The Prep Kitchen is a food service business based on a hungry stomach and a shortage of time. You can purchase meals that have already been prepped–washed, chopped, measured, sifted–and simply combine and cook. Brilliant! Imagine how this concept might apply to the task of personal Bible study. Last week we talked about God’s gracious invitation to Come. Now that we’ve come to God’s table by opening our Bibles, what’s next? We have to learn to prepare a meal.
Eating isn’t optional, is it? Necessity is the mother of cooking.
Wide awake in the middle of the night, I peek at the clock. 3:30am. Hello jet lag.
My husband was already up. “What’s for breakfast?” he asked brightly around 4:00. I stood in front of the refrigerator, hoping something tasty would magically appear, but alas, I hadn’t made it to the store yet.
“Um…duck eggs?” I suggested helpfully. “From the lady at church yesterday?”
“Hm-mm…do you think they’re still OK after sitting in the hot car for two hours while we were at lunch?”
It was necessity that had me googling “everything you need to know about duck eggs” at O-dark-thirty on a Monday morning. Before long I learned:
- A. They would be fine as long as thoroughly cooked
- B. How to hard boil a duck egg
- C. How to prepare tasty meals with hard boiled duck eggs
Necessity is the mother of cooking. And of so many other important life skills.
Prep Requires Getting Our Hands Dirty
Watching food shows and actually cooking are two very different hobbies. I know that comes as a surprise to most of us. We’re so accustomed to the virtual reality nature of our media-driven culture that we think watching other people work is the same thing as doing the work ourselves. We become mere spectators without realizing it.
To become a cook, you actually have to pick up a knife. To become a student of the Scriptures, you actually have to pick up a pen.
Reading the Bible–or listening to it in the car–is a good thing. But perhaps you find, as I do, that sometimes the words wash over me without having much effect. My mood is lifted for a few minutes, but my mind isn’t engaged. If you were to ask me what I read ten minutes later, I probably wouldn’t be able to tell you. Without engaging my mind, the passage probably won’t nourish my faith or fuel my obedience.
But if I pick up a pen and ask myself even one question about the passage I just read, the chances of thinking, remembering, and applying it become far greater.
In Chapter 7 we were invited to come to the table by our Divine Host. In Chapter 8 we start to get our hands dirty. Grab a pen and turn with me to pages 248-9 in Hungry. There you’ll find the “Philemon Worksheet #1.” Or if you prefer a printed version of these pages, you can download them here.
Ready? Let’s do it!
Prep Is Thinking — the Hardest Work
Let’s say you and I have just read the short book of Philemon in our Bibles. It’s a single chapter that tells a moving story. Then we ask ourselves the first question:
“What happens here?”
We stare at the question and the empty lines stare back at us. We might hesitate. How can I summarize? What if I get it wrong? I don’t know where to start. I have too much to say. Some of us could fill the whole page with our answer, while others can’t seem to find the right first word that would unblock our thoughts.
Answering even this first simple question can feel hard. Why? Because writing is thinking. And thinking is hard work. I still feel that way, even though I’ve written a book.
But the work is worth it. And it gets easier. That first question forces us to pay attention to what we’ve read, through the hard work of taking those words by Paul into our thoughts and then putting our thoughts into words. Hard work, but fruitful, because the words become more lively in our minds as we pick them up and make them our own.
Did you answer the first question? Congratulations. You’re off to a good start.
Organize Your Mind
We have three more questions to answer about Philemon:
- First, what does it tell me about God?
- Next, what does it tell me about people?
- Finally, what does it tell me about the relationship between God and people?
Like the first question, these 3 will help you and me focus. As we look for the answers to them in the words of Paul to Philemon, we will see details we missed in our first reading. We’ll also sharpen our skill of observing.
But more than that, we will also organize our minds to think theologically about the passage. That’s because these 3 questions are based on 3 major themes of the Bible:
- Theology–the study of God
- Anthropology–the study of man, human person hood
- Covenant–how God and man relate to each other
The story of the Bible is about the God who created us for a relationship with him. My goal of understanding Scripture means I must read for the story line first. What has happened so far? What happens here?
Then we look for the three big building blocks of the text–theology, anthropology, covenant–the essential ingredients of the Christian faith. As we answer these three questions, we are constructing our theology from the text itself, seeing firsthand what the Bible tells us about God, me, and our relationship one passage at a time.
Not only are we studying Philemon, we are organizing our minds for future study.
So…don’t just read, think! It’s work, but it’s worth it.