Reimagining how to study the Bible, the stories it tells

The Divine MentorBy Mary M. Rall
Community Covenant Church

I never could have imagined just how much I have in common with Joseph. Yep, that Joseph—the one to whom whole chapters of the Bible are dedicated and who was the inspiration for a Broadway musical featuring an Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

My home group is reading Wayne Cordeiro’s “The Divine Mentor: Growing Your Faith as You Sit at the Feet of the Savior” in conjunction with “The Divine Mentor” sermon series Community Covenant is featuring.

Cordeiro emphasizes the importance of reading the Bible as part of our daily lives and introduces readers to the Scripture, Observation, Application and Prayer, or S.O.A.P., method of studying God’s Word. I’ve gotten a lot out of the experience, but there’s one thing in particular Cordeiro shares in is book that’s caused me to reimagine how I read the Bible.

Cordeiro has a unique way of relating to the people in the Bible and talks about its stories as if they were shared with him by close, personal friends who experienced them firsthand. He prompts readers to approach the Bible in the same manner, encouraging them to walk with Esau to ask him why he sold his birthright and to join David by the fire to discuss how he felt when Absalom turned on him or Nathan confronted him.

The participants in my home group were struck by how Cordeiro seems to personally connect with the people in the Bible. We’d never related to them in the quite the same way and each took a moment to share whose stories we most enjoyed reading. Mine was Joseph’s, as the story of the teen shepherd, who was sold into slavery by his brothers, only to become one of the most influential people in Egypt is one that’s ripe with drama and intrigue. I love stories about those who triumph despite seemingly insurmountable odds.

I became motivated to study Joseph’s journey anew following that conversation and attempted to see how I might relate personally to his story as I continued to apply the S.O.A.P. method to my daily Bible studies. As I underlined scripture, wrote in my journal and prayed, I made an effort to really picture what God was sharing about Joseph in His Word. What was his environment like? How did he feel as he listened to his brothers contemplate his murder? What did the weight of the shackles feel like when he was enslaved? What emotions did he experience when his efforts to honor God resulted in being imprisoned for a sin he never committed?

Personalizing the story in such a way allowed me to discover that I have a lot more in common with the shepherd turned Egyptian governor than I could’ve ever imagined. Our individual experiences as children of God may be thousands of years apart, but time and geography are the only things that separate several aspects of our journeys.

Sounds absurd, right? I mean, what commonalities could the life of a 45-year-old woman in Alaska have with a man who began life as a shepherd, was sold into slavery, became a servant to a pharaoh, was imprisoned, saved a country from famine and became one of the most-trusted advisors in the Egyptian government in his lifespan?

Well, let’s start with the manner in which our lack of verbal impulse control has a tendency to get us both into trouble. Like Joseph, words seem to fly out of my mouth unhindered, and I’m often left paying the cost for saying something out of enthusiasm, frustration or anger that would have been better left unsaid. Joseph shared his dreams with his brothers, explaining how he dreamt of them as sheaves of grain and as stars that were bowing down to him, which inevitably resulted in his already-jealous siblings selling him into slavery. I imagine the faces of his brothers as they received that information looked a lot like those of the people who’ve had the unfortunate opportunity to be on the receiving end of my own verbal dysentery.

Yet, it’s that same trait that allowed us to serve our earthly masters with confidence. Joseph’s willingness to continue to share his God-ordained gift of dream interpretation is inevitably what led to preventing famine in Egypt. Although I can’t say I’ve remedied any food crises that couldn’t be relieved with a trip to the grocery store, I do know that my willingness to communicate responsibly in the midst of difficult or intimidating circumstances has been integral to my career as a military public affairs advisor. Like Joseph, I just have to make sure I’m using the gifts I’ve been given in a manner that honors God.

What’s more, I was able to put myself in Joseph’s sandals as his efforts to be obedient to God often resulted in the worst possible outcome and the loss of the relationships he valued most in the world. While I’ve never been imprisoned for a crime I didn’t commit, I can appreciate much of the pain Joseph must have experienced as he attempted to live out his faith in an environment that was contrary to everything God intended for His children.

My family’s understanding of who God is has always greatly differed from what I discovered when I accepted Christ when I was 15, and my attempts to honor God in my life continue to result in accusations of brainwashing, declarations of my eternal damnation and long, painful estrangements from some of the people I love most. I’m still explaining 30 years later that “that whole Jesus thing” stuck, and I’m even more certain of who God is today than I was as a teenager.

That desire to follow God throughout our lives led Joseph and me through significant seasons of loss when our circumstances became continually harder as a direct result of the manner in which we desired to live as servants of God. We both found ourselves in situations in which we had to make a choice between cultivating the one eternal relationship that matters most for all of humanity and compromising on our beliefs to preserve a few fleeting relationships in the world. The Bible talks most about the manner in which Joseph honored God and endured in the more significant of those moments, but I’m willing to bet his story also includes its fair share of imperfections, just as mine does.

Which brings me to the part of Joseph’s story I most relate to today—that moment when God’s unfathomable plan for his family came full circle, and he found himself reunited with his father and reconciled with his brothers.

In this, Joseph and I share a story of hope and faith that God’s plan for us is far greater than what we can conceive. Despite the pain, struggles and loss that can obstruct our walk across any bridge from one part of our story to another, there’s always hope on the other side. I won’t say every lost relationship has been or will be recovered, but I know I can hold fast to God’s promises in Jeremiah 29:11 in which He declares that He knows the plans He has for me, plans that will allow me to prosper, to keep me free from harm and to give me hope and a future.

I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to read “The Divine Mentor,” which has allowed me to approach the Bible in a whole new way, not just through the S.O.A.P method of Bible study, but by allowing me to better understand how God would have me live out my story through the telling of those that came before mine.

Regardless of whether or not someone is a biblical shepherd or a contemporary journalist, God is unchanging and steadfast, as is what He communicates through His Word. I don’t know about you, but I find it pretty reassuring to know there’s a divine prequel to my personal story that I can refer to as it continues to be written.