Studying the Bible has always been more important to me than caring for the poor.
I've spent too much time in Bible Studies, prayer groups, individual study time, memorization, Biblical conversations, online forums, doing fill-in-the-blank women's Bible studies, filled countless notebooks with sermon notes, filled countless journals with daily "quiet time" notes, done studies on the "original Greek" meaning of various words.
I've committed the sin of endless Bible study.
What I mean is: I've studied the Bible without matching that time in feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the widow and orphan.
Going to Bolivia showed me how unimportant all my Biblical knowledge is--insofar as it has taken me 34 years to actually care for the poor.
I grew up in a community that placed a high value on KNOWING the Bible. The good thing was that I really learned my Bible. But that same community elevated Biblical knowledge to a place of idolatry. What this means is that we kept studying the Bible even after we knew it backwards and forwards without matching that time in actual service to the needy.
Oh, yes. We said we cared for the poor. But that meant nothing, really, since we didn't even know any poor people--at least, none outside our little group.
Yes. I said it. It's possible to idolize a good thing. It's possible to idolize Bible study.
If you think about it, idolizing Bible study is only possible in privileged, first-world society. It's precisely because we have so much spare time and discretionary income that we are able to sit around for hours discussing things like hermeneutics and systematic theology.
In Bolivia, when we asked the Bolivian farmers what they did in their "spare time," we got blank stares. In the midst of crushing poverty, there is no such thing as "spare time." It's bone-crushing work from dawn 'til dusk.
In this way, Bolivia made a mockery of all my Biblical knowledge. Why? Because it made me realize how little time I've spent down in the trenches with the poor, the downtrodden, the oppressed of this world.
I'm not saying that being a Serving Christian and a Biblical Scholar Christian are mutually exclusive. But I am saying that when I stand before God and give account for my life, which do you think will be more important: that I know who Mephibosheth was or that I clothed the naked, fed the hungry and cared for orphans and widows?
Ideally, a Christian should be both Biblically literate and living a life of service. But for whatever reason, my Protestant upbringing focused almost exclusively on Biblical training and evangelism. Caring for the poor was an afterthought inasmuch as it was something we only did at Christmas.
In other words, being able to "give an answer" or defend my faith with words was always far more important than, say, volunteering at the local soup kitchen.
I don't need to know more theology. I need to live the love of Christ--and how that is happening for me is by opening my heart to love the least of these, the ones I have neglected for so long.