236 – You can do it
I must confess, studying the Bible is hard work. There is so much detail in this huge volume we call the Bible that it’s easy to become overwhelmed. The task is so monumental it’s all too easy to throw one’s hands up in discouragement and defeat before even lifting the cover. We know we should read it, but it’s hard to understand. We think maybe it would be easier to understand if we studied it, but we don’t know how to study it. As a result, our encounter with the word of God becomes haphazard at best. For many of us, our Bibles sit on a lonely shelf. We grab it and take it to church with us on Sunday. We’ll crack it open and glance down at the pages as our Pastor makes reference to the verses he is explaining.
Maybe you don’t find yourself in the descriptions in the above paragraph. Maybe, like many of us, you’ve decided that it’s important to read the Bible every single day, so you dutifully get up every morning with your cup of coffee, get out your through-the-Bible-in-a-year chart, and check off another day. You’ve decided that you’ll skip over the parts that don’t make sense to you, but at least you’ve read the words. After all the Holy Spirit could explain its meaning to you, right? Or maybe you’ll hear a sermon on it sometime that will clear the fog.
I’m sure there are many more scenarios of the believer and his Bible that we could discuss. Maybe I haven’t described your situation yet. Well, maybe, like all too many, life is so, so, busy and demanding in your world. You’ll get to the Bible as soon as you get a free minute. You know you should, you always enjoy it when you sit down and focus on the encouraging words in God’s Holy Book. “Huh. When was the last time I sat down with the Bible by myself? Oh, well, tomorrow’s Sunday. I’ll bring it to church with me.
Let me be clear. If you find yourself trapped in one of the above scenarios, or one like it, I am not judging you! I get it! I probably fit in all of the above scenarios, and more! How else do you think I knew about them?
I want to encourage you. I strongly believe every believer (including you) should regularly read and study the word of God. I really do understand how overwhelming the task.
Let me ask you a question?
How do you eat an elephant?
One bite at a time!
You can analyze the elephant. Come up with a plan. Map out exactly how you’re going to do it. talk to others about. Read the latest book on elephant consumption that the really good eaters have written. Talk about it with all of your friends that have elephants of their own. But the truth is, if you never pick up a fork and knife you will never take the first bite!
I can’t make you eat your elephant. Maybe you’re perfectly content to let others read and study the Bible, then tell you what it means. That’s good, but not good enough. Listen, even baby birds grow up and eventually look for their own food. One of the biggest losses for the believer who doesn’t learn to study the Bible is that they lack discernment. The Bible is the standard by which we measure all truth claims. If you don’t know the Bible, you can’t know if something is biblical or not, true or false.
Ok, enough drum beating! How does one get started? Let me give you some ideas you might find helpful.
Pick up your Bible and start reading it. Don’t wait until you have an hour to commit to it. Just start reading it. Got only five minutes? Start there. You’ll find it unreasonable to expect you can study the Bible every time you pick it up to read it. Read it every day, and study it periodically. Maybe once a week to get started.
Use a spiral-bound notebook. Write down the reference of the passage you’ve read. Jot down any questions that arise as you read. Make note of any observations you make. If there are words you don’t understand write those down.
Go back and study what you’ve read.
Pray. It doesn’t have to be more than a minute or two. Ask God you help you focus, protect you from distraction, and illuminate the Word.
Read the passage you are studying several times, and if possible in more than one translation.
Remember context, context, context. The Bible is not a collection of pithy sayings. It has several genres, it is logical, coherent, and structured. Pay attention to how a given verse fits into the context of the surrounding verses, chapter, book, etc. Remember, the Bible was written in cultures foreign to us. Learn about the culture of the particular passage you are studying. Finally, take note of the historical context. Where does your passage fit chronologically? What else in history was happening at the time? Write it all down in your notebook.
Ask the “W” questions of the text. Who, What, Where, When, Why? Then look for the answers. Write the questions and the answers in your notebook.
Identify main ideas or themes. Be careful not to force meaning on the text. God is the author and He has a message He intends to communicate. It’s your job to discover it.
Look up words you don’t understand and keywords. Be careful when using an English dictionary. Remember the words were written in a different language. You’ll want to look them up in a source language dictionary (Hebrew, Greek, et.) to learn the possible range of meaning (glosses).
Go back and read through what you wrote. Once you’ve done the work, review it. Just read what you wrote.
Read the passage in the Bible again. You may be surprised how much clearer the passage seems, or how much more you notice this time through.
If you’re thinking, I hate studying! I’m not a good student! I can’t do it! Let me encourage you. I never did homework. I didn’t take notes. I never studied. I didn’t know how to study. My grades were just good enough to pass through to a Highschool diploma. I don’t have a college degree. Studying does not come easy for me. I’m still learning how to learn, but I have to tell you. I LOVE STUDYING THE WORD OF GOD. Sorry, I shouldn’t have shouted. I can’t help it. It’s very hard but so very rewarding to put forth the effort.
No more excuses. Pick up your fork. Pick up your knife. Prepared to be overwhelmed with flavor as you start on your elephant!