How to Get the Most Out of Bible Study, Part 1

In my spare time, I love teaching adult Sunday school. One of my favorite subjects or topics to teach is "How to Study Your Bible." Whether you're a new Christian or you've been keeping the pew warm for more than a few years, there's always something new to glean, something new that God wants to teach you.
A favorite quote of mine is from J. Vernon McGee, now at home with his Lord, a radio preacher for many years, teaching the Bible in his series "Through the Bible." Dr. McGee takes those of us who will listen, 5 years to go from Genesis 1:1 all the way to Revelation 22:21. McGee says, "all Scripture is for us, but not all Scripture is to us." What does that mean? I take it to mean that ALL of God's Word is meant for every man, woman and child to read and learn and absorb. The second part takes a little more to grasp, but makes sense: not all Scripture is "necessarily" to us, as an individual at a particular time. We may read a section many times and scratch our head afterward; that's okay! But one day, you're reading that particular passage again and the Holy Spirit just opens your eyes and heart. You have an "aha!" moment! God has spoken to you!
But back to the question at hand. How do we get the most out of our Bible study? Individual Bible study requires time and patience. Finding time is not easy in our busy lives, but if we just commit to small steps, we will gain a hunger and thirst for His Word that will consume us. Start with about 15 minutes whenever you can; when you wake, at lunch, or maybe at bedtime (great way to put good thoughts into your subconscious before sleeping). In short time, we'll want to be in God's Word rather than watch TV or chat online. The best part is that God will richly bless you.
Let's get started and get practical. The information that I am presenting to you is not original. These are tips that I gleaned from a book and study entitled "Living by the Book" by Dr. Howard G. Hendricks of Dallas Theological Seminary. This is a great study that I recommend to everyone who wants to walk deeper with God.
Before we get to the first 3 of 10 Steps of learning to observe what you're reading, you need to choose something in the Bible to read. What do you like to read? Something historical: how about the books of Genesis or Kings. Something about the life of Jesus: the Gospel of Mark (easy to read). Do you enjoy poetry? If so, the book of Psalms has some of the most beautiful poetry ever written. Do you like love stories? If that's your genre, then the book of Ruth is for you. The Bible has something for each of us. If you've never read the Bible, choose a book and genre and get going.
A couple of extra tips: keep a pad of paper and pen handy for notes and questions. Questions for you to ask your pastor or priest. Questions to ask God. He will answer you. Use a highlighter as you read. Remember that your Bible is your handbook for life. Mark it up! Take notes in it. Make little markings. Break that binding, then buy another one. Your Bible is NOT a book to keep on the shelf looking pretty just because it's God's Word. It IS a special book, but it's your personal reference for living. USE IT!
Let's get to those 10 Steps. These 10 Steps or Strategies will help you gain a better understanding and as well as an advantage to WHAT you are reading. Here are the first 3. The remaining 7 Steps are in Part 2.
Step 1. Read THOUGHTFULLY. Think about what you are reading. Proverbs chapter 2 verses 4 and 5 tell us "and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God." Do NOT empty your mind as you read the Bible; fill your mind with what God wants you to learn. Engage your mind. This is important stuff.
Step 2. Read REPEATEDLY. If possible, read the entire book that you want to read in one sitting. Many books of the Bible can be read in under an hour. Why not "sacrifice" some television or internet time and get to know your Heavenly Father? He's waiting for you. While you're reading repeatedly, remember to start at the beginning of the Book. That helps you get the entire context of what you're reading. Keep in mind that although you may have read a particular book maybe dozens of times, it wasn't the "right" time for God to reveal something special to you. God speaks to us at various times and in various ways.
Step 3. Read PATIENTLY. We must have patience when we read. Wherever you are reading, even if it's the 22nd time, read it as if this were the first time. All relationships take time and effort to build; even with God. He knows you (even the hairs on your head), but how well do you know Him? Every word of the Bible tells something more of Him. The Bible is God's "love letter" written specifically for you. Stuck on an idea or meaning? That's okay. Have patience with yourself as well as with the text, it will all come together. Scripture is its own best commentary. Give it time. Knowing God takes an eternity. One last thing with Step 3, the old adage that "familiarity breeds contempt" is true.
