It was early 1943. The war in Europe and Asia waged on. The nations of the world were embroiled in an epic battle of good versus evil. Tens of millions of lives were being lost and hundreds of millions more were grieving those losses. Hell had unleashed its fury in a manner that had never previously been experienced. The utter depravity of man was center stage and no human soul remained untouched.
As the victory by allied forces at Guadalcanal against Japan had just been realized, half way around the world, General Dwight D. Eisenhower was selected to command the Allied armies in Europe.
At the same time in March 1943, thousands of miles from both Guadalcanal and Germany, a German immigrant was marking his 50th birthday in Chicago. As a teen, Oscar Werner, son of German parents, had immigrated to America from Ukraine. In the years since he immigrated, my grandfather had established himself as a professional musician, a concert flutist and a member of several area orchestras. He was also a successful entrepreneur, owning a music store in Chicago.
On this day though, as Oscar was reaching a half-century, he recognized the utter turmoil the world was enduring. But rather than despair, he looked upward for help and within the pages of a Book that had become his regular companion.
In keeping with his custom, Oscar boarded the Chicago El, the elevated train that he rode to work each morning. His routine was to move to his favorite seat, pull out his worn and tattered Bible, and continue reading through his favorite book. This day was different though. Halfway to 100, Oscar began to consider what the next 25 years of his life might hold. He had accomplished a lot since he first set foot on Ellis Island. But he knew that there would be more challenges in the years to follow. More battles to wage. And he would need God’s wisdom and counsel to prevail.
He opened his Bible, and began to read from the very first words of the book he so loved.
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light…”
As he read that last word, the jolt of the El train startled him. He looked up as the train rounded the bend. The brilliant rays of the rising sun flashed in his eyes.
Spirit of God…
Oscar stopped. He had read that verse so many times before. But all of a sudden those words brought another verse to his memory:
“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.”
Oh, how he desired the wisdom of the ages to light his path and give him the understanding he would need to navigate the next 25 years. And then, the idea that would come to dominate the remainder of Oscar’s life surfaced within his mind, as if the Spirit of God planted it there.
He would read through the Bible on average four times per year over the next 25 years so that in 1968, on his 75th birthday, he would complete reading through God’s Word a total of 100 times. His pulse quickened. He knew that this would be an immense commitment to God. He realized that he would have to sacrifice so many other “good” things in his life. But he also believed that the wisdom and direction he longed for in his life would be forthcoming. Saturating his mind with the counsel of God could only mean that.
And so on that day in 1943, as the rest of the world was in an epic battle for its very existence, Oscar experienced the peace that can only come from God. He knew that no matter what happened in the years to come, he would always have his Bible with him. The words he would read over and over again would permeate his life in such a way that they would transform him. And by doing so, they would direct him on a path that would honor God and bring blessing to Oscar and the rest of his family.
The El train came to a stop. Oscar disembarked and made his way to his business. But there was a confidence in his step that he had not known the day before.
Twenty-five years later, Oscar sat on his sofa, where he had positioned himself every evening. As he did so, he read these final verses in Revelation 22, the last book of the Bible:
“And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book. He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.”
Oscar clasped the tattered and worn Bible to his chest. He smiled as he remembered he had purchased several copies of the Bible over the last 25 years. His constant use of the Book took its toll on each of the previous copies.
Oscar had done it. His one hundredth time reading through the Bible. Of course there was great satisfaction in having completed the goal he had set 25 years earlier. But greater than any feeling of success, he was reminiscing over the many times in his life when a verse he had read jumped off the pages and offered him the answer he needed to the challenge, struggle or battle at hand. He remembered Isaiah 55:1 at that moment:
“So shall My word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to Me void. But it shall accomplish what I please. And it will prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”
That verse had been proven true so many times over the last 25 years. As Oscar had committed God’s Word to his heart, he realized that it had not been for naught. It had not returned void. Rather, there had been exponential return for the time he had invested in reading his dearest treasure.
As I think back to the years my grandfather was with us, one of the memories I have is of him sitting on his favorite sofa with his Bible on his lap. And while he read his Bible over 130 times in his life, he did have other past times. In front of his sofa was his black and white TV where he would watch his favorite baseball team, the Chicago Cubs. (While I’m no great baseball fan, I had to watch this year’s World Series in honor of my grandpa, knowing that he would be ecstatic to see his Cubs finally win!)
Grandpa Werner was an incredible example to me and so many others — of the commitment to a goal, the power of discipline, and the priority of God’s Word. The Bible was Oscar’s constant companion. It was his most powerful ally in every battle; his wisest counselor when facing difficult decisions; his most understanding comforter in times of sorrow. And my grandpa’s commitment to reading it has been an encouragement to me to do the same.
I share all of this not to simply highlight Oscar Werner, although he is a great man who I will meet again someday. But more importantly, my goal is to challenge you and me to consider, who are our counselors? Does your list include God’s Word? Are you regularly ingesting the Wisdom of the Ages into your life?
Whether you are a Christian, atheist, agnostic, Muslim, or unsure, I encourage to commit to reading through the Book that has traversed thousands of years and offers hope and peace to anyone who is willing to seek them.
In this era of technology I would encourage you to select an app to begin reading the Bible or even listening to it audibly. My app of choice is at bible.com where you can find several plans that enable you to read through the Bible in a year. Last year I completed the “As it Happened” plan that daily takes you through the Bible over the course of a year, in the chronological order in which the Bible was written. My preferred version for reading or listening is the New Living Translation (NLT), as it is in modern, easy to understand English.
I trust you will join me in reading through the Bible in 2017. If you will, I’m confident that your investment will not return void and you will find it to illuminate your path in this new year.
Footnote: While the specifics of the train ride, what Oscar was thinking and how he came to his decision stem from my own creativity, the decision to read through the Bible 100 times in 25 years is not. My grandfather kept meticulous records of when he completed each reading. He daily read the Bible, both on the El train on the ride to work as well as on his favorite sofa. When Oscar passed away at age 84, he was working his way through his favorite Book for the 132nd time, with his wife Esther reading it to him in those final days.