I am ashamed to admit that I do not study the scriptures as much as I should. As a Christian, my entire religion is based on the teachings of the Bible, and yet I do not spend the time and attention necessary to really study and understand the scriptures.
This problem is compounded by the fact that I am a Christian MINISTER. So not only is my entire religion based on the teachings of the Bible, but most of my life's calling is based around teaching it to other people. The unavoidable fact is that I will deliver lesser-quality sermons, give lesser-quality counseling, and lead my church in a less effective manner because of this lack of acquaintance with the very foundation of our faith.
When I was in seminary, they taught us about world religions, and one of the facts they taught about Islam struck me as being particularly fascinating. Students at Islamic seminaries do not carry copies of the Quran to class with them (as students in Christian seminaries do), despite the fact that Muslims value the Quran just as much as Christians value the Bible. The reason for this is that any student at a Muslim seminary is expected to have memorized the entire Quran (roughly3/4 the length of our New Testament) by the time they arrive at school. Because these men know the Quran from cover to cover, they can easily make applications to their daily lives, quoting various scriptures at length to back up their views. In short, they knew their material, and it made them better at what they did. But even this story pales in comparison to what I heard about the Jews.
A professor of mine, Russell Fuller, spent time studying Hebrew in Jewish schools (what better place to learn?) and he told me about the more respected Jewish scholars and their attitude toward the scriptures. He said that their knowledge of the Old Testament ("Torah") was so extensive that they could start at the beginning of the book of Genesis and recite the entire text, all the way to the end of Malachi, stopping only to eat, drink and sleep. So scrupulous was their knowledge that you could read any sentence from any chapter in any book in the entire Torah to them, and they would be able to recite the entire Torah, beginning at that point. Needless to say, these men had little trouble relating one part of the scriptures to other parts, or recognizing broad themes that flowed throughout the work. THEY KNEW THEIR STUFF. And knowing their stuff made them much better at what they did.
When I was in college, a man came to visit as a guest speaker. He was a Messianic Jew, meaning that he came from a Jewish background, but later accepted Jesus as the Messiah. He had become a Christian, without ceasing to be a Jew. This left him with a Christian worldview, but an attitude toward the scriptures that is more commonly practiced among orthodox Jews. As he spoke, it became noticeable that all of the statements he was making were predicated on passages of scripture, which he quoted for us with chapter and verse citations. He did this so frequently, and with such exuberancy, that his enthusiasm for the scriptures and the Christ they proclaim soon became infectious. Finally, even our campus Pastor was moved to ask, "How did you learn all this scripture?!" The man looked almost puzzled, as if knowing all this was no great accomplishment. Then he said, "One verse at a time."
My reason for bringing up the Muslims, the Jews and this extremely faithful Christian brother is to point out some key differences between these men and myself. Although I have been bought with the blood of Jesus Christ and have the Holy Spirit living inside me, the Islamic and Jewish clergy have a more faithful attitude than I do toward the scriptures. They, like me, believe that knowledge of their holy book is absolutely sacred and necessary to growing in a right relationship with God. But unlike me, they have actually done something about it and taken the time and effort that is necessary to learn their books. The scriptures, for these men, lives in the marrow of their bones. It penetrates to the foundations of their souls. It flows in their very veins. It does not flow in mine.
And now to the purpose of this blog. It is my intent to gain more than a mere intellectual knowledge of the scripture. I don't want to know only general themes or proof-texts, nor do I want to skip over parts of the scripture that are less popular or exciting. I want the scriptures to be as close to me as my wife is in our most passionate embrace. I want scripture so intricately worked into the fabric of my mind that I don't have to do extensive research to know what the Bible says about a given question. I want the Bible to become a part of me. I want scripture in my veins.
To this end, I have decided to lay out the following concrete goals for myself, and to write a blog about my efforts for you good people. Perhaps the fear of public embarrassment will help me to stay on task when things get rough.
Goal #1: Memorize the entire Bible, cover-to-cover (Chapter and verse citations for individual verses not necessary)
Goal #2: Be able to recall, from memory, what each chapter in each book of the Bible is talking about.
Goal # 3: Be able to cite the chapter that any quoted, biblical passage comes from.
If I attain these goals, I will be able to recall scriptures to deal with life as I encounter it. I will also be able to look up specific scripture passages whenever necessary.
I am not sure how to achieve these goals, but I know they can be done, and I know that my Lord deserves my best effort. I will try.
But I'm scared. More on this tomorrow.