Applauded by more than two thou sand religious broadcasters at their fortieth annual convention in Washington, D.C., Ronald Reagan challenged America to "face the future with the Bible." A couple of days later, at the National Prayer Breakfast, the President signed a proclamation designating 1983 as the "Year of the Bible." (Well, in the United States at least.) "Can we resolve to read, learn, and try to heed the greatest message ever written—God's Word in the Holy Bible?" Mr. Reagan asked in his prepared remarks.
Such a proclamation is no doubt excellent politics. I hasten to add, however, that I believe the President was sincere in what he said about the Bible and that I agree with him. But I venture to predict that the practical results will be somewhat less than spectacular.
Like motherhood and the national anthem, the Bible commands automatic respect and support, but it doesn't really make a great deal of practical impact on most people's lives. It consistently comes out on top of best-seller lists, but I have a sneaking suspicion it's way down at the bottom of nearly everyone's "most-read" list. Even some of us who have dedicated our lives to preaching and teaching its principles to others might be surprised to realize how little time we spend with it. A number of general factors tend to relegate Bibles to dust-gathering duties on neglected shelves. We clergy face all of them, plus a few that are unique to us.
1. No time. The average pastor's daily schedule would make a whirling dervish tired. For that matter, so would the average housewife's or businessman's. Everybody is busy—too busy.
The solution is as simple as it is trite: Set priorities. If we are to be men of the Word we may have to decline the church softball league or let someone else have the devotional for the ladies' afternoon social circle. We may even have to move more substantive matters to a less urgent spot in the list of priorities.
2. The paper blizzard. Solomon complained', "Of making many books there is no end" (Eccl. 12:12, R.S.V.).' Apparently the magazine had not yet been invented, or the newspaper, and if he had only known what copying machines were going to do to us, his comments probably couldn't have been included in the Bible!
Just as inflation, ah increase in the money supply, drives down the value of all the money in circulation, so the paper blizzard has devalued the printed page. Today the Bible must compete with a plethora of secular and religious publications that bombard us constantly and vie for our attention. The subtle implication of all the book titles, periodicals, newsletters, study guides, curricula, research projects, polls, surveys, ad infinitum, is that we must keep our noses above the rising literary tide if we are to keep from drowning professionally.
The truth of the matter is that far too much of what is coming off religious presses is, of necessity, simply reinventing the wheel. There is a limit to how much can be new and fresh. Thus it becomes much easier to read about the Bible than to read the Bible. We need to ask: "How much time am I spending drinking from the streams, when the source of the river is at hand?" I realize that MINISTRY is implicated in this charge, and if you put it down right now and get out the Scriptures, I won't blame you.
3. Nonconsumers. Most of us look at the daily round of our ministry and refuse to believe that we neglect the Bible. We're constantly involved in using Scripture—sermon preparation, Bible studies, counseling, midweek services, Sabbath school classes, even hospital visits. But in all these activities, we are largely nonconsumers. We are the doc tor dispensing Biblical pills, the grocer passing bread and milk across the counter, the fuel tanker delivering gasoline to the filling station. But the doctor sometimes needs medicine too. The grocer must eat the food he sells; the gasoline truck that doesn't keep its own tanks full will stop running no matter how many thousands of gallons it is carrying.
If we subtract from the total time spent with the Bible all that time used to prepare materials for others, most of us will be surprised at how little is left. Study for others has a benefit for ourselves, of course, but we all need regular times when we go to God's Word with no thought of anything but our own personal needs.
4. Lack of interest. Could this be possible? Many outside the church are uninterested in the Bible, but not clergy! Yet, those things that really interest us usually have a way of being squeezed into even overcrowded schedules. Time magazine and the local newspaper? Well, of course, we need to know what is going on in the world and in our community but the fact is, we are also interested. If we weren't, we wouldn't read them. A half dozen of the shortest books of the Bible would fit on the front page of the average daily newspaper, and in the time required to read ten pages of the newspaper, you could read the nearly forty thousand words of all 150 psalms.
Could it be that what we lack most is not time, but interest?
I'm glad President Reagan declared 1983 to be the Year of the Bible, even though I don't expect to see Matthew 7:12 cropping up in foreign policy papers or Leviticus 25:35-37 incorporated in economic plans sent to Capitol Hill.
But, then, that's our job, isn't it? It's up to us to make the Bible mean something more than motherhood and the national anthem, to make it a living, moving force—first in our hearts, then in the hearts of those who sit under our ministry.—B.R.H.
Bible, copyrighted 1946, 1952 1971, 1973.