If you have books, whether just a few or a great number, I expect you keep different types in different places. As a matter of convenience, I keep my story-books inthe bedroom and non-fiction in the lounge. The shelf opposite my favourite armchair houses a selection of biographies and books about British and world history. Looking at these the other day, I realised they fall into four distinct categories that have nothing to do with their content.
Some, I confess, were allotted a place on the shelf when I bought them, and have stayed there, unread, ever since. I opened one out of curiosity and discovered stored within its pages a receipt for its original purchase in 1947! By contrast, I bought one last Saturday and read a fifth of it that evening; it will probably be finished in a week or two and then never opened again. I noticed a number of bookmarks as my eye passed along the shelf, showing where I’d stopped reading when my interest turned elsewhere. If I want to read those books another time, almost certainly I shall have to begin them over again. And finally, there are books that I’ve probably never read from cover to cover, but I know pretty well what’s in them and, when I need, I can turn to the relevant chapter for what I want.
There are broad similarities here to Jesus’ teaching about different kinds of soil. It’s sometimes referred to as the Parable of the Sower (Matt. 13:3-8), and illustrates the variety of reaction people have to the Good News He taught about the Kingdom of God. The parable is accompanied by its own explanation (verses 18-23); I admit that the categories on my bookshelf don’t exactly fit these distinctions but there is a degree of comparison.
These thoughts prompt me to ask where amongst your books you keep the Bible; I believe the place of the Bible in our home reflects the place of God in our life. Does it hold a place of honour somewhere, where it sits untouched apart from regular dusting on housekeeping days? Is it on a shelf like my reference books, available to be turned to when a need arises? I confess, mine is so frequently looked at that it doesn’t have a place on the shelf at all.
The second half of Psalm 20 tells of God’s ability to deal with the problems of life. We need a god we can call on in time of trouble; the God of the psalms was that sort of a god. He had seen the Israelites through their oppression in Egypt, the trials of the years in the desert and the conquest of the peoples living in the promised land. In the Christian era, we call on Jesus, or pray in His name: “Whatever you ask in my name …” He promised (John 14:13). The writer to the Hebrews reminds us that “The word of God is alive and active, sharper than a double-edged sword” (Heb. 4:12) and says that in God we can “find grace to help us in our time of need.” (v.16).
Now, when a friend asks you if you know a good carpenter or plumber, it’s good if you can say, “I’m pretty sure there’s a chap at the other end of the road … no. 84, I think, or it might be 88 … no, sorry, I don’t know his name.” How much more useful, more convincing though, if you are in the habit of meeting him at the pub or club; if he’s someone you actually know? Better still if you can recommend him on the strength of have received his services recently.
It’s the same if your friend has a spiritual problem. You might know the location of a nearby clergyman; you might be able to recommend a good book, or some Bible references; how much better if you were able to visit, discuss the problem and pray through it … to be the channel for that ‘grace to help in time of need’?
What does where you keep your Bible say about you?