During November, we are exploring the Bishop’s rule of life for churches in Liverpool Diocese. Pray, read, learn, tell, serve, give. Last Sunday, Chris introduced prayer. This week, we move onto “read and learn”.
We are called to read the Bible and to learn together what it means and what God might be saying to us through it. That’s something that the St Andrews Thursday Bible Study group do each week. Carol, Joyce, Gaynor and Teresa, who are all part of that group. talk about their experience of reading the bible and learning together.
What difference has reading the bible made to your life this year?
The early weeks of beginning to hear about Covid 19 and then the national lockdown, filled me with fear of the unknown. Engaging with the Bible on a daily basis first thing each morning provided purpose and stability and was a vital part of regaining self- control and trust in my Heavenly Father. I had not lost this but gained great reassurance from the intimacy of spending time in the presence of God and reading about His faithfulness throughout the centuries and in all situations. I was and am helped in this by listening to a podcast called Lectio 365 each day which has a psalm, Bible reading, reflection and prayers. The authors make Bible verses relevant to our present- day context. God’s promises can be trusted and He is with us during any times of fear or doubt.
Like many people, this year has been challenging for me. I’m very lucky in that friends and family are well. However my work situation has been precarious. Because I try to read my Bible regularly, I found that when I was at my lowest ebb, appropriate bible verses would come to me just when I needed them.
At the end of June I also had some tough decisions to make regarding employment, so I locked myself away with my Bible, prayed for wisdom and discernment, and started to read. I was amazed at the clear answers I found in the Bible passages I chose. God was very real and present for me at this time.
Life has been very different for all of us this year, and not just here of course, but across the world as we have all been under threat of the pandemic. News bulletins have been extremely worrying and, like others, I have been fearful. I have found myself returning again and again to certain passages in the Bible which have always resonated with me, but now have a very real significance. One such example is from the Book of Isaiah: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are mine”. This is such a favourite of mine. These words have brought me peace in the past and continue to do so. I do believe wholeheartedly that God keeps His promises and His Word can be relied upon. For me, the Bible is the place to go for comfort and security when what is happening in the world seems, at times, overwhelming.
So the bible has been a source of comfort, hope, and guidance for you during this difficult year. But understanding the bible is not always straight-forward.
Tell us about some of the challenges / difficulties you have faced in making sense of the bible?
In some ways, the more that I study the Bible, the more challenges and difficulties I face. I find that this can happen when a Bible passage is studied deeply and slowly and includes rereading, rather than approached in terms of familiarity. It is an exciting challenge that there is always something else to be teased out, perhaps to link with different passages in other parts of the Bible, or a need to explore the historical context or intended audience of the writer. There can be a feeling of greater revelation. Sometimes challenges are small ones but others can be complex, for instance when on the face of it there appears to be a conflict with teaching in other parts of the Bible.
For me, the biggest difficulty was the apparent discrepancy between the Old and New Testaments. The former seemed to speak more of God’s wrath and judgement, the latter His love, grace and mercy, and I struggled to marry the two together. I prayed for understanding but still struggled so I sought out mature Christians from our St Andrews congregation and asked them for help in making sense of it all. I kept asking until I felt satisfied with the answers I received and was able to make my peace with what I’d always seen as two contradictory Testaments.
There are definitely times when I am challenged by certain passages in the Bible, either because I don’t quite understand it, or because the content itself makes uncomfortable reading. With regard to understanding, I have found that reading a passage in a different Bible version often sheds light on its meaning.
With regard to an uncomfortable passage, I’ll use a recent example from our Bible Study Group as an illustration. In Mark’s Gospel chapter 3, Jesus is preaching to a multitude. We hear that His mother and brothers are outside calling Him to come home, but Jesus says “Who is My mother or My brothers? Whoever does God’s will is His brother, mother and sister.” This might appear hard hearted of Jesus, when we know that He is full of compassion and love. However, through discussion and a little research, we were able to accept that Jesus, being at the start of His ministry at this point, had much to do and could not be diverted from God’s work. We were also reminded that when Jesus was dying on the cross, he told John to take care of his mother. It wasn’t that he didn’t care. So, although this and other passages may sit uncomfortably with us, we can be reassured that God’s plan is action.
