As a new Christian, maybe 18 years ago or so, I used to attend a weekly Friday night bible study. That night I would meet with 15-25 other singles and dive into a study, then some of us would usually head out to eat together. I was brand new to the Word, and so eager to learn. I attended on and off for years, cutting my teeth on things I read but barely understood, wanting so badly to “get it”, that struggle for comprehension only driving me to study more. It was the highlight of my week.
At the time I was teaching middle school science with a wonderful bunch of coworkers- a group that truly sought excellence from their students and in their own teaching. I had a lot of great friends there. But every Friday, I would receive an invitation- did I want to go to happy hour with them? I did go occasionally, but for the most part, my answer was no, and I would add that I was going to bible study. It happened so often that it got to be routine. A friend would ask “Would you like to go to happy hour, or are you going to bible study?” Eventually a good-natured friend quipped “Enough with the bible study… when’s the test?!”
I cannot even remember all of the studies I have attended in the last 18 years, but I heard something recently in a study that struck me. I have been studying the book of James this year, and in Beth Moore’s video for one of her sessions, she asks the question “when was the last time a bible study actually changed you, either how you behave or how you understand the nature of God?”
I can think of several in recent history. I studied Deuteronomy as a young mother of two (the third was not even on the radar yet). Want to learn about God as Father, and what perfect parenting looks like? Read Deuteronomy.
I studied Joshua in a time when it was unclear what my role as a ministry leader was.
I studied Ruth in a time when I was struggling with allegiance to natural family versus spiritual family.
I studied the Prodigal God (Tim Keller) when I was questioning the merit of playing by the rules.
I studied Revelation and realized that I was seeing Jesus for only half of what He is. Half of infinity is still infinity, but when my eyes opened to what I had not seen, well, oh my soul is all I can say.
Beth Moore’s point in asking her question about the last time a bible study changed you was this: James 1 says “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” Her point is that as long as we sit and listen to all the pretty words and encouragement, but remain unchanged by them, then we might as well not attend.
Now is the point at which I could give a list of bible studies, conferences and books I have consumed that have not changed me a whit. Some were beyond me, some were simply not very good, but most that did not have an impact were probably because I did not allow it to impact me. For whatever reason- boredom, poor motivation, laziness- instead of doing the Word, I just went through the motions. And I feel regret.
The biggest reason I think I missed out in these studies is that I was treating the Word as if it were an inanimate, dead thing, instead of the living breathing thing that Scripture is. These are not dry, dusty bones, and if I treat it as such of course it will have no power to change. These are living God-breathed words, meant for me not only to read and study, but as James says, to do.
As to my humorous co-worker’s question- “Enough with the bible study… when’s the test?” It was funny, and it still makes me chuckle. But I wish I had the maturity to tell him what I would tell him now: there is no test, not for me. Someone already took it in my place and passed it for me.
So what is the point of studying then? The point is not to be measured and found adequate or lacking. The end goal is for nourishment- real nourishment. “He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” Deut 8:3