As some of you may already know, I competed in the National Bible Bee for three different years: 2009, 2010, and 2012.
When I participated for the first time, I was at the point in my life where I was searching for the true meaning of Christianity, and as I began to spend hours each day memorizing and studying Scripture, I discovered the answer: a personal relationship with the Lord. It was such a sweet, sweet time, and I will always look back on the Bible Bee as instrumental in my discovering Jesus.
The following year, I decided to participate again. I had heard that the competition was going to be easier, and since I had qualified for nationals the first time around, I figured I had a good chance of making it to the national level again and maybe even winning. But I still was focused on having that sweet time of fellowship with the Lord again. The Bee motivated me to memorize far more Scripture than I would have naturally done on my own, and I appreciated that motivation.
Once again I made it to the national level, but never far enough to win a prize. But it was still a time of learning; that year was a lesson in trusting God.
In 2011 I would have been moved to the highest age level, which is more difficult, so I decided to take a break. But in 2012, I was back on track.
This time, though, my focus was on the prize money. Every time I stood in my room, practicing my verses, I pictured myself reciting on stage in front of an audience as a finalist. I knew I had the potential to win, and so I pushed myself as hard as I knew how, determined to do so. Deep down, I knew my priorities were misplaced, and I knew that ultimately it was up to God whether I would win or lose, and so I would pray, “Not my will, but Yours.” But I really wanted to win.
Needless to say, I made it to the national level once again. But during the oral round, things didn’t go so well. I was extremely nervous, and started to make mistakes, to the point that I was on the verge of tears. The judges, seeing my agitation, actually stopped the clock until I could regain my composure. I was humiliated. Afterward, I cried and cried, very upset with myself. How could I keep coming so close to winning, only to lose?
Later, as the semi-finalists were announced, I listened with mixed emotions. One part of me held out hope that maybe, just maybe, my name would be called. But the other part of me shrank from the idea, remembering too clearly the disaster of my previous oral round.
But when the last name was called, and I knew I had not qualified, a voice sounded very clearly in my mind, “Mission complete.” And I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, what it meant. This was it. The Bible Bee had taught me all that God had intended me to learn through it, and I would not be competing any longer.
A couple days later, during the Celebration Ceremony, the guest speaker was Ray Comfort. As part of his message, he asked everyone in the audience to raise their hand if they read the Bible every day. For the past several months, I had been “in the Word” every day, memorizing and studying Scripture for the Bee. But I did not raise my hand. What I had been doing was not (for the most part) actually being in God’s Word. I had done it mostly for the competition, not for the sake of learning from God and fellowshiping with Him. To me, that study time didn’t count toward my daily spending-time-with-God. So I did not raise my hand. Actually, very few people raised their hands – which is quite a shame, considering the audience Ray Comfort was speaking to.
I say this to show you how far off track I was – so much so, that I didn’t even consider reading and memorizing Scripture, to actually be spending time with the Lord!
I’m going to seemingly go off track for a minute here. But bear with me. It will all start coming together.
The same year that I competed in the Bee for the last time, we also switched churches. It was a very difficult time for me, emotionally and spiritually. I had been at my old church since I was a baby, and leaving it was heart-wrenching. In fact, it was not until last summer that I finally came to terms with the change and accepted it.
Our new church is much different than the old one. It’s much bigger, for one thing. And the pastor’s style of teaching is so much different. At my old church, the pastor’s messages were ones that I remembered for long afterwards, and they inspired and/or convicted me to go home and live my life for Christ. But when we came to our current church, the pastor was just preaching through one of the Gospels.
And maybe this sounds really bad, but I have read the Gospels through several times, and I just was not getting anything out of his sermons. Ok, so Jesus healed a demon-possessed person. Wonderful! But where was the application? The conviction? The inspiration? Maybe other people were getting this out of the sermons, but I just wasn’t. Maybe I just wasn’t looking for it. I don’t know. But either way, I was very unhappy.
And I was desperately hungry for teaching.
But, truth be told, I didn’t know it yet.
No, it wasn’t until the Bible Bee was over and I went back home that I figured it out.
When I came home, I felt free. There was no competition driving me to open God’s Word – I was opening it on my own. I felt God’s Presence so strongly.
And it was sometime around that time, if I recall correctly, that I started to read through Romans. If you have ever read Romans, it can be pretty weighty. Some might even find it inpenetrable. But when I started reading it, it just came ALIVE! I realized how hungry I was just for teaching, and I read it through very quickly, ending up with lots of questions that I wanted answered. So then, instead of moving straight into 1 Corinthians, I started going through Romans all over again, but this time, I decided to do an in-depth study.
