This true incident conveys a vital spiritual lesson for Christians. The Bible fulfils a similar role to that of a Captain. Just like the Captain of a ship, it is the Bible which guides us where to head in our "voyage of life", it informs us what to do in different circumstances, it guides us on how to solve the various problems we encounter, it encourages us when the storms of the voyage are difficult, it comforts us when we are sad, and of course it challenges us if we sin or if we begin to neglect our "duties". The Bible is our absolute rule of life. During the years of the Reformation people were constantly reminded that "Scripture alone" was to be their final authority regarding how they were to live and behave. This is as true today as it was then.
Someone worked out that the word "B-I-B-L-E" can stand for "Best Instructions Before Leaving Earth," a wonderful description. The problem is that many people launch themselves into the Christian life but then fail to make sure this "Captain" or "Guide" comes along with them on the journey! In other words, they "set sail" alright, but from that moment on they ignore God’s Word just as though it had been left behind at port. They never consult it for directions, they rarely refer to it for help, they never study its teaching; and then they are surprised when they make a shipwreck of their faith! If they never study the "charts and maps" then how could they avoid hitting a reef?
Carefully reading and studying God’s Word, the Bible is absolutely vital if a Christian is to successfully and faithfully complete his voyage of life. As it states in 2nd Timothy Ch3-15-17; "Holy Scripture is able to make you wise for salvation…All Scripture is given by the inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction and for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work." Like praying, Bible reading is something which every Christian must do on a regular basis if they are to grow spiritually. Carefully studying and dwelling on the Word of God feeds our souls and enlightens our minds. As Jesus warned in Matthew Ch4 v4; "Man shall not live by bread alone but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God." Reading God’s Word changes us for the better, "from within"; those on the other hand who neglect His Word do themselves great spiritual harm.
The benefits arising from regular Bible reading are too numerous to cover in any detail so here are just three examples to show what a profound impact it can have.
First of all, it’s the answer to a heart which is beginning to go cold. Many years ago a Christian teenager went to his Church minister with the following problem. "Sometimes I think I am no longer a Christian" said the lad. "I don’t seem to have the same interest or enthusiasm which I had when I first started following Jesus. It isn’t easy for me to remember Him." The minister knew the family well so he used the following personal illustration to show the solution to his spiritual plight. "Jack, what about the time your father was working away from home for so long? Tell me, did your love for him lessen with time? Was it hard for you to keep on remembering and thinking about him?" Jack replied, "Not a bit. He wrote a letter to us every week. We would read his letters many times and always know what he was doing and be reminded how much he loved us." "Precisely so", said the minister. "The Bible is God’s letter to us. Jesus has gone into Heaven but He has sent us ‘letters’ which we call the Bible. By reading His letters regularly we will stay close to Him in our hearts and our love for Him will never lessen with time. Start reading your Bible Jack and you will grow close to the Author. These are letters to you from God Himself. "
Secondly, it is the answer to a heart filled with worry and anxiety. A woman of nervous temperament visited the world-famous physician Dr Howard A. Kelly. The cares of life where weighing her down and she felt terrified about the future. He listened carefully as she spoke about her life, her interests and the symptoms she now had. When she had finished he said "With many patients I prescribe drugs, but in your particular case what you need more than anything is a source of peace and strength outside your own mind. You said that you were a lapsed Christian. Go home and read your Bible for an hour a day and then come back and see me in a month."
At first the woman was angry, but as she reflected honestly on her situation she began to feel guilty. She had indeed been a Christian, but she had let herself drift spiritually. She had neglected reading her Bible, she had neglected praying and she had stopped attending church. With those "spiritual safeguards" removed, stubbornness and self-will had started to grow in her heart and she didn’t like the person she was becoming. Gradually she began to remember the joyful times prayer and Bible reading had brought her in the past when she had communed with the Lord. Perhaps the Doctor was right after all in perceiving her symptoms were a sign of a spiritual problem. She opened her Bible and began to read. Everyday for the next month she faithfully set aside an hour to read God’s Word. Slowly she felt something change deep inside her heart. She started to feel "the joy of salvation" return to her inner spirit and began to look on life from a different perspective. (See Nehemiah Ch 8v10b, Psalm 43v4, Psalm 51v12 and Romans Ch14v17).
