In my last post I was hoping to encourage you to jump in and study the Word and to trust that you have all the tools you need to study. Today we’ll cover the practical and spiritual aspects of study.
|Must have tools for me.|
- Cut out some of the background noise – I’ll admit that I have been known to open my bible app to read while I’m on the train and between meetings. Sometimes I get so engrossed in what I’m reading I can’t put it down, I just have to finish a chapter or a book. Some of the bible reads like a daytime soap opera (e.g. David’s life as told in the books of Samuel or Joseph’s journey from being the favored son to being sold into slavery to becoming favored in the eyes of Pharaoh to setting his brothers up for stealing. Sometimes it’s just too good to put the book down). But I also discipline myself to read at quiet times, without distractions (typically after the kids leave for school or late at night when they’re asleep). It might not be the best idea to study while the TV is on, the children are fighting and the phone is ringing, all while you’re simultaneously trying to cook dinner.
- Get a Bible that you can understand – If you are new to studying the word I would recommend the New Living Translation or The Message. You can sample translations online to see which style suits you best. I typically prefer the Amplified for my personal devotion but I often refer to several translations when I’m studying. If you’re ready to start studying independently then I would recommend a good Inductive Study Bible (that’s what I use when I’m studying). There are plenty out there to choose from.
- Where do I start? – If you’re new to reading the Bible you don’t want to start in the book of Revelation. Start with one of the 4 Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John). I personally recommend John. Seeing Jesus in His humanity, reading through the miracles and understanding the grace and mercy He demonstrated to the most unlikely candidates paints a clear picture of how I fit into God’s family. I saw reflections of me all throughout the gospels. I was too harsh when I lived by “law” (I explain this in a previous post, click here to read it), I was like the “whitewashed tombs” Jesus despised. But I also saw myself in the woman at the well. Jesus knew all about me before I said a word and He welcomed and loved me with open arms even after I had disqualified myself. (How many of you have done that?) When my marriage was dead he breathed fresh life into it just like when He called Lazarus out from his tomb. Experiencing God’s resurrecting power makes me confident in The One I serve. It’s empowering, comforting and exciting to be on the same team!
- Look for the 5W’s – read through the story and highlight the points you would look for when reading a news article. (This reminds me of my 5th grade social studies homework) I’ve created a study sheet for those of you looking for some guidance in this area. It has proven to be helpful for my study group and might help you get started as well. The added bonus in using this sheet is that over time you’ll have an organized journal outlining all the Bible stories you’ve read and what you’ve learned in the process. If you reread the same stories later on you might find that you have greater insight and understanding and the story might take on a whole new meaning for you. Download my study group’s worksheet here
- Use some of the valuable references that are online (there’s so much available on the internet that doing thorough research on your own shouldn’t cost you hundreds of dollars). I use Bible gateway to read other translations or to read several Bible commentaries on a given text. I also found a Bible dictionary can be very helpful. My Godmother bought me one that I use regularly. This Christmas my mom bought me one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received, Warren Wiersbe’s Bible Exposition Commentary. It’s so easy to read and full of great background information so it feels like I’m studying with my own personal teacher.
- Join a study group or a life group. It’s always nice to have a small group of people to share your questions and experience with.
I recently read How to Study the Bible by Robert M. West and he reminded me of one of the most important things to do before jumping in to study or read the Word–prepare. Knowing the Word is the foundation of my personal growth and development so I begin with me. I would suggest you do the same. Take an honest look at yourself and be prepared to give God an open ear to hear and the forum to speak with you personally.
- Do you acknowledge that the Bible IS the Word of God? Do you believe that it is given to us BY God? Do you know why you should read it?
2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NIV)16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God[a] may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. Footnotes: (a) Or that you, a man of God
- Prepare your heart. We know God has always been interested in our hearts. He wants us to love Him with all of our hearts (Deuteronomy 6:5). We also know that He searches our hearts (1 Samuel 16:7). We are instructed to guard our hearts because it determines the course of our lives (Proverbs 4:23). Our hearts are so important to God that the word “heart” is mentioned in the bible somewhere between 350-876 times (depending on which translation you’re reading and whether or not you’re counting the plural form of heart). So, what does “preparing your heart” mean? It might mean something slightly different to all of us so here are a few suggestions to help you get you started:
- Pray and invite God into your devotional time
- Open your heart and mind to receive from God and EXPECT Him to meet you
- Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal what it is that God wants to communicate to you
If after all of this you still don’t know where to start then I recommend signing up for an online devotional or sign up for an online devotional in addition to your personal study. When I first came back to God I didn’t know where to start so I subscribed to Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyers daily devotionals and I added them on Facebook so that I’d have scriptures coming to me every day. In the email subscriptions I was getting a scripture and a message of encouragement with some explanation of the verse. This was a great way for me to get started and actually increased my curiosity and excitement about reading the Bible and understanding it for myself. I would look up the verses in the commentaries and see if what Joel or Joyce said matched up with the commentaries.
If you’re not necessarily a reader and you enjoy watching TV or you understand better by hearing and not seeing then you can also search for any of these teachers teachings on your local cable channels. I used to start my day by listening to TD Jakes on the Inspiration network while I got ready in the morning. Having the Word poured into me before going to work made for a peaceful start to busy days.
Whatever you do, don’t skip reading the Bible! Don’t let any of this scare you. For me, it’s a constant adventure and I’ve found that what I’ve learned stays with me. It’s not like taking a taxidermy class which provides only relevant information for one particular career and is otherwise useless information. Reading the Word helps me to be a better mom, wife, employee, employer, steward of my money, friend. It helps me to stay on track as I pursue the purpose for which God breathed me into my mother’s womb and has allowed me to continue to live in the fullness of His joy. The Word gives me courage to make difficult decisions and strength to stand in the midst of adversity. It reminds me that I am beautiful and wonderfully made in the image of God.
So go ahead, read it, know it and be strengthened in it. It’s like food for your soul. And, at the right moment, when you need consolation or courage, when you need to make a decision, you’ll already know God’s heart. In the end isn’t that what we all really want and need, to know God intimately so that we are living the best life possible?
FEEDBACK: If you had 50 people in one room and asked them each what works best for them when reading or studying you might get 50 very different answers so I have to ask; do you have a particular time of day or routine that helps you to stay focused and disciplined in your reading routine?
Do you have a favorite resource, perhaps one that I didn’t mention here? Please share your answers here or help me encourage my bible study group and share your answers on Facebook.
There’s another great blog I recently discovered that I think provides even more practical tips…check out Do Not Depart Blog here.