Could you possibly be neglecting the study of the Bible?
"Eureka!" The whiskered old prospector's excited voice echoed through the hills. "Eureka! I found it!" After years of searching, he had struck pay dirt. Gold! Lots of it. And now it belonged to him. In gold rush days, the hope of striking it rich lured multitudes across great distances. Some did strike it rich. Most did not. Have you ever wondered, though, what it would feel like to be one whose pickax unearthed the precious yellow metal? Or what about explorers who chance upon ancient tombs? As they peer inside, they behold a vast store of royal wealth that has laid undisturbed for ages. Can you imagine yourself in their shoes? How about the groups who search for sunken ships, especially old vessels known to have carried treasure chests? Now and then such a chest is located, whether by chance or through the use of modern technology. What must be the thrill of divers who search through the barnacle-encrusted remains of some ancient galleon and uncover gold coins, precious stones, jewelry and bullion hidden for centuries in the ocean depths? Unfortunately, those who discover such wealth do not get to keep it for long. Robbers stand ready to kill in order to take. Or national governments claim territorial rights over the finds or tax them heavily. Or thieves and swindlers do their dirty work. Even if one manages to retain some of the treasures for the rest of his life, they do him no good when this brief existence is over. They are, in fact, so much vanity.
Your own treasure chest
You, however, as one whom God is calling, have a treasure chest sitting on your desk or bookshelf. This treasure chest contains wealth far more valuable than gold, silver and precious stones. There is no need to fear thieves taking this wealth. It is yours to enjoy in this life and, what is more, it brings you even greater wealth in the life to come. Eternal life itself is one of the benefits it provides. We are, of course, talking about the Bible — God's Word — and the storehouse of wisdom and understanding it contains. Such wisdom is priceless, "for the gain from it is better than gain from silver and its profit better than gold. She [wisdom personified] is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life [eternal life!] is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor" (Prov. 3:14-16, Revised Standard Version). Proverbs 8:10-21 further describes the value of instruction, knowledge and wisdom: "Riches and honour are with me; yea, durable riches and righteousness. My fruit is better than gold, yea, than fine gold; and my revenue than choice silver.... I... cause those that love me to inherit substance; and I will fill their treasures" (verses 18-21). These are the riches that count. They lead to eternal inheritance of treasures and wealth that cannot even be described in physical terms. These riches are available to us in unlimited amounts. True, we have to put forth some effort — do some digging. But this digging is far easier and surer than digging for gold or searching for lost physical treasure. The question is, Why are we as individuals so often lax in mining the spiritual gems that lead to eternal life? How can we let such incredible wealth sit within easy reach and yet find so little time in the day to scoop up a handful of precious jewels? Can you imagine a prospector locating a vast deposit of gold and then not finding the time to unearth and develop his find? Or perhaps being content to pick away halfheartedly at a few small nuggets lying ort the surface of the ground? And yet that's how some, if they are not careful, tend to approach Bible study. For anybody with such an approach, working Bible study into the daily schedule is a real chore. It is more a matter of "getting it in." Oh, such a person may set aside 30 minutes of the day, but when that period of the day arrives he sits down and halfheartedly reaches for the Bible. He doesn't really know where to begin. Maybe he lets the Bible fall open at random. Maybe he starts by reading in the Psalms or Proverbs. He knows he can find rather easy and interesting reading in Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. Or certain sections in the Epistles. In any case, he frequently glances at the clock and he is always aware of where he is in his designated 30 minutes. And if, as often is the case, his Bible "study" is the last thing he does before going to bed, he may spend the final few minutes nodding. "Oh, well," he tells himself as he closes the Bible, completely uninspired and feeling guilty, "I'll have to do better tomorrow." Perhaps it wasn't that way when he was first coming into the Church. Then everything was new to him. Bible study was interesting, scintillating. He was learning, one after the other, major truths he didn't dream were in the Scriptures. But as time passed, Bible study became routine. Somehow the challenge disappeared. It was as though once he learned what the basic doctrines were, the Bible contained no more surprises for him. Bible "study" may even have come to mean merely reading the Plain Truth or Good News. In any case, whenever one loses sight of the real reasons for studying the Scriptures, Bible study, or what passes for it, becomes tedious and is done more out of a sense of obligation than because of the tremendous opportunity it is.
Getting to know it
Bible study is more — much more — than reading the Plain Truth and Good News. It is more than learning what the basic doctrines are. The basic doctrines are, so to speak, only the nuggets lying on the surface. Inexhaustible wealth waits just below the surface. How much of that wealth we obtain depends on each of us individually — on the time and effort we are willing to put into mining this rich resource. We are to live by every word of God (Matt. 4:4). How can we do that if we don't make an attempt to be familiar with every word of God? To natural human beings, God declares, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord" (Isa. 55:8). But Christians are expected to change that condition. We are to make God's thoughts and ways our thoughts and ways — to develop God's mind within us, to look at things as He looks at them. We'll never accomplish that, though, if we don't know what His ways and thoughts are. Certainly it is well to read the Plain Truth and Good News. And the Correspondence Course is a valuable tool for Bible study. But we must also spend time getting to know the Bible itself — the whole Bible. The Scriptures reveal how God views human affairs. We need to be familiar with this information in order to be part of God's governing Kingdom. There are two basic approaches to Bible study. One is to take a subject and gather together various verses and chapters that bear on that subject, such as is done in sermons. The other is to go through a chapter or book of the Bible verse by verse, such as ministers often do in formal group Bible studies. Either way, it is important to have a goal in mind when you sit down with your Bible. Study a specific subject. Or go through a specific section. Just trying to kill 30 minutes by haphazard and superficial browsing is no way to handle the Word of life! Seek to understand what you are reading. God is speaking to you personally. Ask Him to give you comprehension. The Holy Spirit inspired the Scriptures in such a way that they cannot be understood by the natural mind. This is why theologians for centuries have painstakingly copied every letter, researched the original languages, made concordances of every single word, compiled Bible dictionaries, wrote lengthy treatises and dissertations, all without grasping the real meaning and purpose of the Word of God. It is only with the help of the Holy Spirit that the Scriptures can be understood. Pray as David did: "Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law" (Ps. 119:18). Anyone who thinks Bible study is dull and uninteresting needs to pray for his eyes to be opened to discern the brilliant jewels and precious gems it contains.
