Recently, I was having a nice chat with a friend of mine when she admitted to struggling with regular Bible study. She read her Bible daily but said she rarely sat down to dig deeper. She asked me, “How do you study and stick with it?”
What an excellent question!
Studying the scripture on our own may be daunting, but it is possible. You don’t have to go to seminary to study the scriptures. All you need is an inquisitive mind, an an earnest heart, and a Bible. (Pencil, paper, and maybe some bible pens might be helpful too!)
#1: Determine the Focus of Your Study
Before you ever start researching, ask the Lord for wisdom and guidance. We need His wisdom first and foremost!
In order to study effectively, it helps to have a purpose. What do we want to learn about? How will we go about discovering the truth?
Here are a few approaches I recommend:
If you are a new Bible student, I highly recommend studying one book at a time. Books like James, 1 John, Philippians, and Proverbs are great for getting started because they are short and fairly straightforward.
Before you begin your study, read through the whole book and/or listen to an audio version. This might get dicier with longer books like Psalms or Isaiah, but you can do it! After you begin your study, you can re-listen to that book daily apart from study time to see if anything stands out.
As you listen/read the text be on the lookout for answers to these questions:
- What ideas are recurring?
- What words are repeated?
- Based on the reading, what theme stands out?
- Who is the writer?
- To whom are they writing?
- When was it written?
- What are applications to my own life?
- What does this reveal about God?
Ask these questions before digging out a single commentary. Allow your own mind to analyze the text before allowing it to be influenced by human writers. You may not be able to answer all the questions, but it will start turning the cogs of your mind. Some questions you may have to leave blank until you can whip out pertinent reference material. For example, the writer book of Hebrews is still hotly debated, but one could deduce from the text that it was written to Hebrew Christians.
After you have answered the first questions, print a copy of the text and do one or more of the following:
- highlight verses you think important
- Circle words and phrases like “therefore” or “in the same way” and point back to the thought that preceded it.
- Underline words whose meanings could be hazy and look them up using a Strong’s Concordance.
- write a memorable main idea for the chapter at the top. Most books are a continual stream of information, but the main idea will train your brain to reference back to that chapter in future study.
Once you’ve finished, decide what notes you’d like in your bible and add them.
A themed study is similar to a topical, but instead of doing verse searches, one explores the bible contextually to see if an idea is recurrent. For example, my current study is called “Knowing God.” I began with Romans then decided to start at the beginning of the Bible—Genesis 1:1—and continued my study verse by verse in search of what the Bible reveals about God.
Here are some of the things I look for:
- What God did/does (makes & keeps promises, reassures the faithful, opposes the proud, etc.)
- Who God Is (our creator, our deliver, our Father, faithful, “The God who sees” etc.)
- What God loves/hates
- The Holy Spirit
- What God Wants from His People
I’ve covered Genesis through Judges and compiled nearly 40 pages of notes. I actually keep the notes in a word processing document so I can easily add to a category without having to scribble connecting arrows all over my work. So many truths about God’s nature have grown more apparent as I study verse by verse. I’ve noticed things in the past year that I never noticed in all my years of Bible study.
Other “thematic” studies include:
- the Promises of God and their Fulfillment
- Examples of Faith vs examples of faithlessness
- Types and Anti-types (foreshadowing of the New Covenant from the Old Law)
- Looking for Jesus in the Old Testament (prophecies etc.).
#2: Be Accountable
Accountability breeds consistency and diligence.
When I was newly married, my husband and I hosted a weekly bible study in our home using material we composed together. We began with the book of James. As we read the text together, we asked questions about the text such as:
- Which James wrote this book?
- Who are “the twelve tribes of the dispersion?”
- What does it mean to be perfect?
- How can we be joyful in trials?
We prepared these questions (and answers) and gave them to our class for study.
Having people depend on us for material week after week kept us motivated to dig into the word. We had a purpose-driven study. We were accountable to get it done or there wouldn’t have been much of a class! (In case you are wondering, my husband led the class, we just worked on the material together.)
If you’re not ready/able to teach, here are two suggestions:
- Get an accountability partner. This person should check in with you weekly to ask what you’ve discovered. Maybe they can do the same study and you can review it together weekly over coffee or daily via text message.
- Get a teacher.One of the most influential home bible studies I ever had was taught by an elderly Christian named Cecil. This godly man retired as a civil engineer and decided to start teaching the Bible from cover to cover to various Christians in their homes. He came to our house nearly every Saturday, had dinner with us, and used material he wrote himself to take us from Genesis to Revelation. We had to read and answer questions during the week and then we went over them on Saturdays. It took over seven years, but I gained a solid grasp of the entire Bible. Cecil never claimed perfection and always encouraged us to listen to the Bible over him. If you’re having trouble sticking with a study, get a wise teacher.
Once you’ve decided how you are going to study, approach every study session with prayer.
Here’s an example prayer:
“Father, as I prepare to study your word, please grant me the wisdom to understand the text and be transformed by the renewing of my mind. Open my eyes to see Your truth. Open my heart to accept correction.
Thank you Lord for providing the scriptures so we can know You more.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
#4: Make it Enjoyable.
Do you like coffee? Fun pens? Nice Journals? Sitting on a picnic blanket in the park? Grab one or more and enjoy them with your study.
During the summer, I like to pour myself a tall glass of homemade chai and sip on it during my quiet study time. If it’s not windy, I like to sit on the back porch and enjoy the fresh air and sunshine while I work. In the winter, I cozy up in my wingback chair and have a cup of tea or small snack as I go through the text. My husband gifted me with Micron Bible pens one year and a Journaling Bible another year. I love using both!
Do what you can to brighten the effort so you’ll keep at it. The word doesn’t need any help to be riveting, but we often need help staying engaged.
I hope these tips help you get started (or rebooted) as you dig deeper in the word. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or find a teacher. We all need a place to start!
How do you approach Bible Study? Do you have additional questions about tools or material? I’d love to hear from you!
These additional posts might help you as well: