A Well-Marked Bible: Trophy or Treasure?

December 18, 2015  - By Gretchen Saffles

I have a confession to make: I’m a recovering prideful Bible carrier. When I first started falling in love with the majesty and wonder of God’s Word in middle school, I began marking in my Bible. Being a visual learner and artist, I have always interacted with any text I am studying. I process through circling, highlighting, dating, and underlining. One of my greatest treasures is my Pawpaw’s Bible. Pawpaw lived and breathed the Word. He sat at the table with Jesus each morning, eating Truth for breakfast and digesting it the rest of the day. His Bible is living proof. 

I’ve always looked to Pawpaw’s Bible as my goal. After all, as Charles Spurgeon once said, “A Bible that’s falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t.” This statement can become the basis for pride in a believer’s life. I know it did for me. 

Attending a Christian school set me up for this sort of pride in many ways. I went to Bible class daily and chapel weekly, and I had the opportunity to learn from great Bible teachers as well as be immersed in theology at a young age. I did my first Kay Arthur study in college and loved her methods for studying and breaking down the text. My soul began hungering and thirsting for the Word of God, and it was at an early age that I knew God had called me to be in ministry full-time, teaching the Word and discipling women.

By the time my Bible started to fall apart like my Pawpaw’s, the Holy Spirit showed me a sort of “humble pride” developing in my heart. The pages were marked in, the front and back flaps were covered in notes and prayers, and some pages had even loosened, now only hanging on by a thread. I remember sitting next to a friend in church and noticing her glancing over at my Bible several times. I caught her eye and she made a comment about how she wished her Bible looked like mine. I glanced down at my Bible and realized that it had become a source of pride in my life. As crazy as it may sound, pride can even sneak its way into our hearts as believers if we are not careful to dig up the tiny seeds that quickly take root in our souls.

Humble Pride

Have you ever desired recognition for your Christian walk? Maybe you led a Bible study for a group of teenagers at church. Maybe you visited the homeless shelter to distribute clothing for the winter months. Maybe you traveled across the world to share the Gospel with those in need. Maybe you had a great quiet time and posted it on Instagram to let people know that you started your day in the Word? Were you okay doing those things in secret? Or did you immediately post pictures on social media to prove to others that you love Jesus? The answer to these questions may be hard to come up with since humble pride can mask itself as being devoted. However, it is something worth thinking about so we don’t become like the Pharisees who prayed and went to the temple in order to be seen by men. The Father is honored by what is unseen and done in secret. 

I don’t believe every time we post a picture of a mission, a quiet time, or a ministry that we are doing so in the name of humble pride. But I do believe that if we are not careful, we will begin to build our own kingdoms on the basis of the things we do for God instead of the cross of Christ. Jesus addressed the issue of humble pride in Matthew 6:1, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” The reason we obey Christ, mark up our Bibles, share pictures, and serve with reckless abandon should flow from a deep, whole-hearted response to the cross, not as a means to build up our own credibility of being a “good Christian” in the eyes of others. Uprooting “humble pride” in our hearts begins in the secret moments we meet with the Lord, in our closets and behind closed doors, seeking His presence.

With the rise of Bible journaling and the pressure to share all that we experience and learn on social media, my fear is that we worship the art, the markings and the highlights of our Bible’s more than we worship the subject, Jesus Christ. Even more, I fear that humble pride is a deceptive tool Satan is using to trap believers, like you and me, into being caught up in ourselves instead of our Savior. How do we shield ourselves from this sort of pride? We look to Jesus who had every reason for this sort of “humble pride,” but instead chose to humble Himself and die for us so that we might have new life through His sinless sacrifice (Philippians 2:3:11).

 (The above Bible study is  Planted , a study on the 12 disciplines of the Christian faith.)

(The above Bible study is Planted , a study on the 12 disciplines of the Christian faith.)

