If you have reached this lesson, then we know you are serious about reading and studying the Bible. In our last session, we covered some basic principles of interpreting the Bible, and now, in this session, we get practical. To begin your life-long journey into the scriptures, we recommend four basic elements:
- A Study Time
- A Study Method
- A Study Group
- Study Resources
By including these four elements in your Bible Reading practice, you will eventually develop this spiritual discipline, a healthy habit that will continuously feed your mind and soul with the inspired Word that God has for you.
1. A Study Time
1.1. Investing in a Relationship
First, then, we recommend a fixed, daily Study Time. Just as our bodies will not survive unless we take time to eat, sleep and exercise, our souls will quickly deteriorate unless we take time to feast on, rest in, and meditate upon God’s word.
Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible, and it celebrates the treasures of God’s Word. Listen to just a few of thoughts from this early worship song:
“My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word.” Psalm 119:28
“The law from your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold.” Psalm 119:72
“If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.” Psalm 119:92
“How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” Psalm 119:103
The Psalmist clearly believes that his spiritual survival depends upon the time that he puts into meditating on God’s revealed Word.
1.2. Establishing a Fixed Time & Place
Because of our already crowded schedules, most of us should set a fixed, daily time to focus on scripture. Like any relationship, we must invest time in our relationship with God if we want it to grow. Our everyday experience teaches us that busyness can destroy relationships. If we do not invest time in our spouses, families or friends, these relationships grow cold and distant. That is why many couples schedule date nights, and parents schedule family times to ensure that we take the time to share life together.
The same thing holds true in our spiritual relationship with God. We might even consider our daily study time a spiritual “Date Night” with the Lover of our Soul, and a “Family Time” with our Heavenly Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
For most people, early mornings work best to set our hearts and minds right before heading off to face the challenges of daily life. Here we can recall the example of Jesus. The Gospel of Mark tells us that:
“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” Mark 1:35
Jesus valued His time with the Father so highly that He got up while it was still dark! He was not about to miss this intimate time of spiritual communion.
Even if you are not a morning person, however, this example of Jesus still applies. Whether we meet with God in the morning, afternoon, or evening, we must view our time with the Him as non-negotiable, whenever that fixed time might be.
Likewise, notice that Jesus “went off to a solitary place”. It will be easier to keep our fixed study time if we designate a quiet place in which to meet God daily. A favorite chair in a quiet place will do nicely. Some people even designate a space in their home as a “prayer closet.” Still others make daily trips to a park, a coffee shop, a secluded place in the office, or even in their cars before they head to work.
Whatever time and place you choose, make this appointment with God fixed and regular. Guard that time diligently. As much as possible, do not allow the distractions of life rob you of your daily interaction with God as He speaks to you through His Word.
2. A Study Method
Once we designate a fixed Study Time, we must decide how to use that time. We must establish a regular Study Method. Our methods will evolve as we grow deeper in our relationship with God. To begin, however, we suggest a simple method that can be completed in about 30 minutes. This simple method consists of six steps.
- Open with a brief prayer. Ask God to teach you what you need to know from His Word today.
- Read a short passage from the scriptures. We recommend that you start with the book of Mark or Psalms.
- Reflect on this passage using the principles we discussed in our last session. Ask two basic questions: “What did God say?”, and “What does it mean for us today?”. It will be helpful to have a journal handy to capture your thoughts in writing. As you are getting started, do not over think this step. Stick to the big picture. Do your best to grasp the major points and the big picture, leaving deeper details for later reflection. Over time, you will become more and more curious about the contexts and overlapping stories of the Bible, and then you will find your Study Times growing longer and much more rewarding.
- Restate the Big Idea of the passage. Recall from our last session that a Big Idea is a Timeless Truth that applies to all people, in all times, in all cultures. Review this last session for an example of a Big Idea statement. Once you define this statement, you may want to record it in your journal.
- Apply the Big Idea of this passage in your life today. Remember that God gave us His Story so that it might shape our story. His Spirit uses His Word to change us. At this stage of your study, therefore, consider what difference this truth should make in your life. To make this application, think about whether this story…
- inspires or encourages you in difficult times,
- instructs you about what is true and what is false, or
- challenges you to make a change in your attitude or your actions.