Step 4 - Read SELECTIVELY. What I mean by Selectively, is to read and observe the 6 W's of all reading. The WHO - the characters or people mentioned in the text. Who is the author talking to or about? The WHAT - what is the action or purpose of the text. In other words, what's going on? The WHERE - the location or situation that frames the people and action. The way that the apostle Paul would share the Gospel to Jews in Jerusalem would be significantly different than philosophers in Athens. The WHEN - the time or timing of the events. Watch how Biblical characters change over time: Moses, Jacob, Joseph, David. Look how God takes them through various events and trials. When can also put the context of the passage into better perspective. The next W is WHY - what is the meaning of the passage? What is the important take-away? Finally, the WHEREFORE - sometimes I like to think of this as the "so what" or "what's in it for me" W. How is God speaking to you. What's the lesson to learned or the idea to be gleaned.
Step 5 - Read PRAYERFULLY. There are 3 parts to this step. Before you even open to the passage to be read or studied, PRAY! Pray that the Holy Spirit is working with your spirit and mind to illuminate the text. Get that holy light right in there. The second part could be, "HELP! I don't understand what I'm reading." God will help you understand. The third part is Dialoguing. Pray back to God what He has shown you. It's kind of like when you're having a discussion with someone and you repeat back to them what they said so that you are clear with their words; "Lord, did I understand you to mean..."
Step 6 - Read IMAGINATIVELY. This is my favorite step! Bible study need not be boring. Make it exciting even if the excitement is in your own mind. Imaginatively also means to "mix it up." Put yourself into the action: "how would I have reacted when Jesus said..." or "what would it have been like when God parted the Red Sea and the Israelites passed through?" How about reading the text in a different version of the Bible? There are many and they all read a little bit differently. The ultimate meaning is the same, but the words or grammar may differ slightly. If you speak a second or multiple languages, you know that most of the time you can't exactly translate a sentence or thought from one tongue to another. You try to convey the meaning or the idea of the thought or intention. So if you do speak another language, get a Bible in that language too. God's Word is an amazing thing! That's why Scripture is said to be "alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword," (Hebrews 4:12).
Step 7 - Read MEDITATIVELY. Think about what you have just read. Pray about it. Let the Bible saturate your mind. Think about it over the course of the day. Apply it to your life. In your reading, have you come across a verse or short passage that you should memorize? Memorizing Scripture is like putting arrows in your quiver or bullets in your belt. There are always times when that verse may be exactly the encouragement you need to get you through a situation or to comfort someone else.
Step 8 - Read PURPOSEFULLY. 2 Timothy 3:16 states "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful in teaching, rebuking, correcting and training." Not some of Scripture, but all of Scripture. Remember what we said in Part 1? God has a purpose for your life and He wants to show it you piece by piece. Our "job" as believers in Christ is to become more Christ-like.
Step 9 - Read ACQUISITIVELY. In other words, make God's Word yours. Claim it for your life. Consider using a Bible dictionary or atlas as tools to help you better understand the people, places and contexts of the stories presented in the Bible. If there's a passage that you're working through, how about "re-writing" it in your own words and apply it to your life?
Step 10 - Read TELESCOPICALLY. Reading Telescopically means that the Whole of the Bible is more than the sum of its parts. Often times we get so into taking verses apart and picking them to pieces that we forget to put them back together! What would you rather drive: a garage full of car parts or an assemble car?
There they are, the 10 Steps or Strategies to Observing Scripture to help you get the most out of your Bible study. Answer God's call and open His Word. God is waiting and misses His time with you.
If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask. If I can't help, I'll do my best to put you into contact with someone who can. As God blesses you in His word, He wants you to be a blessing to someone else.
If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to contact me. Teaching is nothing more than serving.