How to Avoid the Bible Journaling Mentality

Christian Life & Theology

I decided I was going to write a Bible study on Ruth for teen girls. My sister and a friend met with me and we started going through the book of Ruth and tried to draw from it principles about how we should live our lives as Christian girls.

We only met once.

I thought it wouldn’t be very difficult, especially considering that I had once been part of a girls’ Bible study through Ruth a couple years before. But  when I started trying to write it, my sister said, “Do you really think you can say that from the passage?”

I didn’t like being challenged, and eventually, the project dropped.

Looking back, I am so glad I never finished that study and never tried to teach girls with it. While I’m sure there was no heresy, I now see some major flaws in how I was approaching the Bible.

Whenever I’m on Instagram, I feel like there’s someone who is posting about their “Bible journaling.” I see lots of florals in the margins, song lyrics written in sharpie over entire pages of Scripture, and artwork rendering the text beneath illegible. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not against Bible journaling. But there’s a certain type of Bible journaling that does not approach Scripture with the kind of honor and respect that it deserves.

Even if you have never Bible journaled, look honestly at these points and try to evaluate if you have fallen into any of these pitfalls. I know I have fallen into each and every one.

Reading only for application

 The girl who reads only for application will limit her study to google searches like “verses about beauty” and “verses about joy.” Then, without reading the context of that verse, claims it as an unconditional promise or application to herself.

There are many, many verses that have been pulled out of their context. See if any of these look familiar (note: I’m using the translations I usually see these verses in):

  • Psalm 46:5a “God is within her, she will not fall.” (NIV)
  • Song of Solomon 4:7 “You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you.” (ESV)
  • Philippians 4:13 “I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.” (NIV)

These are just a few of the verses I commonly see taken out of context. In Psalm 46, the “she” is referencing the “city of God,” not to you – a girl. Song of Solomon 4 is Solomon talking to his bride on their wedding night. Philippians 4 is discussing being content in all circumstances.

Obviously, we must apply God’s Word to our lives. James 1 talks about the folly of the man who is a hearer of the Word and not a doer. However, our study of the Scriptures should not start with application—it should start with comprehension.

Jen Wilkin’s book, “Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds” is the number one must-read book on how to study the Bible for women. She talks about first starting with comprehension, then moving on to interpretation, and finally to application. When we start with application, we run the risk of feminizing a text, applying something to us that doesn’t actually apply to us, and missing out on the bigger picture of the Bible’s story of redemption.

This was the biggest problem I had when I was trying to write my Bible study on Ruth. I tried to dissect every verse and twist it to give young women a formula for how to go about honoring God and pursuing godly relationships. Now I see now that the purpose of Ruth isn’t to show us step by step how to live and how to approach guys, but to give a foreshadowing of Christ’s redemption.

Don’t cheat yourself out of the fuller meaning of the text.

Don’t settle for a shallow Bible study.  

Emphasizing “experiencing God” over knowing God

 How many times have you come away from your quiet time feeling nothing—and therefore feeling like it was a waste? Are you happy when you feel God near, but when times get hard, is your joy fleeting?

God gave us His Word not so that we could “experience” Him, but so that we could know Him. John 17 is Christ’s prayer to His Father before He was crucified. It is an incredible passage showing the heart of our Savior. I highly encourage you to read it if you have not.

John 17:25-26 says,

“O righteous Father, although the world has not known You, yet I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me; and I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”

When He was on earth, Jesus was busy making His Father known. Colossians 1 says that He is the “image of the invisible God.” Scripture was given to us that we may know God. The Holy Spirit works to illumine God’s Word to our eyes so that we may know God.

Experiencing God is a wonderful gift. It is precious and those moments are to be treasured. However, whether or not we experience God, we should always be striving to know Him.

I remember a couple of years ago actually having the thought, “I know enough about God.” That is a scary attitude that I have many times repented of since then. We NEVER know enough about God. Experiencing God is wonderful, but knowing Him should be our priority. How can we love and experience someone that we do not know? In order to love God more fully, we must seek to know Him more fully.

Reading the Bible as a book about me

 Jen Wilkin talks about this more in her aforementioned book. The Bible isn’t about you and me. Sure, it tells us who we are in Christ. But one of my favorite things she emphasized was that the knowledge of God and knowledge of self come together in one package. Seek to know God and you will more clearly see yourself.

Our purpose is to glorify God. The Bible’s purpose is to glorify God. It is His story—His story of redeeming fallen mankind from our sin.

Like I previously stated, the Bible has so much information about us. Psalm 139 beautifully describes how God knit you together in your mother’s womb. It says that we are fearfully and wonderfully made—and our response to that should be praise! This does not just tell us about us, however, it tells us so much about who God is. He created us with deliberate care. His thoughts toward us outnumber the sand. But yet He is God: all powerful, all knowing, ever present. Despite being so high above us, He takes notice of us.

Knowledge of God and knowledge of self go hand in hand.

Our response to a deeper understanding about God should be praise. Yes, it’s nice to know that God handcrafted us, but does that fix our beauty insecurity? Not as much as knowing that our life isn’t about ourselves; we are here to serve and glorify God. Then our beauty or lack thereof becomes a tool to glorify God, not a source of pride.

I love what Phylicia said in this article, “Jesus didn’t come to earth because we were beautiful, special, or great. He came because we were too grossly sinful to bridge the gap between ourselves and God.”

Christ is far greater than we are. Yes, we were handcrafted by Him—but we fell into sin and are headed to an eternity in hell. Jesus had to die to save us from ourselves.

The Bible is not primarily a book about us—it’s a book about God.

Have you fallen into the Bible journaling mentality? Do you read the Bible primarily for application, knowledge of self, or for the sole purpose of experiencing God? Come to Jesus and tell Him how you’ve been struggling. Then I would highly, highly recommend reading Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin.

by Anastasis Faith

Anastasis Faith is the editor and co-author of 30 Days of Surrender, a devotional for teen girls. You can connect with her on her blog or on Instagram @anastasisfaith. When she is not busy ​working and pursuing a degree in accounting, she is serving at her church, blogging, writing, reading, and practicing piano.

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