Sailing Out to Treasure Island

I hadn’t intended to my school reunion in Morrinsville last weekend. Past experiences of these events has been disappointing. But a mate from forty years ago tracked me down through the Old Friends website and encouraged me to make the effort. My sister came up from the Hawkes Bay, and we spent Saturday renewing acquaintances from our high school days. I was surprised how easy it was to chat with people I hadn’t seen for decades – and also that a number of the conversations turned to spiritual things.

One of those was with a slightly awkward man I remembered as coming from a very strict Brethren family, one that would not countenance the notion of a woman preaching. But over a sushi lunch in the B Block quad, we chatted for over an hour, about faith, family and spiritual growth. Although our upbringings were very different (I am a daughter of the Manse), there was lots that we had in common, and the subject of women ministers was neatly skirted in favour of a shared enthusiasm for the Bible.

My companion told me of growing up as the oldest son of missionaries in India, and of a very early confession of faith in his mother’s kitchen. The family returned to New Zealand when he was in his early teens, and he did not find the transition to a state school an easy one. However, unlike some of his eleven siblings, he is still a practising Christian. After leaving college, he become involved in Navigators, and shared with me what an important organisation that group had been in his adult faith journey. He specifically mentioned training in Bible memorisation, introduction to different styles of Bible study, and a prayer journal called Appointment with God.

I was glad to be reminded of Navigators, because many years ago I too was helped by this organisation, whose mission included assisting followers of Jesus Christ in the basic spiritual disciplines of Bible reading and prayer. I learned quite a few Scriptures by heart, and in 1972 was very impressed when I discovered my boyfriend (now my husband) had learned 350!! Sadly neither of us can unearth many now, but their truth is still firmly planted in the psyche. Both of us also used that same little Appointment with God journal, which had headings for each day, and spaces to write what was learned from Scripture. Today I looked up what resources Navigators have available for spiritual growth, and there’s still a good range of individual and group resources. Although memory verses and prayer diaries are not every one’s spiritual cup of tea, for me they were an important discipline in my early years of following Christ, and in my new role as Discipleship Coach I will still be giving Bible Study a high value.

Another theme that came up in the discussion with this “Christian brother” was the notion that people use the Bible very differently; Rick Warren proposes twelve different approaches. Some rely entirely on being fed from the pulpit – and although that is fine, recent Willow Creek research has shown it is somewhat inadequate for deeper spiritual growth. Others read from a set chunk of the Bible, such as an epistle or the Psalms, and include some sort of overview, so as to understand the context and authorship. This is my preferred method, because I enjoy the mental stimulation of seeing how the “Bible library” fits together. Another way to do this is to take the topical approach, or a character study, or to perhaps follow the steps of Jesus – something I particularly enjoy. Still others just open up anywhere, and meditate on whatever verses are in front of them. This “lucky dip” method can be risky, as illustrated in the old story told by Nicky Gumbel in the Alpha course, about someone finding verses that effectively told him to go and hang himself (like Judas). But there have been times, usually moments of emotional turmoil, when I have randomly opened the Bible – or my ragged copy of Daily Light - and found a word of God spoken directly into my situation. So I don’t discredit that method entirely; God is bigger than our human minds and it may well be the Spirit of God that nudges us in that direction.

What I took away from the conversation was a consensus between two very different people, about the value of God’s written Word. Recent research makes it clear that whatever our stage of Christian maturity, regular study of the Bible is a key ingredient in spiritual growth. Jesus said those who are truly his followers are the ones who continue to obey his Word (John 8: 31f) Down through the centuries, the common denominator of the great men and women of God is that they knew the Scriptures and spent time doing what Steven Curtis Chapman calls "sailing out to Treasure Island.”

To Chew Over: What approach to Bible Study appeals to you most? Which way best lets you hear God speak into your life?

The moon's waving the world good-bye
The morning sun smiles and lights the sky
I hear the waves crashing into shore
The world's an ocean waiting at my door
Before I set out for the open sea
I'll take the Word my Father's given me

And I'll go sailing out to treasure island
The treasure island that God's Word can be
I'll pray and make my way to treasure island
And in those quiet times, I know that I will find
All the treasure I will ever need
Steven Curtis Chapman.