How would you answer this question: "What did you learn from your grandparents?"
Some of us might be able to quote word-for-word a few things our grandparents said, and maybe report in detail a few things they did. Most of us remember a few key facts about their lives, the gist of their advice, and the issues that shaped their world. We might even know relatives or friends who could tell stories or share perspectives on their experiences.
We should have a similar answer when someone asks: "What have you learned from the Bible?" The memorization of facts and verses is not the only important factor when it comes to answering that question—it's not even the most important factor. What we really need to figure out is whether we have been influenced by God's Word. Has it changed us?
Below are five basic ways to assess your growing experience with the Bible. These steps reveal what you have learned, how you have grown, and what you hope to learn. If you are not able to answer one or more of these questions, you have found an area ready for personal growth.
Some historical facts should stick with you as you read God's Word. Perhaps you remember that the Israelites spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness, and Jesus spent 40 days tempted in the desert—a connection you found interesting. Perhaps you remember that crucifixion was a disgraceful death reserved for criminals and traitors. Whatever it may be, some facts and historical information should stick with you because you found them worth remembering.
It may help if you reflect on your recent reading of Scripture in the same way you think about the historical events that were significant in the lives of your grandparents. Every fact about where they lived, what they did, their relationships, and the events that shaped their lives could help you re-examine your own life. Even little details that seemed uninteresting at first, when linked with facts you knew previously, open new vistas of understanding. Answer these questions:
- What are the most intriguing new facts you learned from the Bible during our last study?
- How do these new facts connect with the information you knew previously?
- What historical questions would you like answered in the future?
Some perspectives are more enlightening than others. Some may be negative and others positive, but each one gives you a new slant on the truth. Perhaps the point of view of Mark, Matthew, Luke, or John reveals something fresh about the life and work of Jesus. Perhaps the attitudes and symbolic actions of Isaiah and Jeremiah captured your imagination more than other writers.
If you wanted to know your grandparents better, you might talk with other people who knew them, read letters about them, or look at pictures taken of them. What would an aunt, cousin, business partner, former neighbor, former teacher, family friend, or even personal enemy have thought about them? Whose opinion would you trust the most? Slowly but surely you can begin to understand the whole truth, for better or worse, about God’s people, too. Answer these questions:
- What fresh perspectives from biblical writers have illuminated your understanding of God’s purpose?
- How do these new perspectives question, correct, or reinforce those of other biblical personalities?
- What book of the Bible do you want to study more in the future?
Every situation in life is shaped by certain key issues, questions, or dilemmas. What matters is how people deal with those issues, answer those questions, and resolve those dilemmas. There’s a big idea—or several big ideas—behind every biblical story, poem, song, analogy, gospel, letter, and prophecy. Sometimes the issues, questions, and dilemmas of Bible times surprisingly resemble those of our lives. The responses, answers, and outcomes from the past profoundly inform our choices for the future.
Perhaps the political turmoil of the ancient Middle East informs the political turmoil of our time. Perhaps themes of repentance and forgiveness, death and resurrection, brokenness and healing, plus many more, are worth remembering today. Once again, understanding Scripture is like understanding your grandparents. They had their own big ideas about life and death, meaning and purpose, and it caused them to change or defend residences, jobs, political parties, churches, and even personal relationships. Answer these questions:
- What big, biblical ideas have influenced your own responses to life today?
- How do the big ideas of one Bible source question, correct, or reinforce those from other Bible sources?
- What is the hot topic you feel compelled to explore in Scripture tomorrow?
Most people who read the Bible also pay attention to what other people say about the Bible. These include sermons, commentaries, magazine articles, and even novels. Our response to any of these might be a shake of the head, a mocking laugh, a puzzled look, a vigorous nod, or even a shouted “Right on!” Perhaps your pastor hit the nail on the head during a sermon; perhaps an academic article raised more questions than it answered; or perhaps some newspaper article seemed totally off base. Answer these questions:
- Out of the information you've studied recently, whose opinion about a Bible passage or biblical idea made the most (or least) sense?
- Which authors, or which resources, seemed most helpful in your search for answers?
- What author or resource would you like to explore this year?
We've explored what you've learned from the Bible recently; now it's time to think of why you have learned these things at all. There are different motivations.
Your continuing personal growth is what matters in a small group. The only agenda that really matters is that you are finding what you are seeking. Even if you don’t even know exactly what you are seeking, you should be discovering in Scripture things that deepen your faith, build up your life, and strengthen your spirit. In the end, what is most important is that you are experiencing one or more “Aha!” moments. Answer these questions:
- What experiences with the Bible have changed, shaped, blessed, or encouraged you this year?
- How has the Bible connected with other ways God’s Spirit is working in your life?
- What new experiences with God do you hope to have through studying the Scriptures?
Like the story of your family, the story of God’s people continues to unfold. Your life, and that of your children and grandchildren, will enrich the heritage passed on from your grandparents. In Bible study, you have an opportunity to add to the significance of God’s Word for future generations.
—Tom Bandy is the founder of www.ThrivingChurch.com.