Bible Study and ...Well...Ummm...
by Barry Shafer
November 17th, 2016
The Greeks called it trophos. The Hebrews called it yanak.
We call it, well…um…nursing, and it teaches us a great deal about Bible study. It’s an analogy as old as the church, with Paul trotting it out for the first time in 1 Thessalonians 2:7,
“7 But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children.”
And now I get that verse more than ever.
I am older than usual for youth ministry (and choosing to hide my age at the moment), and I just had my first child. Yes, Abraham is my new Bible hero (though I’m not that old). This has been one of the life-rocking events in the “good” column (which correctly implies a “bad” column) from these last few years (click here for more on that). On June 8, 2014, my wife, Jessica, and I welcomed our son, Reade Edwin, into the world five weeks early. His early arrival meant nine days in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), which meant nine days of training with NICU nurses, the best in the babying business. And with Jessica’s commitment to breast feeding, nine NICU days also meant four different lactation consultants.
For those who have not been indoctrinated into the babying business, I apologize for the use of the word “lactation.” Most of the population has an aversion to that word. But this experience has vividly brought 1 Thessalonians 2:7 to life.
For the record, “lactation” is a word I never thought I’d be typing, especially for public consumption. But here we are. And yes, there is a professional discipline of lactation consulting, for good reason. While sucking is one of the first natural reflexes for babies, nursing does not happen automatically and every nursing situation presents its own unique challenges.
Lactation nurses represent all the best traits of your favorite grade-school teachers. They are kind, smart, gentle, resourceful. They take what seems to be an impossible task: getting a newborn, or in this case a preemie, to nurse; and they do not give up until it happens. They study the mom. They know babies. They are experts at “the latch,” that precious connection between mom and baby. They relentlessly and patiently come at the situation with ideas and knowledge. Their sense of hope is infectious—you never tire of their saying “try this.” They know when to back off and when to forge ahead. They know how to find the moments when the mom is ready to nurse and the baby is ready to eat. Proper feeding will not happen with those two things out of balance.
Watching this was inspiring. You can apply it to anything you want to accomplish in life. Teen Bible study is what popped into my mind. So often we youth workers try a single approach. If it doesn’t work we bail. The thing is, we need to become experts at “the latch,” that precious connection between teens and God’s Word. We know God’s Word works. We know it will provide nourishment when it’s ingested. We need to not give up but relentlessly approach it with “lactation-grade” patience and intensity.
Another passage that comes to mind, 1Peter 2:2-3:
“2 Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, 3 now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.”
Two keywords pop out: “crave” and “taste.” Teens are hungrier than we think. They crave depth and respond to a good challenge. Scripture will deliver depth and a good challenge every time. Plus, it’s tastier than we might expect. We can trust it to do what it says it can do, chiefly, “grow up” our teens in their salvation.
So, let’s find “the latch” between hungry teens and nutrient-rich Scripture. We want to be ready when a teen is spiritually hungry. We want to gently encourage feeding even if a teen is not hungry. We don’t want to force feed if there are no signs of hunger. But we keep trying. And trying. And trying…like a nursing mother, taking care of her own children.
There are few better moments in life than watching a newborn engage those back jaw muscles for the first time and begin to suck. But equally thrilling, seeing a teen have a personal “wow” moment in Scripture. The latch is on. Let the feeding begin.''
This first appeared here and is shared with the author's permission.
Barry Shafer has been communicating the truth of God’s Word since 1984 as a volunteer youth leader, youth pastor, pastor, author and speaker. Barry, with his late wife Dana, founded InWord Resources in 1996 to strengthen youth ministry with discipleship materials and experiences that meaningfully engage teens in Scripture. Barry is author of Unleashing God’s Word in Youth Ministry (Youth Specialties/Zondervan) and has written numerous teen devotionals and small-group Bible studies.
Barry holds a mass communications degree from Anderson University (Anderson, Ind.) and a master’s degree in biblical studies from Cincinnati Bible Seminary (Cincinnati, Ohio). He lives in Middletown, Ohio with his infant son Reade and his wife Jessica, who happens to be a Grammy-winning opera soprano. If you’re curious about that fascinating world you can check out Jessica’s website here! [LINK: www.jessicarivera.com]
When Barry’s not studying, writing, being a diva spouse, or “daddy-ing” Reade, you can find him reading on the porch, biking on a trail, pulling for the Packers, or playing a little golf.
More of Barry Shafer: www.inword.org