So I pulled out our Strong’s concordance and a notebook, and got started. I ended up writing two pages of notes just on the first verse! There is so much to be found in Scripture, if we will only take the time to find it!
But I will warn you, it’s a lot of work. Here it’s been two years, and I still haven’t finished studying the first chapter, partly because it takes a long time, but mostly because I have a bad habit of getting excited about something and diving into it head-first, and then slacking off little by little until I forget about it completely, and then picking it back up again months later.
That’s actually how this blog post got inspired. In my reading-through-the-Bible, I had come to Romans again. So I decided to pull my notebook out and start my study again. My sister happened to be sitting nearby, and she commented, “You know, that’s one thing I should probably learn how to do. I don’t know how to really study the Bible.” So I started to show her what I’ve been doing, and then the thought occurred to me that maybe other people would like to know as well.
When I was in the Bible Bee, we were taught how to do an inductive study. And this is how the process worked:
- First, you read through the entire book several times just to get familiar with it. You ask questions about the entire book: who is the author, and who were the recipients? Where, when, and why was it written? What keywords are repeated, and what seems to be the theme of the book?
- Next, you focus on individual chapters. Again, you look for keywords and ask the questions “Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How?” What message is the author trying to convey?
- Next, you start digging deeper, looking up the keywords in the original languages (Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic) to see what they mean in their original language. You might think there is not much of a difference, but there really is. For example, in the last chapter of John, where Jesus and Peter have a dialog about whether Peter loves the Lord or not, there are different words for “love” being used, which, once understood, lend more meaning and shed a lot more light on what is going on in that conversation.
- You also start looking up cross references. If you have a study Bible, these are probably already outlined for you, so you just have to look them up. In my case, I don’t have a study Bible, so for me, looking up cross references means that I’m looking up what other verses contain the keywords.
- You find the application. What does the book/chapter/verse have to do with you?
Now, I’ll be honest. When I started my study of Romans, I didn’t bother with all of these steps. I decided to skip Steps 1 and 2 and just jump into Step 3. If you want to go about it differently, that’s fine, too!
Just as a sampler, here are some of the highlights of what I discovered in Romans 1:1:
“Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God”
Bondservant – this word is used in numerous other places in the Scripture. For example, in Matthew 8:9, “I say to my servant ‘do this,’ and he does it.” Or John 12:26, “If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me, and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.” In the original Greek, the word is doulos (doo’-los), which literally means “a slave,” and it comes from a root word meaning “to bind.” So a bondservant is a slave who is bound to his master, figuratively speaking. Paul calls himself a slave – someone who must obey his master in all things. This is strong language! And who was His master? Jesus Christ. The application point: Do you and I act as though we are slaves to God, obeying His commands without hesitation?
Called – this specific word is only used in a few places in the Bible, including Matthew 20:16, “For many are called, but few chosen.” The Greek word is kletos (klay-tos) meaning “invited,” “appointed,” or “a saint.” It is closely related to a word that means “an invitation.” Both of these words can be traced back further to roots that can also mean “urge on,” “bid,” or “command.” The word can be interpreted in several different ways, but being so closely related to the word meaning “invitation,” I suspect that the verse could read, “Paul…invited to be an apostle” – and obviously, Paul accepted the calling. The application point: How do you and I respond when God calls us to do something?
Apostle – The first time this word is used in the Bible is in Matthew 10:2, in a listing of the twelve disciples’ names. But others are called apostles as well, including Barnabas (Acts 14:14). The word apostolos (ap-os’-tol-os) means “ a delegate; specifically an ambassador of the Gospel; officially a commissioner of Christ [“apostle”] (with miraculous powers). It can be translated as “he that is sent,” which goes along well with its root, apostello, meaning, “set apart to send out on a mission.”
Separated – In this case, I am not sure whether “separated to the gospel of God” refers to Paul’s being set apart specifically to preach the gospel, or whether it refers to his being set apart to hear the gospel. But the first seems more likely. The Amplified Version translates this verse as follows: “From Paul…a (special messenger) set apart to [preach] the Gospel (good news) of and from God.” Application point: God has a specific calling for each of us. Will we follow it?
Now it’s your turn – check out verse 2!
Note: For clarification, this post is not intended to put down the Bible Bee by any means. The Bee is a wonderful ministry, and I have been deeply blessed by it. It was through my fault alone that my priorities were misplaced, and while God may have urged me not to participate anymore, I would still encourage others to give it a go!
It is also not intended to put down the church where we are currently attending. Like all churches, it has its pluses and its minuses, and I struggled for a long time because I was only looking at the cons. God has had to work on my heart in several different ways, teaching me lessons that I would not have learned had we remained at our old church. So while the transition was difficult, I do believe it was worth it.