Your Bible Wasn’t Meant to be a Trophy

A few years ago I was meeting with my mentor, Karen, who is a speaker and teacher of God’s Word. We were sharing what God had been teaching us and practicing memory verses with each other. We got on the subject of her Bible and she shared with me that she often takes a Bible that hasn’t been marked up to speaking engagements. Her reasoning was two-fold: 1. She didn’t want to make any woman who saw her Bible feel “less than” because of her markings and the wear on it. In essence, she was shielding herself from “humble pride.” 2. She wanted to rely on the leading of the Holy Spirit and not just refer to past lessons from He had taught her. By using a fresh Bible, she was more likely to trust His leading and see the living and active words with fresh insight instead of relying on what she learned a year ago. 

The Word of God is the only book in all of history that has been breathed out by God and is without error. Hebrews 4:12 tells us that God’s Word is living and active. Its truths never get old or outdated and the Holy Spirit is always speaking to our hearts through Scripture. Interacting with the Lord through Bible journaling is one way I learn and study. Through Karen’s example, I have been reminded that my Bible isn’t meant to be a trophy for my love for Jesus; it is to be my most sacred treasure. 

I recently purchased an ESV Journaling Bible to use for 2016. My previous Bible has been read through and marked up and I realized my tendency to read what I’ve underlined and highlighted in the past instead of relying on the Holy Spirit to give me fresh insight and guidance. In order to keep Jesus as my heart’s treasure, I am starting fresh with a new Bible, knowing God will speak to me in new ways. Having a new Bible opens my eyes to the life-giving, never-changing, powerful truths of God’s Word. It helps me rely on the Holy Spirit to teach me instead of only remembering what I learned in the past. A new Bible is a fresh slate for God to teach me wondrous truth from Scripture. 

  Give Me Jesus journal + Planted Bible study

Give Me Jesus journal + Planted Bible study

As a recovering prideful Bible carrier, I am laying the markings, the tattered pages, the highlights at the feet of my Savior as a sacrifice of surrender. He is always teaching, always growing us, and always speaking through the Word. My prayer is that our Bibles wouldn’t be our trophies, but that they would be our treasures, and that we would share truth with a heart that is untainted from humble pride and unashamed of the gospel. 

May our well-marked Bible’s be a testimony of God’s faithfulness.


A few tips for studying as we enter into the new year:

  • Interact with the Word. Talk to the Lord as you read. Pray Scripture. Ask questions. Rely on the Holy Spirit to guide you and teach you incredible truth. The Word of God is life-changing. The more we soak ourselves in Scripture, the more we will fall in love with our Savior, Jesus.
  • Study the Word to know God instead of just to have more knowledge. 
  • When you do interact with the Word, underlining, highlighting, painting, or writing, worship Him as you create and learn. Make Jesus the object of your affections and not your writing, painting, highlighting. 
  • One last tip from my mentor, Karen! Karen has three sons and several grandchildren. She has been reading through different Bibles for each child and grandchild. When she reads through them she prays for them and will one day give each Bible to the specific person she prayed for. This is an incredible way to leave a legacy and pray for our family members! I am hoping to do this for my son, Nolan, and for our future children.

A few questions to ponder:

  • How do you study God’s Word?
  • Are you a recovering prideful Bible carrier? How is God leading you into a pure and holy passion for His Word? This begins in the secret moments we spend with Him.
  • How will you dig into Scripture in the new year?

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  1. amandabolstridge@yahoo.com says:

    What a neat legacy to read through the Bibles and then give them to the person she has been praying for! This isn’t a new idea, but we have a special journal for our daughter that we are (behind in) writing through for her, with her birth story, special prayers and thoughts for her as she grows into a woman of God.

  2. Katherine says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this! I thought I was the only one who struggled to fall for the trap of "building His Kingdom" outwardly to really build my own inwadly.

