When Holly and I closed on our house a few months ago, something really strange happened to me. I used to hate lawn work and loved that apartment life had afforded me the opportunity to avoid it. But our house sits on an 8,700 square foot lot, which is huge for the area. On top of that, we are now members of a homeowners association, something I’m pretty bitter about. Needless to say, I needed to suck it up and get over my hatred for residential landscaping.
So I went and bought a nice self-propel lawn mower to help me maneuver our hilly side yard, a battery-powered weed eater and leaf blower. I actually began enjoying it, taking pride in our lawn. I’ve been destroying weeds, fertilizing, mowing, trimming, and as I write this, I’m sitting in a rocking chair on our front porch. I’m a straw hat and a few nose hairs away from being that old man yelling at the neighbor kids to get off his lawn.
But a few weeks ago I pulled out my nice new lawn mower, checked the oil and gas, and started it but nothing happened. Still new to this lawn-mowing thing, I kept pulling and pulling. I bet I pulled 9 or 10 times before I gave up. I checked everything and couldn’t find anything wrong. Finally, about 15 minutes later, the lawn mower sputtered to life. It growled, blew out smoke, and began rocking like it was about to attack me.
While I don’t know what initially caused the problem, I do know that I made a crucial mistake by trying over and over again to bring it back to life. In doing so, I let so much gas get into the engine that it had flooded. When it finally started, the lawn mower was literally choking on its very life-blood. It took 10-15 minutes of running before it eventually calmed down.
Choking Our Spiritual Engines
When I got to college, preparing to go into Biblical Studies, I was excited. After being in public schools all of my life and feeling the call into ministry for several years, I was ready to make analyzing Scripture a full-time endeavor. I was taking classes on the Pentateuch and the Prophets. I was writing 12-15 page papers on 5-10 verses at a time. I was studying New Testament Greek and church history.
By my senior year, I was also teaching a home group at my church and preaching in front of hundreds of my peers on a nearly weekly basis. Then I got to seminary and I was serving part-time on a church staff while my course workload initially increased 3-fold.
Studying the Bible this much seemed like the super-spiritual thing to do and I was certainly congratulating myself. But like many seminary students and ministers before me, something terrible had happened to my soul. I had stopped feeling convicted by the Scripture I was analyzing. I had gone so deep that the simple realities of the Gospel seemed like a literary puzzle.
I was spiritually choking on Scripture. And in the times I would actually start up, the results were explosive and not always pleasant.
Unfortunately, I believe this is the spiritual reality of many churchgoers in America today. We attend church weekly and listen to the pastor’s sermon before heading to Sunday School where we open up to a completely different passage and hear someone else teach.
Maybe you also attend an event on Wednesday nights where you either teach in your student ministry or get another dose of Bible study from yet another person. You might also be going through a daily devotional of some kind, probably referencing one random Bible verse after another. With all these opportunities, you could potentially be attending 3-4 Bible studies a week, not including your own devotional life.
We live in a free society where it’s completely safe to open your Bible in a Starbucks with some friends. You can pick up the Bible in nearly a dozen English translations, all customized with their own special binding and engraving. It’s available in multiple smartphone apps or free online. This reality tends to either make us take Scripture for granted or read it so often that we forget one crucial step in our studies.
The Missing Component
It’s not that we shouldn’t be reading our Bibles. We definitely should! But let me ask you this – can you name a single sermon you’ve heard in the last month that actually impacted your attitude or actions for more than a day? What about in your Sunday School class or home group? In your devotional life?
That’s what happened to me. The Bible became a textbook – one of many. I began loving it for its literary brilliance and theological depth, not for its life-changing message of God’s grace and Christ’s victory over sin. I was idolizing these things to the point that I was choking on them. Meanwhile, I was missing the most crucial component of a Bible study – it’s application.
I was taught that every sermon I preach has to answer one important question. “So what?” After all of the exposition, anecdotes, and illustrations, I consider a sermon a failure if I haven’t connected the theology of the passage with Christian living in the 21st century. I want my audience to walk away with a practical concept of what the passage says and why it matters.
But if we buy into this lie that the more we attend Bible studies, the more spiritual we become, we take in so much theology that we don’t stop to reflect on its application in our lives. The number of Bible studies we attend can’t be a measuring rod for spiritual maturity. Rather, it’s the impact of Scripture in our everyday lives that says the most about our spiritual health.
So am I saying you should stop attending Bible studies altogether? Absolutely not! But I would encourage you to pay attention to the application of the passages you’re reading. And if you’re burdened by the sheer volume of studies in your life, it’s okay to scale back. Don’t let others call your spiritual maturity into question as a result. In fact, you may even be making the more mature decision.
God is far more honored when you let a single passage in his Word penetrate your heart than when you let ten sail right by.