When I taught high school, I used to tell my students, “You don’t have to be mean to be a teacher, but it helps.”
In fact, I said it so often, it turned into a well-rehearsed call-and response: I would say, “You don’t have to be mean to be a teacher…” And they would answer (rolling their eyes), “But it helps.”
I know. I know. Context is everything. They knew I was joking.
And I was.
But it is partly true: Just like a coach or a physical therapist, an effective classroom teacher has to push sometimes – and be impervious to his students’ protests and complaints.
I drew on that mean streak once to help my students understand how to get a grip on the Bible. I picked out a tough-guy know-it-all to come to the front of the class and help me with an illustration. I told him to hold a large book in his hand while I talked to the class. The catch was that he wasn’t allowed to use his thumb.
Know-it-alls don’t usually think things through, and, true to form, this tough guy was more than happy to accommodate my request. He gripped the book between his palm and his four fingers, smirking while I talked.
I turned and explained to the class that when we want to get a grip on the Bible, we have several means at our disposal:
1. We can hear God’s Word.
2. We can read God’s Word.
3. We can study God’s Word.
4. We can memorize God’s Word.
All these are good, but they are not equally good. We have said before, and I repeat it here again: if the only exposure I have to Scripture is the Sunday morning sermon, I am on a starvation diet. No matter how good the preaching is, I need to encounter God’s Word more often than 30-40 minutes each week.
But even if I am reading, studying, and even memorizing God’s Word, even if I’ve engaged all four fingers, I still won’t get a grip on it until I engage the thumb.
(By this time the tough guy’s smirk has been replaced with a grimace. The muscles in his forearm are beginning to burn.)
So what is the thumb, you ask? What is the one other thing I must do with God’s Word if I want to really understand it and allow it to master my life?
It is meditation, personal and intentional reflection on God’s Word. In fact, thinking deeply about Scripture is essential no matter what other means I use to encounter it. Just as the thumb can interact with any one of the other four fingers but works best when interacting with all of them, so careful reflection on the Bible is the one approach I cannot afford to neglect.
(By this time, everyone in the classroom – including the tough-guy know-it-all – gets the point. If I want to get a grip on Scripture, I’ve got to think deeply about it.
It is never enough even to hear the Word and read the Word. Not even if I hear, read, study, and
In other words, it’s never really about just checking the box, completing a task.
I must take the time to reflect on God’s Word. What it is saying, what it means, how my life might be shaped by it.
This is the only way I can get a grip on Scripture, and the only way it can get a grip on my life.
Pastor of Discipleship