As a teacher in the public school system, religion is a topic that has to be handled with great care. Being a math teacher, it is far more often a topic that is avoided entirely. I don’t typically find myself in a position to share my faith with my students, but the topic does come up from time to time. In one such conversation towards the end of a school year, I casually mentioned that I had been busy with some church-related activities. One of my students couldn’t contain their shock and made the statement that they never would have suspected me as a “believer”. It wasn’t the first time I had heard this, and it probably won’t be the last, but their reaction cut me to the core. How could I have known this student for an entire year without giving them any indication as to the type of person I saw myself to be?
There is a long list of reasons that this student may have seen me as they did and perhaps I was too hard on myself. Regardless, aren’t we, as Christians, called to be “different”? Shouldn’t we stand out in some way that causes people to stop and take notice? I am not talking about wearing a cross necklace or preaching on the street corner, but rather of something much deeper that permeates our being and seeps from our pores. I am speaking of a deeply transformed way of living that comes naturally because it is such an integral part of our identity - a lens through which we see the world and base our actions.
Such is my vision, but achieving it is no simple task. Sure, it’s easy (sometimes) to be faithful Christians on Sunday. We go to church, plan service projects, and participate in Christian fellowship, which are all meaningful and beneficial things. As easy as this may be for many of us, though, it seems far easier to put all of this aside the very second our cars leave the parking lot (or, if you’re like me, as soon as the first game kicks off on an NFL Sunday). In the workplace, it becomes easier still to neglect our Christian identity in favor of our professional one. This may be intentional due to our fear or rationalizations, or it may be unintentional simply due to the stress and distraction of our daily lives. Whatever the cause may be, I find myself so often living a life of fragmented sections, like the rooms in a house or the pieces of a stained-glass window where one color never bleeds into another. This is why my student’s reaction hit me as hard as it did. It was, and continues to be, a stark reminder of where I am in my Christian journey and how much further I have to go. We are called to be a true reflection of Christ on earth, and this can only happen if the walls are torn down - if the colors are allowed to not only mingle, but to mix completely and throughout.
So, the question is, how do I get there? I wish it were as easy as being moved by an amazing sermon or by letting some other uplifting experience on Sunday morning push me through the rest of the week in a fit of inspiration. It seems to me, however, that a far more fundamental and intentional change is required. John Wesley referred to these agents of change as spiritual disciplines. While the list of Christian disciplines is a long one, it is the practice of Biblical study that I believe helps to guide all the rest. Where do we learn to pray if not through the example set forth in the Psalms and by Jesus himself? How do we learn to worship if not through the practices (good and bad) of our brothers and sisters of the early Church? It is my belief that the regular study of Scripture is not only a foundational practice but a transformational one as well.
Of course, as it is with most things of value, there is a lot of work involved. The Bible can be intimidating. Its size is daunting, and the ancient people and practices that it describes can seem foreign and difficult to relate to. But, when taken as a whole, there is no better resource for us to gain insight into whose we are and the implications that come with such knowledge. Like many, I’ve been through periods in my life of intense study followed by times where attention to Scripture has been completely absent. I can attest to the fact that the difference is noticeable and real. When I am regularly engaged in study, I find that I am also regularly engaged in reflection throughout the day. When driving in rush hour traffic I often find myself far more concerned with whatever I may have read the previous night than that…Beloved Child of God… who just cut me off on the interstate. While at work, I find myself pausing and seeing my students and coworkers in a completely different light. When interacting with others I notice that I choose my words far more carefully and that I listen far more intently. At home, I am far more inclined to notice my blessings and give thanks. In short, the regular study of Scripture keeps me tethered - to my God, to my identity, and to my purpose. When engaged daily, I can see the walls begin to fall and the colors begin to bleed.
Biblical study can be difficult, and it is most certainly a journey. Thankfully, it is a journey that we are able to take together. It is one that has the power to strengthen our bond to those that have gone before us. It has the ability to deepen the relationships we have with one another. And, certainly, it is a journey that brings us closer to God. It is an opportunity put before us to grow in faith and to help guide us on our paths. Thanks be to God.