Those examples highlight how vital it is to interpret a bible verse or passage in the light of the teaching in other parts of the Bible. It’s also helpful to know something about the historical context to understand what a passage of Scripture really means, before we think about how it applies in our time and place.
Tell us about a resource, or a way of reading or studying the bible which you have found particularly helpful.
I sometimes study a whole book of the Bible from beginning to end, reading part of a chapter each day alongside a commentary. This immersive approach helps in a number of ways, firstly by having the teaching of an erudite theologian, whose depth of study and knowledge far exceed mine. Secondly, there is often reference to similar teaching or a thread is drawn out that I would not see. Thirdly, Bible verses are explained in the historical context of the time in which they were written. There are so many Bible books with which to gain familiarity and I look forward to more of this type of reading in times to come.
I subscribe to A Miracle Every Day and receive this as an email each morning. The daily messages are accessible and helpful and always include a few verses from Scripture.
I also try to read around the Bible passages we hear on Sunday mornings, usually reading a couple of chapters during the week. I find they speak to me all the more clearly because of the Sunday morning teaching.
Being a member of a Study Group is also incredibly helpful; we’re encouraged to delve deeper into the Bible and I probably study God’s Word more seriously than I would on my own.
In my personal study of the Bible, I use Word Live, an online daily resource from Scripture Union. It provides a Bible passage, a context, and a Deeper Study section, which helps me to recognise ways of applying the teaching to everyday life. There is also an invitation to ‘Join the Conversation’ on Facebook where regular subscribers share their opinions and experiences, which are also very helpful.
The Bible Study Group provides a wonderful opportunity to discuss a text in depth and to gain from the insights and experiences of others. I often use a commentary on the passage prior to the meeting, which provides some background information, and as others are doing the same, I learn so much more. This group is now a very important part of my week!
So a number of helpful resources have been mentioned:
· Different versions of the Bible. You can search many different translations using a bible app or an online bible website such as www.biblegateway.com
· The daily Lectio 365 podcast – a pattern of prayer and reflection on the Bible
· A commentary on a particular book of the Bible – for example, Tom Wright’s Bible for Everyone series are very readable and full of insights from a leading biblical scholar.
Now as we near the end of our podcast, Joyce, is going to tell us more about the Thursday Bible Study group.
On Thursday evenings a small group of us meet together – on Zoom at the moment – to explore in more detail the Bible. At the moment we are using the book Into the Heart of Advent by Penelope Wilcox as the basis for our Bible study. We use our experiences, books, passages or commentaries we may have read to explore the chapters in more detail in an informal way. We learn together and encourage each other so that we can grow in our faith and discipleship. We also have time for a friendly chat each week!
Members were asked why they chose to be part of the Bible Study Group. These are some of the responses:
· It gives me the opportunity to be closer to fellow Christians and to study the Bible in a friendly and informal way.
· I do feel united with a group of people from the church community and believe that God has the opportunity to reveal Himself when we learn alongside others, sharing viewpoints and opinions.
· The weekly Bible Study promotes self-discipline for me in reading the Bible passages on a regular basis each week.
· My own knowledge is extended because it encourages me to begin to explore other Bible passages and books referred to by other people during the discussion.
· The questions or chapters of books used as a basis for Bible study persuade me to dip into online resources such as commentaries, podcasts and YouTube videos.
The importance of Bible Study could be summed up in the words from Isaiah Chapter 40 verse 31: “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles: they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not be faint.”
Thanks so much to our Thursday Bible Study group for sharing with us this week. If you would like to give it a try, they currently meet each Thursday at 7.30pm online using Zoom. For joining details see the monthly St Andrews Connect email. If you can’t find that, email [email protected] or, if you know them, speak to Joyce, Teresa, Gaynor or Carol.
If you can’t make it a Thursday evening, but are keen to be part of a bible study group, please contact me, Rev Nick White on [email protected] . Maybe we can start another group!?