarmed. . . . He?s alive!? (verse 10). The group ate together, and Paul finished his sermon, departing around dawn.

I don?t know about you, but I?ve read about Paul?s various stints in prison and lots about his travels and talks across the Middle East--and I don?t recall Eutychus? resurrection featuring prominently in any commentary. This incident is, however, such a testament to God?s power, ability, and love to work through mere mortals in such a magnificent way! For me, this is faith-building stuff.

And what about another young man? This one was running around Gethsemane garbed in a sheet--and nothing else. When Jesus is arrested by the priests and elders, everyone deserts Him (Mark 14:43-50). This passage is (or should be) familiar to every Christian. And these verses, to be sure, are heartbreaking. But what really intrigues me is the content of verses 51 and 52: ?A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind.? A naked body dashing off into the night, can you imagine it? This sounds pretty bizarre.

Was this young man a person Jesus cast demons out of and someone, maybe a disciple, had lent him a simple garment? Or was the young man so enthralled with Jesus that he didn?t even take the time to get dressed--when he knew Jesus was out in Gethsemane in the middle of the night, did he run from his home, pausing only to grab the simplest of attire? And if this one guy is mentioned, does this mean there were more people out there too? I have always thought Jesus and His disciples were very alone, but what if there were others wandering around looking for Jesus or trying to get close enough for a sermon or touch from the Savior? While these verses may not be ?important? in understanding the gospel message, they are there for a reason--this makes me yearn to know the story behind these verses.

Here?s another interesting episode, only one verse long. It is Judges 3:31, after Ehud, the left-handed deliverer, retires from fighting on Israel?s behalf. Ehud had done much good for Israel--during his command the people followed the Lord. He and Deborah, a prophetess who led Israel after Ehud, are recognizable characters. But what about Shamgar? ?After Ehud came Shamgar son of Anath, who struck down six hundred Philistines with an oxgoad. He too saved Israel? (verse 31). That?s all we get to know about Shamgar, but even this morsel is important. Again, the power of God is emphasized as He uses a human with a long, pointed stick to destroy enemies of His children.

The last sentence of the verse is perhaps the most significant, however. ?He too saved Israel.? This indicates that while Ehud and the other more popular heroes of the day should be acknowledged for their efforts and what God did through them, everyday people who were not knighted as deliverers or prophets also had momentous impact. Shamgar saved Israel too. To me, that is pretty significant.

It?s known more as a sword than a goad, but what about the gospel and those who spread it? We read about Paul, Stephen, John, and the other apostles, but how often do we study specifically about Priscilla? She is believed to have converted her husband, Aquila, and others. In Acts 18:18-26 Priscilla does some preaching on the road with Paul and her husband, and she is integral in Apollos? conversion. A woman actively involved in ministry: spreading the gospel was not and is not solely the mission of men!

Nothing So Good
These were some events, stories, I had long since overlooked. In the readings and recollections of the more flashy and dramatic, I had forgotten the few verses scattered here and there depicting rather startling and exciting incidents. I would not have picked up these important lessons and/or thought-provoking happenings through any other means except by reading them--again--along the way.

To be fair, there is only so much a typical reading plan or outline or guide can accomplish in an appropriate amount of pages. Just think: How would you sit in an easy chair with a book several reams of paper long? It would be quite uncomfortable--your lap and legs would probably give out before you?d gotten to page 100 of a gazillion pages!

But that aside, helps are just that: help. They can never replace the Bible. My point stands: there is nothing so good as the Bible itself. So when I do step away from the straight text (as I mentioned, these forays are helpful to Christian growth) and read different material, I am never away for long. I always go back to the Bible--and just the Bible. My motto is simple--Bible study: Bible needed.

*Bible texts are from the New International Version.

Kimberly Luste Maran is an assistant editor of the Adventist Review.