Thursday, November 13, 2014

Ten Ways to Improve Your Bible Studies


The Daily Struggle


It’s 7:00 AM. You have your cup of coffee to your left. You force yourself to keep your eyes open. You lean over and pick up your Bible. You know you should read it but somehow, in the early morning drowsiness, you think you would get much more spiritual growth from sleep than from God’s Holy word. Halfheartedly you open the cover and read for your minimum fifteen minutes. After that, you dive back into bed, hoping to get a few more minutes of sleep before breakfast.

            Every Christian knows that studying God’s word is important. But reading the Bible can be kind of, well, boring. Those fifteen minutes seem like the longest fifteen minutes of your entire life! For years, I approached reading my Bible as a mere chore but, through prayer and thought, I came up with a few ways to make my Bible studies a joy! In this article, I want to share with you ten ways to improve your Bible studies. Please note, these are general principles that have helped me. You may find a few of my ideas helpful or you use or you may come up with a completely different method. As long as you are regularly reading your Bible, there is no wrong way to study God’s Word (although there are many ineffective ways!)

1. Find a Version of the Bible the You can Understand


If you have been reading my blog for a while, you know that I love the King James Version of the Bible. It’s language, sentence structure, and old English resonate with me. That being said, find a version of the Bible you can understand. As long as it is a solid translation and is not heretical (i.e. The New World Translation), I have no problem with any version of the Bible. However, if you are reading a paraphrase (like the NIV or the Message) you may want to cross-reference the verses with a more literal translation like the NASB or ESB. (Admittedly, all Bibles except Greek and Hebrew Bibles are paraphrases to a certain extent.) NOTE: Update on 12-10-14, though the NIV is a paraphrase, it is not a paraphrase to the extent that the Message is and I disagree to an extent with my earlier grouping. 

2. Get to bed on time


This may seem like a no-brainer but if you are exhausted, the only thing God will be telling you in your study is to stop falling asleep on top of the Bible! (I have done that before. It’s not fun.)  Make certain you get enough sleep the night before so that you can get up early enough to have time for a solid study.

3. Find a Place Away From Distractions


Your younger siblings are wonderful but if they are playing Angry Birds in the same room you are trying to study your Bible, it will stop you from being able to concentrate on what you are reading. Either find a place away from them or get up early enough that your Bible study is over before they bound out of bed. The same can apply to pets, friends, and anything else that gets between you and your Bible. Turn off the phone (unless your phone is your Bible) TV, radio, etc. before starting your study. Music is okay but only if it helps you to concentrate.

 

4. Go for Quality not Quantity


I don’t like mandatory time restraints on Bible study. The goal of your Bible study should not be getting in that “mandatory 15 minutes” but seeing what God has to say to you through His word. For the most part, I shoot for about a half hour for my morning Bible studies but I often go over that! Like the time restraint, I would not mandate a specified amount of scripture. I am convinced that you could study one verse of scripture for a year and still not exhaust what it has to say. Between other Bible translations, original languages, Bible commentaries, and sermons, you could easily spend a great deal of time on a relatively small portion of scripture. Like the 30-minute time average, I usually get through about one chapter of scripture each day. But don’t worry if you read more or less than that each day! Like I said, there is no wrong way to study scripture. If you like, you could even use one of those “read through the Bible in a year” plans.

5. Use Study Aids


If you don’t understand a verse of scripture, don’t panic! At times, Bible verses can be very hard to understand. Use aids like interlinear Bibles, commentaries, and study websites such as biblehub.com and blueletterbible.org. Many commentaries and study aids are available for free on the internet. I have also found that, if you keep your eyes open, you can find Bible study aids for inexpensive prices at thrift stores. Frankly, thrift stores are where most of my Bible reference section (and my book collection in general) came from!

 

6. Take Notes


This is, in my opinion, one of the most effective ways of studying scripture. Take notes on what you are reading. Write down what you think the verses mean. You can do this on the computer, in notebooks, or even in the Bible margins (unless you feel that is sacrilegious.) Don’t try to out-comment Matthew Henry. Just write down your honest thoughts. I try to take notes on my Bible studies about once or twice a week. I don’t have time to do it each morning. If you would like to see what Bible study notes look like, check out the journals of Jim Elliot. Jim was an amazing missionary and Christian martyr. Throughout his college years and beyond, he kept a journal of Bible notes and notes on his life.

 

7. Ask Questions


If you are totally confused by the portion of scripture you read, ask a godly parent, mentor, or pastor for help. I will frequently go to one of the pastors I know when I fail to understand a portion of scripture. Remember that the beginning of knowledge is saying, “I don’t know.”

 

8. Apply the Scripture


Use the principles you learn from your Bible studies in your life. After all, this is the main reason we study scripture! The Bible serves virtually no purpose until we put it into practice.

 

9. Be Consistent


However you study your Bible, be consistent! You will be amazed how much of a habit Bible studies become when you do them daily. My days feel incomplete unless I start them with scripture.

10. Ignore All the Rules Except 1, 8 and 9


Like I said, all of these rules come from my personal experience. These are the things that have worked for me. The key to studying the Bible is finding a method that works for you. Get into God’s word. Discover its treasures. If you have other tips of studying the Bible that have worked for you, put them in the comments section or email me. I love hearing from you guys! I will close with one of the most powerful portions of the Bible on the power of scripture, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” (2nd Timothy 3:16-17)

2 comments:

  1. Good article, James.

    For those on the Christian journey, the need for daily Biblical immersion is irrefutable. Though I have always known of the importance of scripture, my thirst for scripture has been a personal revelation to me, as of recently.

    Over the years, I've abhorred regimented Bible reading, disgusted by the concept of “clocking in” scripture rather than having a sincere desire to read scripture. The problem with this mode of thought is: I am less likely to pick up my Bible if I wait for my instincts to do so, than if I discipline myself to do so.

    This year, I have sought God; to live with Him at my side. But I went months without reading my Bible, confident in my strength to not need to read it—to begin the day with prayer, accomplish my tasks, and rest, without exposing myself to any of the Word of Life. Out of my arrogance, I deprived myself of profound nourishment—great enlightenment and joy.

    I was in utter despair, only a mere week ago. It took this despair to bring me to a place of humility for me to recognize that I did have a need to immerse myself in scripture—on a daily, ever-continuing basis. (I am currently writing my next blog post on this recent experience, for A Reflection on October…)

    I've noticed our flesh has a way of lying to us. For instance, it is our flesh which can make us believe, as you say, “reading the Bible can be kind of, well, boring.” Once we've opened scripture, out of discipline and humility, the most exciting literature imaginable is revealed to us—the lies of our flesh, cutoff. Then, the blessing of the Living Word pours itself onto us, and only then, do we realize just how dehydrated we were—and we want more!

    One of the greatest lies about scripture is that it is boring. The valor of the Christian pilgrimage and the character of our God proclaims otherwise. And scripture is a weapon against that which makes us blind to understanding this. And that which makes us blind to understanding is perhaps that which secretly desires to avoid wisdom.

    Great verses on the strength of the Bible: Hebrews 4:12, Philippians 2:16…

    Timely article, James!

    ~Wes

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    Replies
    1. Wes,

      Amen! Wonderful testimony! Thank you so much for sharing! One of the things I have consistently prayed for is a hunger for God's Word. God has answered that desire in amazing ways! Continue to fight the good fight, my friend! Stay in God's Word!

      Signed,

      James W. Ware

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