In many areas of the world today, owning a Bible is a freedom that is taken for granted. In the past, however, although God’s people have treasured His Word, they have not always had access to the Scriptures as they may have wished.
The Tyndale Bible was the first English New Testament to be printed. In 1526, the bishop of London ordered that anyone in England owning a copy of the Tyndale Bible (which was printed in Europe) would be excommunicated from the church. An English merchant named Packington, who had a large number of Tyndale Bibles in stock, sold them all to the bishop so they could be burned. This certainly may have seemed like a great setback for God’s work, but Packington gave all the money he’d made from that sale to Tyndale, who used it to print even more Bibles.
Today too many Christians—even Seventh-day Adventists, perhaps—let the Bible sit untouched for days, weeks, or months at a time; it just seems that there is no time in their busy lives to sit down and read the Bible as they should. Or, when they do have time to read it, they are either too tired or too distracted to give it serious attention.
Robert Boardman, a long-time country leader for the Navigators, offers four reasons for what he calls “the neglected exercise [of Bible study]”:
Entertainment media. Television and the Internet consume a great deal of time. Boardman says that the excuse rings hollow when someone who spends 40 hours a week with the media claims he doesn’t have time to read Scripture.
Christian media. Boardman cites the proliferation of books, magazines, tapes, and seminars (not to mention blogs, podcasts, and social media that didn’t even exist at the time of Boardman’s article back in prehistoric 1989) that take up so much of our time that should be set aside for the development of spiritual disciplines.
Emotionalism. Though emotion has a valid role in the Christian life, it isn’t the proper basis for one’s faith. Yet emotionalism can sometimes become a substitute for the discipline of Bible study.
A “shortcut” mentality. “The microwave method has permeated our churches, youth groups, and Christian organizations,” Boardman says. “Pop it in, set the timer, and out it comes in a few seconds. If Bible reading can be tedious and time consuming, our culture tells us it must not be right.”1
Certainly there are many other personal and societal influences—good and bad—that could be added to these four. But at the end of the day— metaphorically and literally—serious Bible study gets scant attention. Occasionally, even in Sabbath School seminars, one hears the complaint that the Adult Bible Study Guide expects the reading of too much Scripture. Seriously!
Though his life became somewhat checkered, Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders, an American football player, was known early in his career as a Christian who lived his religion. When he received a $25-million bonus for signing to play his rookie year with the Detroit Lions, he returned a 10-percent tithe to his home church back in Kansas.
Barry Sanders was also known for the importance he placed on daily Bible study. During the 1989 football season, Barry often dropped into the office of his head coach, Wayne Fontes. Fontes always kept a Bible on his desk, and Barry would suggest Scripture verses that he thought would encourage his coach.
After a few months, Barry gently chided Coach Fontes: “You haven’t been reading your Bible.”
“How do you know I haven’t been reading my Bible?” Fontes asked.
Barry replied, “Your bookmark hasn’t moved since August.”
God’s Word was given to us as a guide to life. It offers the greatest of wisdom. “Understanding of Bible truth depends not so much on the power of intellect brought to the search as on the singleness of purpose, the earnest longing after righteousness.”2 With all the distracting influences that permeate our culture, it is difficult to maintain singleness of purpose. But it doesn’t make sense to claim that we’re Christians if we don’t even bother to read God’s Word—if our bookmarks don’t move.
STRESS AND THE ELDER
As an elder, do you ever feel stressed? Quite often, I have had to pray for the sick while I myself was sick. I have comforted the bereaved while my own family was grieving. I have prayed for unemployed church members while one of my own family members was desperately looking for a job, and so on. From time to time, we all get stressed. But how should we deal with stress?
Because elders have leadership roles in their churches, how they deal with stress may have a ripple effect in their congregations. For that reason, it is important for elders to be exemplary in how they handle stress. A Christian writer wrote, “For most Christians, stress boils down to the idea—lack of trust in God.” David said, “Lord, you are all I need. You are my inheritance and my future” (Ps. 16:5, Clear Word).
Dear Elder, how do you deal with challenging moments? How is your trust in God in times of trouble? May God help us as elders to completely trust in Him in all circumstances, thereby encouraging our congregations to also trust the Lord in stressful times.
Misheck Ndebele has been an elder in the Orange Grove Seventh-day Adventist Church in Johannesburg, South Africa for the past seven years.
Martha Inggawati has been a local church elder at the Pasaruan Church in the East Java Conference of the West Indonesia Union Mission (SSD) for the past 16 years. She is the only church elder in a congregation of 108. She has three adult children and has been widowed since 2004. When asked how she is able to keep serving her church, she responds, “Though there are many challenges in being an elder, I am very happy to serve God and work for Him in various capacities. I look forward, with anticipation, when elders can be added to help the church. In the meantime, the church members fully support me and my plan is to serve God until the day He comes.”
1 Robert Boardman, “The Neglected Exercise,” in Discipleship Journal, Issue 49, January/February 1989, CD-ROM.
2 Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, 599.
Gary B. Swanson is Associate Director of the Sabbath School and Personal Ministries Department of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.