As I wrapped up last night’s “Top 10 Productivity Tips” video on my Facebook page, I was struck that these tips are just as applicable to Bible study. How many of us struggle to focus during a devotional time? I know I have! Many of us get bored with God’s Word and lose our desire to seek Him in it. We know we should read the Bible, but don’t feel like we’re getting a lot out of study time.
I used to feel this way. Then I learned how to study the Bible. Though I first implemented these tips while earning my religion degree, every layperson can and should integrate these into their own Bible study habits. If you want to have a productive Bible study time – a time to look forward to and get excited about – try the following ideas (and don’t miss out on TWO giveaways!).
Read the Bible Itself
Jesus Calling is not Bible study. It’s not even a devotional time. Quick devotionals can be encouraging before bed or a great resource to keep in your purse or car, but they should not be the substance of your devotional time. I don’t say this to pick on devotionals! If you want true spiritual victory and confidence in your life, you need to tap into the Word of God itself.
I love studies by Beth Moore and Priscilla Shirer, and I’ve done many (very, very many!). But there comes a point when we stop relying on other people to tell us what the Bible means and instead read the Bible itself. In order to have a fruitful study that changes your life, your heart and mind must be exposed to the raw truth of God. The Holy Spirit will speak to you through His Word:
“The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” (1 Cor. 2:10-11)
The Bible is the inspired Word of God (read more here) and holds the power to transform our lives. But we are only transformed by it to the degree we are exposed to it.
“The Word of God is living and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Heb. 4:12)
Use a Bible Dictionary and Concordance
The purpose of these two books is to provide context to the passage you’re reading. While the Bible interprets itself theologically – the same ideas are supported throughout the Old and New Testaments – we need historical context to understand the power of what’s happening in each passage. When we take passages and verses out of context, we miss out on God’s intended meaning. That’s why both literary and historical context are so important – and why a Bible dictionary and concordance are so handy.
For literary context, grab your concordance. You can use this to cross reference other verses using a word you see in the current passage. You can also look up topics for a word study, using literary context to determine what the author intended to say in a given verse.
For historical context, grab your dictionary. My dictionary contains pictures, maps, and detailed descriptions of everything from Jericho to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. When I was reading 1 and 2 Kings, I frequently looked up cities, people groups, and tribal leaders to understand the context of those records. This in turn revealed the incredible patience and kindness of God in this season of Israel’s rebellion – something I would have missed without appropriate contextual study.
If we believe the Bible is God’s Word, we have to take it literally. But there’s a difference between literal interpretation and “face value” reading. We’re called to handle God’s Word with maturity and honor – and part of that is being intentional with how we study it.
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” (2 Tim. 2:15)
My favorite place to buy study materials is Family Christian Stores. Family Christian is stocked with all the materials you need for effective Bible study – from pens and journals to the dictionaries and concordances I use. What I love most about Family Christian is that all their earnings go to Christian charities. It’s rare to find a place with a great mission AND everything you need in stock.
Invest in a Good Commentary
At first blush, a commentary might seem redundant with a dictionary and concordance. But trust me – it’s not!
A commentary is a good supplement to the study of a particular book. The author will “comment” on the passage, and depending on his area of expertise (archeology, theology, etc.) will expound on the passage to explain its impact to his reader. It’s worth noting that commentaries come in many forms, and it’s wise to research the author of the book before you buy it. Commentaries often reflect denominational dogmas and specific theological viewpoints, so you’ll want to be aware of that as well (e.g., a Calvinist theologian will interpret many passages of the Bible differently than a Methodist or Wesleyan commentator would). I like to read more than one view on the more controversial issues of the Bible, but that requires a lot of commentaries!
I dream of owning the entire NIV Application Commentary series (anniversary gift, perhaps?), but in the meantime, I use Matthew Henry’s online commentary and a compact version I bought at Family Christian Bookstores.
Make a Plan, Choose a Place
That which is convenient quickly becomes a habit. If you make a plan for your study time – what book of the Bible you’ll read, when you’ll do it, and what materials you need on hand – you’ll be much more likely to actually make it a habit.
I’m a huge fan of creating a Bible study “basket”: a collection of all the items you need for your quiet time. My own spot includes a jar of multicolored pens, highlighters, book marks, my journaling Bible (HCSB), a journal, and the aforementioned commentaries, dictionary, and concordance.
You don’t need to study at the same time each day. You can make a plan each morning, flexible with your schedule. I have to do this with my work schedule and baby duties. Some mornings I do my devotions at 6 AM; other times it’s at noon! What matters is that you make it happen.
Pray for Insight
Finally, pray for insight into God’s Word. The Bible is God’s “special revelation” of Himself to man. Though He reveals Himself in nature (general revelation) and in every example of creative design, the Bible is the only place where God has shown us His character, priorities, and plan. When we fail to make time for God’s Word, we’re missing out on the very things we need to live life effectively.
The Word of God is living and powerful. To know abundant, thriving life, and to live powerfully right where we are, we need to study it. We need to know it. And through it, we need to know God.