About a week ago, I was waiting for the fourth-grade girls' Sunday School class, in which I have been assisting, to begin, when I received a text from the sweet friend who actually teaches these gils every week. She wasn't going to be able to make it. Could I teach?
Well, at least I'd remembered to bring the lesson plans with me - the ones I had not even looked over one iota before this very moment. Not to mention, I hadn't been in Sunday School for the past two weeks for various reasons. So, I had no idea what the girls HAD been learning, nor what they were scheduled to learn that morning.
As I fumbled my way through the beginning moments, I asked the two girls in attendance (thankful for a holiday weekend!) to catch me up a little while I leafed through Acts, the book we'd been studying, to fill in the gaps in the lessons they were sharing. I saw the story of Paul being blinded on the road to Damascus (a Sunday School staple), I was saddened that we had skipped over the conversion of Cornelius, the first Gentile convert (a personal obscure favorite of mine), I watched them draw out for me the illustration of Peter being freed from prison by an angel and then I was brought to this week's lesson - about Paul and Barnabus's encounter with a magician attmepting to deceive the people away from the gospel - one entirely too short to draw out into a full lesson, particularly without preparation. Great.
But, real quick, what was this heading? About the death of King Herod? So, I read that to the girls quickly. Why not? We had time to kill. And I emphasized to them that upon being called a god by those listening and he not giving the glory to the actual God in heaven, he was immediately eaten up by worms and died. Worms. Gross. This, of course, captured the girls' attention, so at least we had that benefit. And then we moved on to the actual lesson.
Fast forward one week. I'm no longer teaching (thankfully, because I forgot to even bring the lesson plan that day), but my dear friend is reading our next story from Acts - Paul and Barnabus fleeing from those who would have them dead, to a town where everyone declares them gods - Zeus and Hermes, no less. And these two men were very quick to deny those claims and refuse the gifts of admiration.
Right away I saw the contrast between these two stories: Herod who had accepted the praise and adoration and paid the consequences and Paul and Barnabus who pointed the glory back where it needed to be. And I felt there was a reason that obscure story of Herod being eaten by worms - a story our lesson plan overlooked for its seeming insignificance - was even nestled in the pages of our Bibles.
This brief moment underlined to me something I had been considering for awhile - the importance of spending quality time in the actual pages of a physical Bible - one that can be felt in your hands, where your fingers can turn the pages and your eyes can drift over the words, titles, themes of this one book, that creates a whole story, not just snippets or vignettes.
I was reminded of a movie I watched recently - one I found streaming on-line while I folded laundry or did some other task that I felt constituted a valid excuse to spend naptime in front of the television - that focused on two high school teachers - one of them an English teacher.
In one particular scene, he collects an assignment from his students - "three compelling paragraphs on the ant." Specifically, though, they had to "use an actual encyclopedia, not computers." After collecting the papers, he sets them aside on his desk, turns to his students and asks a series of questions, "Who can tell me who Baron Anson is? . . . Where's the town of Ansonia? . . . Who the [heck] is Christopher Anstey?!"
To each of these questions his students had an answer - from articles that would have shared a page with their subject, the ant, in the encyclopedia.
The teacher concludes his point: "You
see, you use a computer, you click on a word ant, you get the data, fine. You
pick up a book and leaf through the pages to find the ant, you’re gonna bump
into a saint, an admiral, a poet, a town in Connecticut. You’re gonna learn
something outside of the assignment just because of your own undeniable and
most valuable curiosity. You’re gonna see a word and you’re gonna jump on it or
it’s gonna jump on you, then you have it forever.”
Then you have it forever.
And this is precisely what happens when we use our fingers to turn the pages of a book - any book. Can you imagine, then, how powerful a concept it is to have the Holy Spirit alongside you as you turn the pages of a Bible - who can draw your eyes to the one story (even one of a king eaten by worms) He can bring back to your mind later, as you read something else, to make connections you might have otherwise missed, were you zeroed in on the target.
His Word never returns to us void, not even the ones that we didn't set out to read, or the ones "assigned." Getting sidetracked can be a blessing. And it can be missed in digital form - when three quick clicks take us to the exact book, chapter and verse we need. We read and we're done. And that Word will also not return void, but it's still only one piece of a whole. And its the difference between ambling through the woods having slow conversation with a friend and hopping on the highway for a quick jaunt from A to B - either way is time spent with your traveling companion, but one leaves a little more room for open honesty, to see where the path leads you, to be surprised and allow for detours.
Please don't misunderstand me. Technology is wonderful. At times, I have been too lazy to grab a Bible off the shelf, or too forgetful to have my physical copy at church with me, and I've been grateful for a Bible I can whip out of my pocket on a moment's notice to reference as needed - right there on the device I almost always have with me. And sometimes a direct route to a destination is necessary.
But don't overlook what you're missing if this is the only Bible you ever read. Don't miss the beauty of pulling His Word from the shelf and wandering through its magnificent pages.
This full, unabridged copy of God's Word is a most precious gift, take some time to unwrap it.