“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” Matthew 18:20
According to some research in my email inbox (Thanks for the storage, Google!), seven years ago this month I attended my first Bible study. Though I had grown up attending church and Sunday school, I had never attended anything called a “Bible study” before. The Bible studies at my church growing up seemed to be filled with ancient church members. I imagined them sitting around a table in a dimly lit room taking turns reading the Bible monotonously. That sounded beyond boring. Bible study just isn’t my thing, I decided, and I hadn’t thought twice about it.
Until one day when I saw an announcement for a young women’s Bible study at my church in New Orleans, and I thought maybe I should give it a try. At the time, I was desperate for friends. After my two-year commitment to Teach For America ended, I decided to continue teaching at my school for a third year while my other three amazing and inspiring roommates moved on. My new roommates were fun, but we didn’t have a deeper connection. I was feeling isolated and lonely.
As I headed to an unknown woman’s house for that first study, I was nervous. I knew several Bible stories from hearing sermons, but I hadn’t really read the Bible on my own before. What if all the women here knew everything there was to know about the Bible? What if I looked really stupid? What if I said something wrong?
My worrying was all for naught. It turns out that even though it was called a “Bible study,” we were reading a book written by a female Christian author. It was more like a book club or one of my English classes with a lively discussion and varying interpretations and applications. I realized I could contribute even though I hadn’t read much of the Bible. I also became very close with the women. At the end of our discussions we would share prayer requests, and the women were so real and raw with their struggles. I felt honored to be taken into their confidence, and I remembered them throughout the week in my thoughts and prayers.
I had such a positive experience with the women that, six months later when I left for grad school in Syracuse, I decided to start my own Bible study. I was nervous then, too. I was still getting to know my new peers, and I wanted to make a good impression. If I sent out a group email about a Bible study to these intellectual, mostly liberal people, would they think I was dorky, old-fashioned, ignorant? I eventually mustered up the courage to send this email to my cohort (again, thank you Google for recording and safeguarding this historic moment): “Is anyone interested in starting a Bible study? I was in my first one last year and really enjoyed it. If you are interested, let me know and I'll try to get something going :)” and, to my surprise, ten of my classmates responded!
I was also relieved that I wasn’t the only person who was nervous about a “Bible study.” One emailed back: “This really interests me. but, admittedly (embarrassingly), i know very little about the bible. What would a bible study entail... and do you have to know anything about the bible to do this?” Someone else asked: “How does this study of the bible work? Can you explain to me a little bit more about it?” I was happy to to let them know that anyone can attend a Bible study no matter their level of experience. In the end, we had a regular group that got together weekly to read the gospel of Mark in its entirety. It was a cool way to get to know people from my grad program outside of class and learn more about God.
When I got back to New Orleans a year later, I resumed my friendships with the women from the study, and we worked together to expand our small group to include men. We didn’t know if any would show up, but they did! That was six years ago now. Since then, I’ve helped coordinate and lead more “Bible studies” than I can count for our very active group.
Even though my activities related to Bible study take up a lot of my time, I’ve never seriously thought about giving it up. Why do I keep participating? There are three main reasons I keep coming back to Bible study:
1. Bible studies have provided me unmatched friendship, support, and accountability.
This week I received a text from one of the women from my 6-years-ago grad school Bible study asking me to pray for her dad who’s in the hospital. Though many women I’ve been in studies with over the years are no longer close by, the love and support created in these groups is strong and lasting. Sharing your struggles with people who believe that anything is possible with a God who wants to offer us life in all its abundance is just a different experience than I’ve had when discussing struggles with my non-Christian friends. I’m so thankful for the hope and encouragement that I’ve received during challenging times. And it’s been such a gift to see God work through my friends’ lives as they’ve conquered struggles and grown into stronger, bolder men and women. I truly believe these relationships are a reflection of the type of relationship God wants with me.
2. Bible studies are a spiritual practice that help me understand the world and my place in it.
After seven years of various types of faith-based study, I know a lot more about the Bible now. Through my reading and understanding I can interpret the messages in the Bible for myself, without relying solely on passively listening to sermons I hear on Sunday. With the Bible and other faith-based texts as a resource, I’ve been able to actively form a framework to understand the world around me. This helps me orient myself to God’s way rather than the world’s way. I’m more grounded and less likely to be rocked by tough situations than I used to be. I’ve had several people outside of my faith community tell me that they’ve noticed and admired my sense of peace when things are uncertain. I attribute my ability to weather uncertainty to my faith, and I hope my foundation only grows firmer as my spiritual practices, including Bible study, deepen.
3. Bible studies bring me closer to God.
Last, but certainly not least, attending Bible studies has helped me grow closer to God. Seeing how others live out their faith in creative and personal ways has enriched my own relationship with God. I’m constantly challenged, in a good way, to go deeper in my seeking for God.
I never thought I would be a “Bible study person,” but seven years later, here I am. And it’s made a huge difference in my life! What about you? Do you think Bible study might just be for you, too?