Growing up in the West, my brother and I played cowboys, “shooting” each other with homemade wooden guns. My Sunday School teacher, Mrs. H. C. Wallen, was a fabulous story teller. Acting out the account of David and Goliath, she vividly described how David, the “Boy Scout of Israel,” threw a straight rock and killed the savage giant. What a guy! I want to be like David, I thought.
The next day at school a bully punched my friend. In defense I threw a rock and hit him. When the kid screamed and fell, I felt triumphant, but there was no applause. Instead, a teacher escorted me to the principal. My tearful explanation didn't stop Mrs. Hilton from spanking me. She asserted, “You're not ‘David’ in this school.” I was perplexed. David hit a bully and became king. I hit a bully and got spanked! The Bible is for Sunday School, not grade school, I decided.
Sadly, this crisis in relating practical spiritual truths to life is not limited to children. The Bible is often for show, like a pretty coffee-table book.
Why is God's Word used so little? One reason is that people see the Bible as an ancient book for a different civilization. Also, our Western mind-set tends to divide life into categories.
Even prophets can lose the freshness of Scripture speaking to their hearts. The prophet Jeremiah had been depressed because of the sins of his nation and its resulting exile in a foreign country. People rejected God's disturbing unpopular message. Jeremiah discovered the secret of encouragment under pressure. The prophet Jeremiah recalled:
Thy words were found and I ate them, And Thy words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart; For I have been called by Thy name, O Lord God of hosts (Jeremiah 15:16).
Application Changed Lives
The Scriptures aren't to be heard, read, memorized, or even acted out in isolation. That was the deadly disease Christ pointed out to the religious and disciplined Pharasees of His day. Application should naturally follow the study of God's Word. Tragically, it rarely does! God's Word, Jesus Christ, did not come to earth as paper and ink, but as flesh and blood. Truth had legs!
Unlike a coffee-table book, the Bible is more like a cookbook in the hands of a novice cook. You go to it desperately; and the Word works, when put to use. Christians need a way to link God's power to both the triumphs and tragedies of their social lives, homes, and workplaces.
God's power is linked to your everyday life through your Teacher, the Holy Spirit. He may highlight a Scripture from a sermon, from your personal time with God, or from a Bible study. Then, like sticking together two matching strips of Velcro, the Holy Spirit attaches the meaning of a verse to a matching piece of your “world.”
“Don't fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don't act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like” (James 1:22-24, The Message ). God's Word is a mirror, revealing spiritual blemishes and flaws.
Thanking God for Problems!
It took 13 years, after that rock-throw at Hubbard Elementary School before I saw the Bible graphically and rightly related to life. The experience was unforgettable. I was with five friends in an old Chevy. Suddenly, pow! Thump, thump! Brakes screamed as we carefully swerved and stopped with a blown-out tire. Our driver began to pray: “Thank you, Lord, for taking care of us. By faith, we want to claim 1 Thessalonians 5:18: ‘In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you’[KJV]. We give You thanks in this circumstance. Please help us get a spare tire.”
Did he hit his head? I wondered. I opened my eyes. He must be crazy thanking God that way! We're stranded at 11:00 p.m., and we have no money!
Three guys with faith volunteered to look for a tire replacement. I stayed with the car. About an hour later the fellows returned, and excitedly told this story. Rolling the bad tire down the road, my friends saw the lights of a service station blocks away. When they arrived, they explained our dilemma. The man replied, “I've got a used tire or a new one cheap.” Sheepishly the guys replied, “We don't have money for a new or a used one. Could we look for a matching tire and exchange ours for a slick one in that pile you're selling for retread?”
The man grudgingly said, “Go look.” They found a slick replacement tire, and the man helped them put it on the wheel. Thanking the man, my friends boldly shared their faith and soon led the service-station owner to Christ.
After hearing this story, I was convicted of my unbelief. This was the first time I'd seen a friend my age apply a verse in the middle of a problem! He claimed 1 Thessalonians 5:18 about the blown tire. That the Bible worked now, that God would travel out of His universe into my little frame of life — these were revolutionary thoughts, exploding in my heart and mind.