Imagine that your physical health was failing. Your energy level was way down, and you were susceptible to nearly every sickness. You visit the family doctor, and he begins his exam with some questions. “Are you sleeping well?” “Yes,” you reply, “I’m sleeping nearly all the time.” The doctor ponders your answer and asks the next question. “How is your appetite? Are you eating regularly?” “Oh yes, doctor, I’m eating one good meal a week; occasionally I’ll grab a snack Monday through Friday if my schedule allows it.”
The doctor looks up from his notepad. “I believe I misunderstood you. I thought you said you were eating one good meal a week. No one can survive on that diet! No wonder you’re susceptible to so many diseases. It’s easy to see why you have no energy. Your body needs more food than one good meal a week. I’m recommending three good meals a day.” You look up from the examination table, troubled, “But doctor, I don’t have time to eat that often, and besides, it’s so hard. That means I’d have to prepare some of my own meals.”
Most Christians would never do to their physical bodies what they do to their spirits. If your entire spiritual diet consists of one service on Sunday, you are sure to be malnourished. If you hope to feed your soul regularly from the Word, you will have to prepare your own meals. Bible study, application, and memorization are everyday necessities as you grow in Christ. Paul wrote to Timothy, “Study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman who needs not to be ashamed.”
Five steps will prove helpful.
(1) Pray Humbly
In Psalm 119:18 we read, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” When we pray, we are acknowledging we need God’s help to understand his Word. The verses surrounding the Psalmist’s prayer give direction for how we ought to pray prior to time in the Word. Verse 19 says, “hide not your commandments from me.” In other words, we desire to know the meaning of the given text. Properly understanding the text is essential. Verse 17 says “that I might know and keep your word.” Prayer is preparation to not only know but also do what God reveals from our study. This humble posture is essential for meaningful Bible study. What better way to discover the author’s intent than to ask him for guidance when you open the Word?
(2) Read Consistently
One important step in reading the Bible is to do it daily. While not a large book (most Bibles are less than 1,000 pages), reading daily allows for reflection on a particular passage each day. There are numerous ways to read through the Bible. Consider one of the following:
- Read through one book of the Bible for 30 days.
- Read a key chapter of the Bible each day (you’ll find 365 key chapters here).
- Read the Bible through chronologically. The Bible was recorded using different styles of writing (history, poetry, prophecy, and letters to individuals or groups of people). The grouping of the books in the Bible is by the writing genre instead of the order of events. For the reader unaware of this fact, the Bible can seem confusing (you’ll find a chronological reading schedule here).
(3) Observe Carefully
As you read, pay attention to the details. If you’ve read a passage before, don’t assume you can no longer glean anything from it. Some of my greatest discoveries have come from rereading a passage. If you remain attentive, the more you read, the more you see.
(4) Interpret Contextually.
Most of us hate being misinterpreted. If you have ever attempted to clear up a misunderstanding, you’ve probably said, “That is what I said, but it’s not what I meant.” Meaning matters in communication. To misinterpret someone’s words, you need only take them out of context. For instance, if I say, “He’s on fire!” I could be referring to a five-year old with a fever, a man running from a burning building, or an American Idol contestant advancing to the finals. The context gives the meaning.
Imagine a target with your verse as the bulls-eye. In archery, the circles closer to the bulls-eye carry greater point value; likewise, the verses closer to your verse carry greater interpretive weight.
- What do the verses before or after your verse say?
- What does the author say elsewhere about this idea?
- What does the rest of the Bible say?
5) Study Diligently
For many of us, reading and studying do not come easily. Yet, when we develop these habits around our time in the Word, it bears long-lasting rewards. Pastor Zach Schlegel reminds us to have the right heart, time, place, and plan.
- The prepared heart. Your heart should be expectant, willing to obey, teachable, and humble. Before you open the Word, pause and prepare your heart. Humility is essential.
- The right time. The right time will be the time that works best for you. When are you the most alert, focused, and fresh? I had a seminary professor who did his best studying at 3:30 AM. A friend of mind commented, “Phil, God’s not even up at that hour!” Your best time might be early in the morning or late at night. Pick the time that’s best for you and stick with it.
- The best place. The best place will be one free from distractions. Pretend you just boarded the plane and “turn off all electronic devices!”
- The committed plan. Whether or not you are a planner, you will still need to discipline yourself to study the Scriptures diligently.
Taken from Just Like Jesus: biblical strategies for growing well