The Bible, Prayer & Making It Big

Paul Winch | Jan 5th, 2011

You may have heard about or even seen first hand the new buzz around universities: Bible reading and prayer is really hip with a growing number of students. Students with open Bibles are often seen huddled in student cafeterias or reading their Bible on the train on the way to uni. I, Trevor, a commerce student myself, first noticed it about 18 months ago on the bus one Tuesday morning traveling in for an early class. A guy I recognized from one of my subjects, consistently read the Bible all the way to uni. Apparently Bible reading and prayer is one of the new trends that is catching on amongst tertiary student circles, spreading across the nation, leaving social commentators and pundits scratching their heads. How can the most basic, time-honoured devotional disciplines in Christian history be some of the most exciting pursuits on a 21st century uni campus? I decided to find out for myself.

“It is not a fad,” Damien, an arts student, told me. “It comes from our desire to make it big. Uni is about fresh starts and preparing for a successful life, that is why we read the Bible and pray.” Damien says he likes to read the Bible quite often, and also usually meets several times a week with friends to discuss Bible portions.

Julia, studying science, explained further: “Jesus has a way of messing with your head and clarifying heart issues in confronting ways. One of the most significant riddles he told was how a farmer sowed seed into four different soils, but only one soil was ultimately productive and yielded useful fruit. He also said that if you didn’t get this riddle, you wouldn’t understand many of his words.”

Deciding to take the hint from Julia, I explored further for myself. I searched the internet with many results, some which seemed quite dubious to me, some more promising. I even found the riddle in Mark chapter four, although the Bible I had called it a ‘parable’. In its original context, it seemed to resonate. From my research I concluded that, the riddle is a metaphor for Jesus’ teachings, now recorded in the Bible. Some people receive Jesus’ words like good soil receives seed. But there are all manner of other reactions to Jesus’ words. Some people are completely intolerant, just like a well-trodden path would repel a seed completely. Other people are more open, but in the end their responses are futile because they become distracted by other things or give up in times of trouble.

Wanting to see if I now understood the riddle, I approached what looked like another bunch of Bible readers surrounding a study table in the foyer of the engineering building to test my theory. “What would we know or care? Get stuffed! Jesus doesn’t have anything useful to say. We’re trying to study.” I had mistaken a text book for a Bible. Feeling rather stupid I consoled myself with the fact that I was a novice at this Bible stuff and that it was an easy mistake, but wandered off dejectedly nevertheless. But then the thought dawned on me, as these words of Jesus flooded my mind – “soil like a well trodden path” – that was what I had just witnessed, wasn’t it?

Excited now that my theory might actually be right, I ran through the cafeteria but I spotted no lurking Bible readers. I looked in the student lounge, just more engineering types. Then I spotted a group of four on the grass outside, and sure enough, unmistakably this time, I recognised Bibles.

I approached, introduced myself with the excuse that I wanted to ask some questions. They seemed genuinely delighted and made room for me to sit down.

“Why is Jesus’ sower and soils parabola so important?” I started.

Ignoring my faux pas, Brent, who I later learned turned out to be an engineer, gave an intriguing reply:

“Jesus claimed to bear the reign of God in our world and with some pretty amazing stuff enacted this divine kingship. Sins forgiven, evil overthrown, and a new way of being and living established around him. ‘Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand!’ was his whole-of-life call for a new beginning made possible in him. Have you read the book of Mark where the parable comes from?”

“I’ve read some of it,” I assured him, a little too quickly, “but in the paragraph, I mean, parable thing, why does only one of the soils bear fruit?”

This time Anna jumped in. “Jesus is trying to get people to think about what kind of soil they are, how receptive of him they will be. Are they going to be like the religious leaders in Mark chapter 3 who are so hard against Jesus that they claim he’s of the devil. Or are they going to be people who merely hear what Jesus is saying, think it’s cool, but don’t really do anything with it? That kind of person won’t make it big with God either! In the end, their life will be declared fruitless. What kind of soil are you going to be? It’s the kind of person who really pays attention to Jesus, takes in what he says, humbly accepts his word and lives it out that … “

Anna’s voice trailed off as she took off her glasses to clean them.

“They are the ones that make it big, yeah?” I concluded for her. “Wow, Jesus is pretty into himself isn’t he. No wonder he starts and ends this riddle with the request to ‘listen’. Obviously if you don’t listen you don’t get who Jesus is. So, how do you get to be good soil?”

Fiona, who hadn’t said a word yet, chipped in. “Do you know the sower?”

Must be a woman of few words, I thought, and confused, I looked back to Brent and Anna.

“Trevor, the sower is Jesus, he has given us his word in the Bible so that we could know him, grow in trust and follow him in love and worship. Prayer helps you live this relationship out. Asking Jesus for help in understanding the Bible also helps you be good soil, because it is kind of like asking the sower himself to plant his seed deep within you, so that his word can transform you from the inside out,” said Brent.

Thus began my first encounter with reading the Bible for myself. The group of four invited me back to join them the next week, and I’ve had so much fun exploring the Bible with them. It’s amazing how true to life it can be! I’ve even started to join in the prayers with my new friends, but I’m still finding that a bit weird.

What I’ve learnt so far is that following Jesus is actually a lot like going to uni. So far, I’ve paid my first rent, had my first (more-than-fleeting) romantic relationship and got my first decent-paying job (that actually used my brain). As I grow to know Jesus better, I’m finding it to be a lot of fresh starts and big things too. I think with all the changes going on in my life, I’m starting to understand just how powerful that seed of the sower can be when you take it in deep, by prayer and living it out. Why don’t you experience the growing new buzz on our campuses for yourself?