Friday afternoon and a free hour to fill. I know what to do. Jumping into my car, I head to our local library’s semi-annual book sale.
Thousands of books are crammed into the stone basement of the old brick building built in 1886, but I know exactly where to go. Having been to this sale countless previous years, my steps take me straight to the section entitled “Religion”. Not too many browsers in this area which suits me well. I am free to pull title after title off the shelves thumbing through the pages. Some of the books appear to have been there since the building was erected, as dusty and musty as the basement itself. Many are scholarly tomes with authors unfamiliar to me. Some are popular books read by the masses. I spot an occasional author whose works I’ve read: C.S. Lewis. Oswald Chambers. Billy Graham. Elizabeth Elliot. I remember the year I found a book I had given as a gift. The inscription on the flyleaf encouraged the recipient to enjoy John Piper’s book “Desiring God”, but evidently they had not. Clearly the book had never been read.
I move on to the purpose for which I’ve come. Bibles. The book sale has been my long standing source of Bibles to give away to seekers who cross my path. I scan the rows of Bibles, rejecting most out of hand. Their covers tell me the print will be small, faded, old. Good News for Modern Man? Dated. King James Version? Tough read for a seeker or young person. Revised Standard Version? Maybe.
Then my eyes fall on a familiar cover and I reach overhead to pull a beautifully preserved edition of The Living Bible off the shelf. If it weren’t for a small smudge of dirt on the fore edge, this hard covered olive-green book could have been in a bookstore. I open to the familiar pages and I am immediately transported back in time to 1973, the year I first heard the Lord calling my name.
Within days after accepting God’s call on my life someone gave me a copy of The Living Bible. I fell in love. I carried it with me to school where I slipped into its pages whenever possible. It occupied the top position on my stack of high school books; I often looked at it longingly as I listened to a lecture that wasn’t nearly as exciting as the contents of that book. The pages were soon worn, underlined, and grubby from constant use. I devoured it. It was my constant companion and priceless treasure. Taunts of ‘Jesus Freak’ were not a deterrent. Eventually an older friend suggested that I get a translation of the Bible, rather than a paraphrase. I was directed toward a Scofield Study Bible which also became a beloved friend. Somewhere along life’s journey I lost the Living Bible, but the Scofield Bible still sits on my bookshelf. Tattered and torn, it is quite literally falling apart. I rarely use it, but it will never be discarded. It is a testimony of the work of God in a human heart.
My attention returns to the book I hold in my hands. The binding is tight, the pages crisp and clean. There is no hint of mustiness; it is likely this Bible has been resting on a shelf in someone’s living area. As I flip through I find no sign of activity in the pages save for a church bulletin from the Norwich Congregational Church in Vermont dated July 25, 1976. A cursory reading of the bulletin ensues and I know immediately it would not have been the church for me.
I wonder about the owner. Had the Bible been a gift they were reluctant to discard? Was it kept on their bookshelf for the sake of appearances? What had been the course of their life? Why had they never read the Book?
Bookshelves across the country are filled with Bibles that are seldom read. LifeWay Research conducted a recent poll of over 2,000 Americans who actually do read the Bible. They found that while only a third of those people read it almost daily, 84% own more than one Bible and the average reader owns 3.6 copies of the Bible. Ed Stetzer, President of Lifeway Research concluded, “We learn from this study among American Bible readers that owning multiple Bibles is much more prevalent than regularly investing time in reading it.”
In his book, Eat this Book, Eugene Peterson says, “There is an enormous interest these days in the soul. In the church this interest in the soul is evidenced in a revival of attention in matters of spiritual theology, spiritual leadership, spiritual direction, and spiritual formation. But there is not a corresponding revival of interest in our Holy Scriptures.”
Why do Christians habitually neglect the daily reading of their Bibles? We know it is the ‘right’ thing to do, but it seems we don’t always find it palatable. It isn’t necessarily that we disagree with it, it is just much easier to read a spiritual book, listen to Christian music, or call a friend when we are trying to hear God’s voice. How wise we would be to cultivate the attitude of Jeremiah, “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts.”
My new purchase is a sweet reminder of how far God has brought me since the days I first read His Word. For now it will rest on my bookshelf, but it is not meant to be a decoration; it is meant to be read. Rather than be a reminder to me of God’s grace, I prefer that it be the means of God’s grace for someone else.
The trip to the book sale has been a success. I expect that this latest acquisition will soon move on to another eager reader. In the meantime it has been a satisfying stroll down memory lane and a time to reflect on God’s faithfulness.