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How To Improve Your Bible Study
Practical tips to be a better student of the Word
God has communicated His Word to us through the scriptures (Eph. 3:3-5; 2 Tim. 3:16-17). As we read and meditate on the Word of God, we learn more about Him and how we are to live to please him. We know that we should study the Bible. We have heard over and over again how beneficial it is for us to read God’s Word and allow it to take up residency in our hearts. Whether it’s the Bereans who searched for certainty (Acts 17:11) or the blessed man who mediated daily (Ps. 1:2; cf. Josh. 1:8), we have heard of excellent students of God’s Word that we are to emulate.
Yet, haven’t we all wondered how we can become better and more effective in the discipline of Bible study? What can we do to become better acquainted with the Book God has given us for our eternal good (2 Pet. 1:3)? Maybe you know someone who knows the Bible very well and you want to know how you can become more knowledgeable yourself. What if there were some things you could do today that would pay off immediately in helping you know the Bible better, and as result, know its author better (Ps. 119:18)? Let me offer a few brief ways to improve your Bible study.
Focus on Habits Over Hacks
What I mean here is that we should focus more on our habit of reading the Bible than on any one hack or shortcut that will make us overnight scholars. The Bible is not like a Snickers bar to be quickly scarfed down before entering a building. The Bible is like a homecooked meal to be savored, or a warm beverage to be sipped and enjoyed (Ps. 119:11). Rather than looking for a book about the Bible that will make it all simple for you, give yourself over to a regular habit of reading and studying the Bible. Habits in the discipline of Bible studying will yield more results in the long run than any momentary hack (Ps. 119:15-16).
Find your own way and be consistent. Maybe you read a chapter from the Old Testament in the morning and a chapter from the New Testament at night. Or you listen to two chapters every day on your way to work. Perhaps you read four chapters every day to get through the Bible in a year. Whatever you find works for you, be steady and stick with it. Don’t be concerned with how others do it, just be sure that you do it. Improve your study by getting rid of sporadic interactions with the Bible and forming a habit that makes your encounters with the Bible regular and habitual (Ps. 119:97).
Healthy Community and Congregational Interaction
We live in a culture where we prize individualism and look down on institutions. However, we should keep in mind that the Bible was not written primarily to be consumed in isolation. The Old Testament was written to and for the people of Israel as a nation (Deut. 29:1; 31:2-28; Josh. 8:30-35). Jesus initially revealed himself as the Messiah during a Bible study in a synagogue in His hometown of Nazareth (Lk. 4:16-21). Many of the New Testament letters are addressed to churches and congregations would hear all these things read together (Col. 4:16; 1 Thess. 5:27; Heb. 13:22; Rev. 1:4). If you want to become a better student of the Bible, study with others. As you read the Bible alongside others your assumptions will be challenged, and your blind spots will be pointed out (Prov. 18:17; 27:17).
It’s important to read the Bible with other people. Whether this is in a group Bible study or in a private reading group with you and a few others. When you reflect on the same passages as others and engage with them in drawing out the meaning, you will be impressed with what you learn. Read the Bible as a family and discuss the passages and listen to the different perspectives being offered up. This is not to make truth relative or to prioritize subjective experiences. It is to highlight that we all have varying degrees of knowledge and can learn from each other. Furthermore, passages normally have multiple points of application, and we often apply things the same way because of our limited experiences.
Attend Bible class regularly and actually engage. Some people never make a comment in class or ask a question. When others are commenting they are daydreaming or making their own notes or searching for another verse. If you make a habit of listening carefully in class you will deepen your knowledge. Even incorrect comments will help you to see what is not true and better sharpen your knowledge of the truth as you see it handled and answered correctly. Listen during the sermons and view it more as a time for Bible study and less like you’re attending a public speaking event for entertainment. Study with the preacher and learn from him and write down questions and insights from the lesson. Too many people view the sermon as a time of entertainment or as a passive endeavor. We should view it as a time to grow in our knowledge of the Word.
A Handful of Translations
It is wise to read and memorize primarily from one translation. However, as we read and memorize the Bible, we can stop becoming impressed by the awesome message it communicates. Furthermore, as great as our English translations are, none of them are completely perfect. Reading comparatively will help us to see things in fresh ways and sometimes to get a better understanding of what a passage is teaching us. Jesus and the apostles used the Greek Translation of the Old Testament Scriptures, but occasionally they quoted from the original Hebrew text.
The plethora of translations we have is not a bad thing, but a blessing. If you primarily use the ESV, keep the NASB or the NKJV open alongside you as you read. If you use the NKJV as your main translation look at how the NIV or the NLT words things occasionally and let them help you. Maybe pick a new translation to read the New Testament through this year and see what you learn or what you’ve missed before.
We have all been wrong before and we should keep this in mind as we read the Bible. Coming to the Bible and looking for it to tell us how right we are is the wrong way to study it. We should be open to the Bible correcting us and pointing us in the right direction. Humility says God knows everything and I don’t, so I want Him to teach me (Ps. 139:23-24). God loves humble people and will exalt them at the right time (Jas. 4:6, 10; 1 Pet. 5:6).
If you want to enhance your Bible study, your heart posture might have to change as you approach the text. Let God teach you and do not think you already know all there is to know, even in familiar sections of scripture—especially in familiar sections of scripture. Realize you have sins, temptations, and habits that need to be broken. Let God’s Spirit confront you through the text and be humble enough to receive it. When we start reading the Bible with humble eyes, passages we have read a hundred times will hit us differently; not because the truth has changed, but because we have changed.
God wants us to study His Word faithfully and diligently (1 Tim. 4:13-15). As we read the Bible, hopefully not only our heads will be filled with knowledge, but also our hearts will be filled with love for God and neighbor (Matt. 22:37-40; Jas. 1:21-25). Hopefully, these few practical tips can help us all improve our studies, and our souls, in the process!
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