Because of his childhood memorization of Scripture and extensive theological education, Chaplain Black says he can “pretty much put together a Bible study series without opening the Bible.” In the Navy, he would plan out special series to meet specific needs he knew about from his pastoral interactions. “If someone had a problem with their superiors, I would do a Bible study series on successful interpersonal relationships.”

“If deployed sailors and marines were dealing with loneliness, I might think of David, who was a fugitive for 20 years because he had to run from Saul. He often described his loneliness and depression.” To put together a Bible series on loneliness, he would begin with a list of questions: Why are we sometimes lonely? What decisions should we not make while lonely? What should we do when God seems far away even though we are crying out to Him? He would then add the appropriate Scripture verse as a response to each. “I would read the question and one of the sailors or marines would read the verse. I used a blend of induction and deduction, but I wanted to draw them out to talk about it (and think about it) before I made my comments.”

As to his success in helping sailors and marines in his care, he is proud that 90% of those who regularly attended his Bible studies were eventually baptized. “These are pretty young folks away from home for the first time and haven’t made a former commitment to Jesus. In fact many joined the military as a way of running away from accountability or the strictures of religion. So they discover what sin offers is at best seasonal, and instead become interested in faith.”

Impossible Goals Accomplished with a Barely Legible Bible

When asked about his personal daily Bible study habits, Chaplain Black says he takes advantage of his commute by car to Capitol Hill. He has just finished listening to the entire Bible on CD. “This gives me an airplane view of Scripture.” To this overview, he then combines personal Bible study with personal prayer. “I pray the Scriptures. I will read through the Bible in a different translation each year. I read until something stops me, which doesn’t take very long, and then I will talk to God about it. I am using Bible study as a time of communion, reflection and interaction with God. I call that ‘Giving Him the courtesy of starting the conversation’—and it basically reenergizes my prayer life. I don’t have to go with my little list of things. I open the Bible and wait in His presence. And it doesn’t take long before He speaks; and then we talk about it. I move on and He speaks again. It is a wonderful way to get through Scripture.”

Chaplain Black laughs when asked if he scribbles notes in the margins of his Bible, admitting that his bibles are “barely legible.” He says he also keeps a master list of goals tucked in the back of his Bible. A steadfast believer in James 4:2 “you do not have because you do not ask” (NKJV)—he regularly asks God to help him achieve his goals, many of which have already been met. “One goal was to be an Admiral in the Navy Chaplain Core. The primary motivation was to help very junior enlisted people because there was so much bureaucratic red tape. I wanted to get to the most powerful man in the military unannounced, and I knew I had to be chief of chaplains to do that.”

Another goal was to provide pastoral support to the Senate, which was reached in 2003 with his election as its Chaplain. “The focus in my selecting goals was that they were objectives I knew I could not accomplish without supernatural help. There is no way you can control whether you will be an Admiral in the Navy, and there had not been an African-American Chief of Navy Chaplains in over 220 years. You need supernatural help to make that happen. The same is true with Chaplain of the Senate. There are some things you will never receive from God without making the request. I asked for things I thought were impossible and it’s been amazing how He has honored His promise.”