As we think about our goals for the new year, many of us want to become more regular in reading, studying, and applying God’s Word to our lives. Here are five tips to help you become a better student of the Bible:
1- Have a plan! After following Jesus for the last 20 years, I can confidently declare that your Bible reading will be better and more disciplined if you have a good plan to follow. Without a plan, your reading will be sporadic and disconnected. Reading the Bible faithfully is a lot like the discipline of exercise. It requires you to do it when you feel like it and when you don’t feel like it. The best way to push through the low times is to have a good reading plan that you can stick to. There are a variety of great plans available online. However, if you are looking for a great one to start with, sign up to journey with our congregation through the four NT gospels in 2016. You can sign up at http://cityview.jointhejourney.com/. You will receive a daily email with a passage to read and a short devotional with reflection questions.
2- Read prayerfully! Make sure to remember that Bible study is not purely an academic exercise. Our goal is not to master information or learn new facts but to walk under God’s authority. We believe that the Bible is living and active and that the Holy Spirit uses the Scripture to speak to our hearts and change our lives. For that reason, make sure you pray before you read and then meditate on what you have read. Give the Spirit room (and time!) to speak into your life, comfort you, convict you, change you from the inside out.
3- Read in community! One of the biggest mistakes that American believers make in 2016 is reading the Bible in isolation from other Christians. We need to listen to the voices of other Christians (in history and our own times) who have wrestled with the meaning and application of the Bible. When you find something new and powerful in the Bible, run it past a mature Christian who can help you process your insights. By God’s grace, you have what you need to study and grow in the Scripture, but God never intended for you to do so in isolation.
4- Study the context! Most errors in Bible interpretation and application flow from one source: reading Bible verses out of context. We have all made this mistake, so I’m definitely not throwing stones. But I do want to encourage you to study the words of the Bible in the context of the sentence, in the context of the paragraph, in the context of the chapter, in the context of the book, in the context of the whole Bible. This process is so important to make sure you understand what the original author actually intended to say with what they wrote. You wouldn’t want anyone to read one sentence of your email apart from the context of your whole message. Don’t do that to the biblical authors either!
5- Read honestly. The Lord of the Bible knows your heart and mind as you read the Bible. There is no value in faking your response to the Scripture. The psalmists model for us a brutal honesty with God as we process His promises in the midst of our own struggles and circumstances. I think Bible-reading is so much more powerful and life-changing when we are honest with the text, when we argue with it and celebrate it and cry through it and get mad at it. If you really study the Bible and seek to apply it to your life, you will experience the full range of human emotions. Be honest about it, and ask the Lord to shape you according to His will as you read.
No other spiritual discipline has helped me grow as much as spending daily time in God’s Word. I pray that you will experience God in fresh ways in the Bible in the new year!
“For the Word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the ideas and thoughts of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12