When she returned to the Doctor she said "I now feel like a different person and I can’t thank you enough for your insight and honesty. I am puzzled though as to how you knew my particular problem was of a spiritual nature. How did you know?" Dr Kelly looked at her and then replied "I know from personal experience that if I should omit my own daily reading of God’s Word, I lose my greatest source of joy and strength. I perceived that this is precisely what had happened to you. My prescription of regular Bible reading, when obediently followed, works wonders." ("The Word of God is living and powerful." Hebrews Ch4v12).
Thirdly, it protects the heart from gullibility and superstition. On the night of 28th July1999, the Daily Mail newspaper conducted an experiment to reveal how gullible some people have become. They secretly arranged for crop circles to be made in a large cornfield in Wiltshire and the next day they recorded the response. By midday hundreds of people had come to see the sight. The local farmer started charging a pound a head and a Japanese TV crew filmed everything they could. A visitor from Sussex spread-eagled herself on the flattened corn and said that she now felt cured of her kidney complaint. An American scientist declared that the crops inside the circle had been genetically altered. A seasoned observer of crop circles stated "there’s no way this is man made; it’s just too perfect." Two women raised their arms above their heads saying they could detect a force field. A clairvoyant added that he had been informed by the spirits "that it was a sign to warn us." All these people were dumb founded when they were finally told that the whole thing had been a hoax by the press.
If someone stops believing in God and His Word, they will start to believe in anything no matter how bizarre! Today there are hundreds of weird ideas floating around to capture the imagination, but knowing and accepting what the Bible teaches about life and the world, protects the heart from being misled by such things. It keeps a person rooted and grounded in the truth of God. In an age of confusion and deception, it is the ultimate guide and Beacon of Truth having been inspired by the Creator of Life Himself.
Regular Bible reading brings countless blessings. It has a message from God for every kind of situation we could possibly find ourselves in. When we are sad, it brings a message of comfort, when we are worried, it brings a message of reassurance, when we are confused about issues of morality it shows what is sinful, when we fall into sin, it brings a message of challenge and when we repent of our sins it brings a promise of forgiveness. When we are dying it brings the promise of life everlasting, when we are spiritually exhausted it brings refreshment; its application is limitless.
So how exactly should we study the Bible? First of all, it must be read in the right spirit and with the right attitude remembering that "this is God’s Letter to me." This means we need to constantly ask "Is there a particular message for me in the passage I am reading?" It also means we need to properly "reflect on and inwardly digest" what we have read, in order for it to feed our souls and allow it to change us. And of course it means we need to read it faithfully and regularly. In 1st Samuel Ch2v30 the Lord promises "Those who honour Me I will honour," so if we are truly diligent in our study of His Word we can be certain He will bless us through it. Being irregular in our reading and doing it only now and again as the mood strikes us will not result in His blessing.
Secondly, it is important to have a Bible which one can really understand. Reading Scripture in the Shakespearean English of the "Authorised Version" (written in 1611) is difficult for many people so it is vital to get a Bible in modern English such as "The New King James Version" or "The New International Version". Both of these Versions can also be obtained with explanatory notes so as to help the reader understand what is being said. (One of the most popular at the moment is called "The Life Application Bible". Some people also like to use what are called "Bible reading notes". Free devotional notes can be obtained from www.rbc.org.uk and www.ucb.co.uk ).
Thirdly, those who have never done much Bible reading before should usually begin with the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke or John because this is where they will learn about the life of Jesus. In the Gospels they will read about His moral teaching, His love, His Holiness and the kind of conduct He requires from those who follow Him. They will also learn why He came to this world and why He died on the Cross to save us from our sins. After that, great encouragement will be obtained from reading through the Psalms and Proverbs found in the Old Testament.
Regarding the actual method of reading, it is important to study each chapter in the right order. If chapter one has been completed then continue with chapter two, then three and so on. Reading in this way means that events will flow one into another and the context in which these events are occurring will be clear. Some people try and read a chapter a day, while others can manage two or three chapters. The important thing however, is not the quantity which is read, but the manner in which it is read, namely thoughtfully and prayerfully.
Finally, remember the Bible is a book of instruction being God’s "Work Manual" on how we are to live. If a certain passage has special relevance to the reader they should highlight or underline that verse so they can refer to it easily again. A well marked Bible is a sign of a well studied and faithful Christian.
If a Christian wants to have a faithful and successful "voyage of life" they must take the Bible with them, regularly refer to it, constantly learn from it and faithfully obey it. Failure to do these things properly, right to the end of life will only result in certain shipwreck and disaster.