Cindy was in the Bible study I led for three years. She always answered the questions and participated in the discussion. She accumulated a lot of knowledge, but her life never changed. She lived a defeatist life, looking to unhealthy relationships with men to meet her longings, never finding anything worth living for.
I have puzzled a lot over people like Cindy. I've met quite a few over the years. It seems that some people never move beyond head knowledge to heart knowledge. There are numerous reasons for this. I'd like to identify three.
Studying the Bible to accumulate knowledge
Those who can rattle off chapter and verse but never become more like Christ may not truly believe that the God of the universe is addressing them personally. They see the Bible as an ancient document that has interesting and wise information, but they never consider that they are to apply it to their lives. This kind of person comes to the Scriptures with an analytical eye rather than by humbly asking God to transform their lives. They may take pride in mastering the text, but they don't know how to let the text master them. They want to study Jesus, but they don't really want to know him.
Coming to the Bible with arrogance
The person who is not transformed by the Word of God may come to it to prove his or her point. This person may have decided what they think or want the Bible to teach. They may have been taught such ideas as a child, been drawn to the Bible because it preserves the lifestyle they want, or because it gives them power in certain choices. This person doesn't come to the Word of God to let it transform them. Instead they use the Bible as a proof text and to gain ammunition for the battles of life. Yes, we are to fight Satan and his minions, but unless we are letting God shake the core of our lives, we won't be able to recognize the true enemy.
Reading the Bible through our baggage
My friend Cindy's biggest problem was that she really couldn't believe that God would bring her happiness. Because she'd already decided God was a killjoy, she didn't trust him with her life. Therefore, she came to Bible study because she wanted friendship, not because she wanted to be transformed by God. In her mind, it was all up to her. She always thought she'd find the perfect human relationship that would meet all her needs. Until she truly believed that God was her only hope for joy and fulfillment, she would never be able to believe a word he said.
So how can we help those in our Bible studies move beyond these problems? First we have to make sure we are not stuck in one of these modes. If we are, we will never be able to help others move beyond them. For those of us who have been in the church a long time, it's easy to fall into one of these patterns, especially accumulating knowledge and coming to the Bible with arrogance. Or perhaps we have become a Bible study leader because it meets our need for fellowship or power. Therefore we need to begin by checking our own motives.
To move those in our studies beyond these obstacles, we have to present the Word of God as the living, active thing it is. We have to help those under us savor the Word of God as a precious morsel and allow it to ask questions of us, rather than simply asking questions of it. When we read the story of the rich, young man who Jesus tells to sell all his possessions and follow him, we shouldn't make up an analytical interpretation to explain this away. We should listen to Jesus' words as if they are directed to us and consider what that means for our lives. Or if we adamantly believe in man's free will and then come across a passage such as Romans 9 that says God chooses whom he will, we need to let that challenge us rather than fall back on our carefully laid theological systems. In other words, we have to avoid making God in our own image and let him make us in his.
One of the practical ways we can help others come to the Bible with an attitude of letting it transform them is to give them time to prepare their hearts. In our harried, busy world, we often come to Bible study exhausted, frazzled, and with a million other things vying for our attention. Consider starting your Bible study with a time of silent prayer, suggesting that everyone see if there is anything they need to confess or simply to ask God to open their eyes and hearts to his Word.
Perhaps using recorded music may help focus those in your group on why they are there. Choose a song that reflects humbling ourselves before God or proclaims the glory of God. Another idea is to use spiritual readings. Perhaps you've come across a poem, ancient writings, or a prayer that would help set the tone.
Of course, the goal is to help those in your group hunger for the Word of God beyond the short time you meet together. So pray together that God will give you a thirst that is never quenched in a mere hour a week, but that each person will want to read the Bible often because they can't get enough of it—that they would see it as the only way they can move beyond the confines of their sinful nature into the glorious light of the Savior of the world.
JoHannah Reardon is the managing editor of ChristianBibleStudies.com.
Copyright © 2008 by the author and Christianity Today.