How To Get the Most From Studying the Bible
We’ve looked at the heart behind studying God’s Word, Discipline vs. Legalism, and I’ve offered you a prayer to pray before Bible study. Now it’s time to get down to the Nitty Gritty! Here are 8 ways you can get the most out of studying the Bible. I am offering a more in-depth guide to those who sign up for my monthly newsletter.
This seems obvious, but I cannot tell you how many times I open my bible and forget to pray over my study. I wrote the prayer I shared last week because of my tendency to do this. It is a reminder for me to be still and trust the Lord’s guidance, not my own understanding, in studying the Bible.
I believe God is still gracious when we forget to pray. He made His Word to be living. When we open it, the words come alive with His Holy Spirit, whether we pray or not. But, I also believe that pray changes us. Praying over Bible study makes us more aware, more engaged, and more dependent on God’s wisdom over our own knowledge, which leads me to the next point…
2. Be Aware of Your Reading lens
We are flawed and broken people. We all come to the Bible with our own lenses, as we do reading any book. It is important for us to be aware of our cultural, emotional, and situational lenses through which we read. A man reads the Bible through a different lens than a woman. An empty-nester reads the Bible through a different lens than a teenager. A person in America reads the Bible through a different lens than a person in China.
It seems so complicated. But, it’s not. Part of the beauty of God’s living Word is that he can work through and around our lenses to reveal truth. Our lenses can blind us from truth if we let them, but they can also give us a unique perspective of truth. This is why we walk with God in community. I may be blind to some part of a certain truth that you are not because of our different lenses. Your perspective can help me understand a truth in a way I may not discover on my own.
Truth never changes, but our perspectives around the truth can vary.
To make the most of our lenses’ positive influence and to avoid their negative influence, we must be aware of what our lenses are. We can ask ourselves, what is true about my cultural experience and status in society that affects the way I read? What is true about my emotions and the things I am most concerned about? What situation am I facing today that might affect the way I read and understand?
3. Be Patient
In-depth study of the Bible takes time. Not every day will hold an exciting revelation. Some certainly will. What you are studying today may not come alive for days, weeks, even years. I love that this is true because it means the Bible never gets boring. It is always working in us and we are never finished with it.
4. Use the Bible as the primary source for information about the Bible.
Understanding the Bible is difficult. It contains several different genres. Sometimes it’s black and white and sometimes it’s gray. Sometimes it’s literal and sometimes it’s figurative. As a modern-day Christian, I often do not understand the practices of Old testament Israelites or the early church.
It is tempting to read the margin notes of my Bible and take it as truth because it is easy. However, those notes may be biblical, but they are not the actual Bible. There can be error in them because they are not the Word of God. Did you know that the Titles given before chapters in most of our Bibles were not a part of the Word of God either? They are based on someone else’s interpretation of that chapter! That doesn’t make them wrong or unbiblical, but it’s important to not let them be our primary means of interpretation.
Therefore, we should always use scripture to understand scripture. What do I mean by that? If you are reading a particular passage that is gray, not very clear to you, and harder to understand, then you can find a clearer, more cut and dry passage that will shed light on your understanding (That is why the margin notes of parallel scripture in most Bibles is helpful.)
For example, you may read how Abraham, who is credited with great faith, had many wives. At face value, you might think polygamy is OK with God. But when you read other scripture regarding marriage and adultery, you will quickly realize that polygamy is not God’s intention, but a sinful cultural construct that God’s people fell into.I can’t say it enough: let scripture interpret scripture.
5. But Consult trusted, timeless sources for secondary help.
The previous point doesn’t mean commentaries or Bible side-notes are bad. They can be biblical and helpful, but they should always be our secondary source and not our primary one for understanding scripture.
Because commentaries can contain error, it is important we find ones from people who are trustworthy and timeless. I prefer commentaries written by trustworthy dead people because we know they persevered in their faith to the end.
How do we find trusted commentaries? This is another place where community is important-we can ask people we trust who they recommend; we can find sources that are traditionally consulted by biblical communities.
Another important way to handle commentaries is to compare and contrast them to each other and God’s Word. I trust commentaries from both Calvin and Wesley, but they have vastly different theologies in many areas. I am comfortable with that because I know both these men were Bible scholars whose theology derives from a strong belief in the gospel. But, sometimes, I may take what one or the other says with a grain of salt. It is good to read others who disagree with you about theology. We should not be afraid of it-understanding their perspective and how they came to it helps strengthen our own theology.
6. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Sometimes we are afraid to question God’s Word, so we skip over hard passages and pretend they are not there. But, God put them there and made them difficult for a reason, though we may not understand why.
You have permission to ask questions, even ones that do not sit well in your heart. Asking questions leads to seeking answers which leads to deeper understanding.
However, we must also be willing to sit in the unanswered questions. We will not always find an answer. We may find an answer 20 years down the road. So we must be willing to submit these unanswered questions to God and trust him to reveal the answers to you in His time (which may not be while you’re alive on this earth).
7. Study the Bible Inductively
Inductive Bible study is a 3-part method to studying the Bible. Inductive Bible can be super in-depth and grueling, but it can be simple and short too. I personally believe it is the best method to studying the Bible because it covers all aspects of scripture. Author and Bible teacher Kay Arthur describes this method in this way: “It draws you into personal interaction with Scriptures and with the God of the Scriptures so that your beliefs are based on a prayerful understanding and legitimate interpretation of scripture.”
The three parts of Inductive Bible study are:
Observation-What does it day? What are the facts?
Interpretation-What does it mean?
Application-What do I do with it? How does it Affect my faith and life?
That is inductive Bible study in its simplest form.
8. Find an Inductive Bible Study Method that Works for you.
If you google “Inductive Bible Study,” pictures of complicated symbols, color codes, and confusing notes may pop up and intimidate you. It may excite you. Either way, please know there is not one set structure for studying the Bible inductively (other than the three parts).
If you have all the time in the world, by all means, mark your Bible up with crazy symbols! If you are a new mom with an infant who is not sleeping, do not skip studying the Bible because there’s no way you’d be able to do this.
There are simple and in-depth ways to study the Bible inductively. Then there’s a middle-ground way, which I prefer in my current season of life. The great thing about Inductive Bible study is that you can find a structure to fit your season of life, time constraints, and with how God wired your brain.
I have studied the Bible inductively through many seasons of life. As I’ve learned more about this method, I developed different ways to use it in different seasons of life.
I developed a guide to teach you the different ways to use the Inductive Bible Study Method. This guide will help you find a way to study the Bible inductively that fits your season of life and capacity.
If you want to study the Bible inductively in the way that requires the most components, please consult the Queen of Inductive Bible Study, Kay Arthur.
If you want methods that are more simplified (but range from super simple to more in-depth), I invite you to sign up for my mailing list and receive this guide for free. I only send out an email about once a month and will not flood your inbox.
My hope and prayer is that my guide will help you know God's Word and encounter him in a deeper way.