Many of us who love God and his word will soon be planning for fall Bible studies. Along with organizing volunteers and coffee pots, we will be making an important decision: what bible study resource do we use? Other than a familiar author’s name or referral by a friend, how do we choose well? What should we be thinking about when choosing a bible study?
Asking four questions can point us in the right direction. First, what is the author’s view of scripture? Second, what does the author do to lead you into the text? Third, what does the author do to lead the text into you? And fourth, who is the hero of the story?
Author’s View of Scripture
First what is the author’s view of scripture? One of the easiest ways to know if the author thinks the text itself is most important is whether or not you are directed to actually read it. This must always be our first step with the word. Even if it is a familiar passage, we must first get back into the context and hear the words afresh before we begin our study.Next, care must be taken to accurately exegete, or interpret each passage. Verses should be studied and explained within their original context, not pulled out to make an unrelated point. Authors who view the scriptures as authoritative and inspired by the Holy Spirit will point you to read the text first and will handle it with care…
When my oldest daughter was six, my husband and I left the country for two weeks. Two weeks. It’s really not that long, but, from the perspective of my six-year-old, it seemed like an eternity. She was afraid to be left without us, she was sad because she was going to miss us, and she was worried about what it would be like with us gone.
Knowing phone calls would be difficult at best, I left her with several things to comfort her when she was sad and strengthen her when she was afraid—a photo of us, some notes to read, and the reminder we would be praying for her. I also tried to reassure her by telling her, “We’ll be back before you know it.” After all, we were only going to be gone a little while.
A little while. The phrase is used seven times in John 16. Jesus, preparing his disciples for his death, said, “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me” (John 16:16). At the thought of Jesus leaving, the eleven disciples were like my daughter: they were afraid, sad, and worried. Not only did Jesus reassure them with the certainty they would see him again, he also promised them he would leave them three things: his Spirit, his joy, and his peace.
“Stay, Paula, stay!” This is what my Savior calls me and all of us as Christians to do in John 15 as He urges us to abide in Him. “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). The Greek word for abide means “stay, to remain where you have been placed.” This means we must remain vitally connected to the Vine.
In eternity past, the Father chose us to be united with His Son who redeemed us for His glory and set us apart for His purposes. By abiding in Him, we grow and bear lasting fruit as the Spirit empowers and enables us. Rankin Wilbourne says in his book, Union with Christ, “Like a dog commanded to stay we must exert ourselves not to become distracted or move away from our Master.”
John 15 teaches us a great deal about our Master, Jesus, the One who calls us to abide. We learn that He is the Vine and we are the branches. As His people, we are vitally connected to Him and apart from Him we can’t do anything. Apart from Him, we can’t bear fruit, not lasting fruit that brings glory to God. The fruit that we bear in our life proves that we are His disciples and that we have been united to Him.
It is tough night for everyone in the room.
It is a tough night for Jesus. He is “troubled in spirit” (John 13:21). He’s sharing bread with his betrayer, interacting with Peter’s bluster, and facing His worst nightmare: impending alienation from His Father.
And it is a tough night for the disciples. Jesus is telling them things are about to change.
They’ve abandoned work, family, and dreams to follow Jesus, and now they hear He’s abandoning them (John 13:36). If Jesus leaves, how are they going to heal people, push back the evil in the world, navigate their rivalry over who is the greatest? They are not ready to fly solo. How will they know where to go and what to do (John 14:5)?
I’m terrible at following directions. This fact has resulted in many quandaries through the years, like the time I decided I didn’t need driving directions for a trip back to college one semester, and for about two-hundred of the four-hundred-mile journey, I drove in the wrong direction.
There was that time.
I also neglect directions when it comes to putting furniture together. Once I pull out the pieces and lay out the various tools, screws, and parts, I simply start. The directions can usually be found in the trash because I have convinced myself: I can figure it on my own.
And this is why we have unnecessary holes in bookshelves, why we have a lop-sided chair, and why our music stands pop off every time I pull them up.
As ridiculous as my attitude is toward following directions, I’ve realized that my disposition toward Scripture can too easily slip into a similar mindset: I know it’s important, but I’ve read it before. Or, sadly, I will first seek my own solutions to difficulties in life rather than searching the Bible for answers; perhaps there is a part of me that believes I can figure it out on my own.
If you struggle to read the Bible because you don’t think it’s necessary, or if you’re tempted to believe that it doesn’t make a difference in your life, take a look with me at the particular words chosen by the Psalmist in Psalm 19.
God woke me up and showed me Jesus when I was in high school. My one and only high school boyfriend was about to escort me to a fancy Christmas party, and I was stoked. I’d noticed him acting a little strange recently, but I was sure it would pass. Instead, after the party he drove me to a quiet, romantic spot, and broke up with me.
I was devastated. My mother shouldered the burden of sorrow and rejection with me, but I refused to be comforted. As far as I was concerned, I was not only unloved, I was unlovable. Days turned into weeks. Then of all things, my mother—who was not the Bible thumping type—said this, “Rondi, you’ve got to get a hold of yourself. You need to ‘put your hand in the hand of the man who stilled the waters.’”
In a flash, the Holy Spirit connected the dots for me. The Jesus of my childhood suddenly became the mighty Savior of the Scriptures who had come to rescue me. The 1971 folk song brought a portion of God’s word to life and Jesus stepped off the page.
The earliest emotion I remember feeling about God is fear. As a child, I pictured God as distant, thundering, fiery. I assumed that the Father would blast me with consequences when I sinned, unless Jesus chose to plead with the Father to let me off with a warning. To be honest, I thought of Jesus as the nicest member of the Trinity—the Father was angry and the Holy Spirit was just peculiar.
I obeyed God for a long time, not out of love, but from a deep sense of fear. I did all I was supposed to do, but I kept my distance from God, and (secretly) hoped he’d keep his distance from me. As I entered adulthood, my skewed “fear of the Lord” began to destroy me. If God was not for me, then everything was against me. Who could I trust? I was insecure, unstable, anxious, blown about by circumstances.
Deep down, I wanted a different relationship with God, but I wasn’t sure where to begin. How do you learn to trust when you’ve spent a lifetime protecting yourself? I turned to a passage of Scripture that had been tugging on my heart for years—the first chapter of John’s Gospel: “For from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (John 1:16–18).