"But I forget what I read!"
"It doesn't do me any good to study," some complain, "because I can't remember what I study." Poor memories are indeed a problem — a widespread problem. A number of factors contribute to this situation. Most of us have not been taught from early childhood how to most effectively assimilate and retain information. This is especially true of the "television generation" in which children grow up being allowed to sit for hours in a trance while the TV does their thinking for them. Environment and the food we eat also have an effect, since the mind cannot work properly if the essential nutrients are not supplied. If you are like most people, your memory is not as good as you would like it to be. That should not stop you from studying God's Word. So you think you forget most of what you study. So what? Study it again. God is not going to reward us by how developed our memory is, but by how hard we try. Keep going over the material. Make notes. Review them. Some of it is bound to stick — probably more than you realize. Meditate on God's Word often. This will help impress it on your memory. Use scripture cards or any other device you find helpful. "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom" (Col. 3:16). The book of Acts describes "a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures" (Acts 18:24). Most of us are far from eloquent, it is true. But there is no reason we cannot be "mighty in the scriptures." Apollos did it and he didn't have Bibles as we do, with chapters and verses and marginal references to help locate passages. He didn't have concordances or Bible dictionaries. He didn't even have a personal copy of the entire Scriptures. But you can be sure that whenever he had access to God's Word he drank it in. He didn't become "mighty in the scriptures" through occasional, 30-minute, sleepy-time periods of nonchalant reading.
Why study the Bible?
Why study and learn about God's Word? Considering this question seems almost unnecessary. But since motivation is so important, it doesn't hurt to review the reasons we do things. This helps us keep the perspective. 1) It leads to eternal life. The Bible contains the instructions and wisdom we need to qualify for eternal life. That's why the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy about "the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation" (II Tim. 3:15). They are "the words of eternal life" (John 6:68). Is there anything more vital for us mortals to be concerned about? What in our day-to-day existences could possibly be more important? And yet, incredibly, Jesus prophesied that, of those who are given to understand the Bible and in whom the Word of God begins to grow, some would lose out. They would let God's Word in their life be choked by thorns — stifled "with cares and riches and pleasures of this life" (Luke 8:7, 14). Think over your past week. Was Bible study choked out of your schedule by "cares and riches and pleasures of this life"? If by cares, worries, concerns, problems, are you now free from them as a result of all your preoccupation? If by riches, seeking material luxury, working extra hours for more physical possessions, are you really more wealthy now than you were a week ago? If by pleasures, entertainment, partying, was the time really better spent than it would have been getting to know God's Word? Not that all these things are wrong in themselves, but they certainly are if they take priority over God's Word. 2) It helps us avoid sin. Jesus told the Sadducees that one of the reasons they were in error was their ignorance of the Scriptures. "Ye do err," Jesus declared to them, "not knowing the scriptures" (Matt. 22.:29). How many times do we err because we are not familiar with instructions in God's Word, instructions that could have spared us the trauma? "Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee," David exclaimed to God (Ps. 119:11). We need to repeat, rehearse and review God's precepts — to learn them deeply — so they are constantly in our thoughts and readily available to direct us. As a result of continually thinking about the Word of God, David was able to say, "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path" (Ps. 119:105). 3) It strengthens faith. If we are familiar with the biblical accounts of how God intervened to deliver those who trusted in Him, how He healed the sick, how He provided for, led and blessed His people, we will find it much easier to trust God when we are in need. That is how "faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Rom. 10:17). There is no doubt about it. Whenever we lack the faith we should have, one of the major reasons is that God's promises, or examples of what He has done for others, are not fresh in our minds. In order to strengthen our faith, the "faith chapter," Hebrews 11, presents examples of fulfilled promises — "a cloud of witnesses" (Heb. 12:1). But we have to become familiar with such promises and the stories of these witnesses for them to do us any good. 4) It enables us to explain our beliefs to others. As Christians, we should know why we believe what we do. And if anybody asks us, we should be able to give a satisfactory answer, referring to the Scriptures to prove what we believe is true. Being able to explain the doctrines of God's Church is especially critical for parents. They should be prepared to teach their children — and their grandchildren — God's ways (Deut. 4:7-9). 5) It brings God's blessings. God blesses those who treat His Word with respect and awe. It pleases Him when we seek to learn His ways. Back in the days of Jehoshaphat, there was a revival of the knowledge of God. Jehoshaphat sent teachers throughout the land to give instruction in the Word of God. "And they taught in Judah, and had the book of the law of the Lord with them, and went about throughout all the cities of Judah, and taught the people" (II Chron. 17:9) And the result? Next verse: "And the fear of the Lord fell upon all the kingdoms of the lands that were round about Judah, so that they made no war against Jehoshaphat." Things went well for Jehoshaphat. God will see to it that things go well for you, too, if you seek to learn of Him, if you delight in His Word and value the intense study of it. "I rejoice at thy word," David proclaimed, "as one that findeth great spoil" (Ps. 119:162). Yes, as one who finds treasure, as one who strikes it truly rich. There it is: a treasure chest sitting on your desk or bookshelf. Inside is wealth without limit — worth more than all the jewels, precious stones, gold and silver in the world put together. For you. All you have to do is lift the lid and help yourself.