- Finally, close in prayer, asking God’s Holy Spirit to encourage and empower you to apply this scriptural principle in your life today.
That’s it. Six simple steps to get you started. Begin here, and you will quickly find that you are drawn deeper and deeper into God’s story. You will want to remain as long as possible at the feast of God’s Word. And do not rush. Be patient.
And most of all, remember to have fun! The Psalmist says that this whole experience of reflecting on God’s word should be a “delight”!
3. A Study Group
A large part of our delight in God’s Word will come when we reflect on the Bible together. We therefore recommend that you commit to a Study Group. God’s Story is such a rich treasure, so we will always benefit from other peoples’ thoughts and experiences surrounding it. God’s great story is a diamond with millions of facets, and none of us can see all these facets by ourselves. We need a community of faithful followers engaging with the Bible together to experience its beauty and power in greater depth.
We recommend that Study Groups meet weekly, but, if that is not possible, you should at least meet monthly. All our campuses will have a way for you to find a group that meets in your area. You can meet in someone’s home, a breakfast place, at church or at your workplace.
When looking for a good Bible Study Group, insist on the following criteria:
- Group members are consistent in their attendance. Everyone will have to miss occasionally, but a consistent group commitment will enhance the value of your study together.
- Everything shared in the group stays in the group. Complete confidentiality is essential. Other people’s thoughts and experiences are not yours to share.
- Find your answers in the scriptures. While people will have many different opinions and experiences regarding spiritual things, the group must share a common desire to find their answers within the pages of the Bible. God has given us His Word as a light to our path, so we are best served to stay focused on that light.
- Find a group that has fun together! You will be much more faithful to a group if you enjoy it. And, if one group does not work for you, look for another, until you find one that is a better fit. It may take a while, but do not give up. In the end, you will discover that your Bible Reading will be much more rewarding and fulfilling if you can join with others.
4. Study Resources
Along with your Study Time, a Study Method and a Study Group, we recommend that you use good Study Resources.
4.1. A Good Translation
Your first important resource is a good Bible translation. While there are many good English translations to choose from, we recommend one of three possible options, because we believe they each are based on solid scholarship and each, in their own way, have tried to remain as faithful as possible to the original meaning of the authors’ language. These three options are:
- English Standard Version (ESV), (Crossway, 2001).
- New International Version (NIV), (Biblia, Inc., 1984, 2011).
- New Living Translation (NLT), (Tyndale House, 2015).
Each of these translations are available freely in apps and on the internet. While each translation has its share of advocates willing to argue on its behalf, we believe that any of these options will provide a faithful understanding of the original authors’ language.
4.2. A Study Bible
Next to a good translation, your most important resource should be a good Study Bible. This resource offers several helpful tools:
- A Summary of each book of the Bible, explaining what we know about the author or authors, the original readers, the historical context in which it was written, and what the primary message and purpose of the book seems to be.
- Footnotes that explain historical or cultural references in a passage, and possible meanings of language that may seem hard for us to grasp in our contemporary culture.
- Maps, timelines, charts and other graphics that summarize and place in context some of the material we are reading.
- Cross references to other Biblical passages that address similar themes.
- Possible contemporary applications of various biblical passages.
- And several other tools and tips.
While these Bible Study helps are not “inspired” like the Biblical text itself, these tools will help us to discern what God’s inspired Word is saying to us. Each of the English translations mentioned above have Study Bibles available.
4.3. Other Resources
In addition to a good Study Bible, several other resources can help you delve into the mysteries of God’s Story. For a list of recommended resources, see the Bible Study Resources page on this web site.
So then, where do you go from here? We hope that you will make the commitment to grow in this Essential Discipline of Reading the Bible. Begin by setting a fixed time and place to study and use the simple method we have outlined in this session. And then join a group to make the experience more rewarding. As you take these concrete steps, we pray that God will lead you even deeper in your relationship with Jesus.
- What one change will you make this week to improve your commitment to Bible study? Share this action with the group and invite them to challenge you on this action item the next time that you meet.
- Review the Study Resources that are offered HERE.