  3. Katherine says:

    I have noticed the same traps of being proud of my humility. I also used to follow a lot of people in social media for their uplifting nature, but nine times out of ten they would be taking pictures of their pretty-stylized-coffe-bible-target dollar spot pen-notebook "quiet times". It would make me feel guilty and then mad that I was made to feel guilty by comparing myself to another’s outward appearance of faith! I promptly "unfollowed" those people, unfortunately. I just found you through bloglovin’ and am about to hit the "follow" button. Thank you so much for pointing out Matthew 6! I just read that today in my bible reading plan for 2016. And YAY for journaling bibles! I love using a journal as well. It’s set apart from my bible and I can leave it home when I am going to bible studies and prayer meetings, but it’s marked up and color coded and helps me study the word and is there for me to look back on after years go by.

  4. sodebo@t-online.de says:

    Dear Gretchen,
    this was exactly what I needed this time! Some weeks ago the Lord started with teaching me to avoid `humble pride´ by whispering Matthew 6:1 to my mind, while I didn´t know why He did. Even though I first didn´t know where the verse was to find in my Bible.
    I tended to create a beautiful Bible to show my faith, while I was learning more and more through marking my pages. Now I know that the Lord wanted me to know, that it is more pleasant to Him, to read my Bible without the pursuit of showing it to others.
    Thank you for reminding me in such a beautiful and important way. May He bless you for sharing these words!

    • gretchen@lifelivedbeautifully.com says:

      Hi Sonja!

      I am so glad to hear how the Lord used this point to encourage you as well! It had been stirring in my heart for months. One day the Lord showed me the truth that my Bible should be a treasure that points to Christ and not my “trophy.” It was so freeing! I am praising Him for the work He is doing in your heart as well! Thank you for taking time to write me this encouragement!

      Praying you have a blessed day!

  5. everydaysacred@hotmail.com says:

    I’m in the same position. I love my Bible old NKJV Bible. It has calfskin leather is the perfect size and its familiar. It is comfortable to hold and been hugged, cried on and with me for almost 10 years but it is so marked and highlighted that I find myself skimming notes and highlights rather than reading the text. When I pick it up and it feels so right but reading it now I am HIGHLY distracted so it’s time for a new Bible but finding the right one is tough! I’m looking to switch to ESV but having trouble finding what I like.

  6. hema.veeramohan@gmail.com says:


    Thanks for sharing this – I am guilty of this as well. I noticed it earlier this year when I kept getting distracted by my highlights and markings while studying the Word… by the time the middle of the year came, I found myself getting frustrated with how my worship and getting to know the Word had been going as I felt it had become shallow and aesthetic based.

    I used a multitude of plastic flags 2 years ago to mark out the different prayers in the Bible, a time in my life when I felt I didn’t pray enough and needed to mark out specific evidence of prayer in the Bible so I could learn more from these amazing people and Jesus Himself, who constantly prayed before every major endeavour of his.

    At that time, it was meaningful to me to learn about how different Bible heroes and people prayed to God and the different purposes they prayed through.

    Fast forward to 2017, the first thing I did when I came to realise I had been holding myself back was to remove every flag (and there were at least 200 of them) and post-it note I had pasted within my Bible as I felt that it reminded me too much of my past victories and revelations. They became a false sense of comfort for me because I felt that I had ‘done the work’. With a blank Bible of sorts now with flags removed, it helped me to move forward, even as a visual learner myself 🙂 move forward in the sense that I am reminded of a blank slate for current, fresh revelation from the Lord…

    Although my Bible has not worn and torn to bits yet (it is after all, about 2 years old, almost brand new and was an upgrade from my previous Bible), and still contains color highlights, I am now clear on the fact that Jesus should be my one and only concern when it comes to studying His Word and I make a concerted effort to keep my journaling separate from my actual Bible, so that the Bible is just its own document, free from markings and flags 🙂 save for the highlights, which are only for me to refer to whenever I need a refresher or just to meditate on my favourite, encouraging verses.

    thank you once again for sharing this post – even as I have read this after my Bible study this morning, I am now convinced and comforted that I am not alone in this!

  7. DavetteB says:

    Thank you for the great idea of a Bible you’ve prayed and studied through for a specific person – I was looking for a gift for my son’s upcoming baptism! Much more personal than what I was coming up with for him. Getting one Sunday and starting rights away.

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