The story is told of an old man who lived on a farm in the hills of Kentucky with his young grandson. Each morning, grandpa was up early, sitting at the kitchen table reading from his old Bible. His grandson, who wanted to be just like his grandfather, imitated him in any way he could, and so he too would sit there and try to read out of the Bible.
One day the grandson said, “Grandpa, I try to read the Bible just like you, but I don’t understand it, and what I do understand I forget as soon as I close the book. So what good is it to read the Bible?” The grandfather, quietly turned from putting the coal in the stove and said, “Take this black old wicker coal basket down to the river and bring back a basket of water.” The boy didn’t think that would work to carry water in a wicker basket, but he did as he was told. And just as he expected, all the water leaked out of the basket before he could get back to the house. The grandfather laughed and said, “Well, you will just have to move a little faster next time,” and he sent him back to the river to try again. This time the boy ran faster, but once again, the old wicker basket was empty before he returned home.
Out of breath, the boy exclaimed to his grandfather that it was impossible to carry water in a wicker basket, and offered to get a metal bucket instead. But the old man said, “I don’t want a bucket of water, I want a basket of water. Why can’t you do this one little thing for your old grandpa? You’re just not trying hard enough.” Well, it’s a good thing that that boy loved his grandfather, because even though he was getting very frustrated with the old man, he was obedient, and again did as he was told.
Grandpa went out onto the porch to watch the boy make yet another attempt. At this point, the boy knew it was impossible, but with his grandfather watching, he was determined to show him that even if he ran as fast as he could, the water would all leak out before he got even close to the house. He scooped the water out of the river and took off running hard, but when he reached the porch the basket was again empty. “See grandpa,” he said, all out of breath, “It is useless!”
“So you think it is useless,” the old man said. “Well, just take a look at that basket.” The boy looked at the basket and for the first time he realized that the basket looked different. No longer was it the blackened by the coal dust. Now it was clean and back to its original tan color.
“Son,” said the grandfather, “that’s what happens when you read the Bible. You might not understand or remember anything, and you might not be able to hold it all in your mind, no more than that wicker basket could hold the water. But as you read the Bible, it changes you, it cleanses you, and it works on you from the inside out. God’s Word will do you a world of good as it passes through your mind, even if all the facts and all the verses don’t stay in there but run right on out, just like water out of a wicker basket.”
There is much to be known about the Christian faith, but not very much that one has to know. There is enough in the Bible for a lifetime of study, and many people have spent their entire lives studying it. But most people have had to spend most of their time doing other things, and have not been able to make such a lifelong in-depth study. Not only that, but some people are gifted readers and learners and can remember what they read and study. And many others are like the little boy– they sincerely want to make a good effort, but just cannot remember very much of what they hear or read. God has given different people differing abilities and talents, and God does not expect everyone to know everything in the Bible. We are saved by faith, says the Bible time and again, by what we believe, and NOT by how much we know. And Romans 10 says that faith comes by hearing the Word of God– by hearing it again and again and again. Even if you don’t remember it all, even if you may not be a reader or student, and even if you would get a D- on a test on Biblical knowledge, you can still have faith, a faith given and sustained by the hearing of God’s Word. That is what grandpa was trying to teach his grandson with the wicker coal basket. It seemed useless to the boy to keep going down to the river to get water in a basket which just could not hold water long enough. I have had confirmation students that no matter what I would do to try and help them learn their lessons, their heads were just not made to hold very much book learning. But some of those kids who did the poorest on tests, had a deeper faith than some others who, with just a little study, would know all the answers. Knowledge and faith are two different things, and even if the truths of God’s Word do not stay in one’s memory, one’s faith is kept alive and strengthened by the ongoing hearing of it. Therefore, God has commanded that we hear it. And just as the basket was cleansed by the water that passed through it, our faith is strengthened and our hearts are cleansed by the Word that passes in, and sometimes, right out of one’s mind.
You may not remember everything said in every sermon, or everything you read in the Bible. But as Grandpa said about going to get water in the basket, it isn’t useless. Facts may not accumulated, knowledge may not be built up, and after a lifetime of going to church you might still be hesitant to speak up in a Bible study. But that doesn’t mean listening to God’s Word has been useless. God has promised to be in that Word, and so the hearing of it is not useless. Rather, faith in his eternal promises is created and sustained by just such seemingly useless listening.
Isaiah 55:10-12a — As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish…, so it is with my Word that goes out from my mouth. It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it…
II Timothy 3:14-15 — But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
II Timothy 3:16-17 — All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
O gracious God and most merciful Father, you have given us the rich and precious jewel of your holy Word. Assist us with your Spirit, that it may be written in our hearts to our everlasting comfort, to reform us, to renew us according to your image, to build us up into the perfect building of Christ, and to increase us in all heavenly virtues. Grant this, O heavenly Father, for Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen. –Geneva Bible, 1560