Have you decided to begin studying your Bible? Perhaps it’s a resolution of sorts, an attempt at reviving an old desire, or some other reason. Maybe you have attempted it in the past but were not successful or couldn’t keep it up. No matter what you have or have not attempted in the past, now is a good time to begin. But where? Great question!
Whatever method you adopt, prayer must always be the first step.
There are two aspects of prayer that are essential for good Bible study. The first thing for which to pray is discernment or wisdom. When Solomon succeeded his father, David, as king, Solomon was young and felt woefully inadequate for such a task. He turned to God Himself for help.
Now, O Lord my God, you have made me king instead of my father, David, but I am like a little child who doesn’t know his way around. And here I am in the midst of your own chosen people, a nation so great and numerous they cannot be counted! Give me an understanding heart so that I can govern your people well and know the difference between right and wrong. For who by himself is able to govern this great people of yours?” The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for wisdom, (1Kings 3:7-10 NLT).
When we feel inadequate in studying the Bible, we can ask God for discernment and wisdom, just like Solomon. If you want to understand the Bible, ask the Author to help you understand it. That sort of prayer pleases God, and He is eager to answer.
If you need wisdom, ask the source.
James, Jesus’ half-brother, also mentions asking God for help. “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind (James 1:5-6 NLT). God breathes into our lives through His Word, the Bible. When we ask Him to help us study wisely and discern His truth, He will always grant that prayer. God wants you to understand His Word. All you need to do is ask.
Prayer before Bible study is not a time to bring our wish list of things to God.
Prayer before Bible study has a unique purpose. We pray, and as we are in conversation with God, He gives us His perspective. Prayer as a conversation means we spend as much, if not more, time listening to God as we do talking to Him. A friend of mine puts it this way, “The primary purpose of prayer is to gain God’s perspective.” There is no better way to get ready to have God breathe into us through His Word than to ask Him to show us clearly what He has for us in the moment. Ask Him to help you see what He wants you to discover in the passage.
Asking God for wisdom and His perspective prepares us for Bible study in a way that is far and above any academic endeavor.
Bible study helps are available.
The first help is obviously a Bible. I recommend a sound, modern translation of the Bible. Here at Courage For Life we often use the New Living Translation. Another good Bible is the English Standard Version. The Amplified Bible is also good in that it gives multiple translations for words that can have different meanings. Why are some translations not exactly the same? Great question! When I learned to speak another language, I discovered that some words do not have an English equivalent or the direct translation may not have the same meaning in English as it does in the other language. Reading and studying the passage from several translations can give you a broader picture of the biblical truth.
In addition to the Bible, I would recommend a good Bible dictionary. A Bible dictionary can help you understand the biblical definition of a word you might not understand. Another helpful resource is a Bible concordance. A concordance shows other places in the Bible where a particular word is used or where a similar thought may be found. A Bible commentary is also helpful. People who spend their lives studying and researching the Bible often write a commentary (their opinion and discovery about the meaning of a passage). These can help give you another or multiple perspectives from people with years of experience. Almost all these resources are available online or in print, whichever you prefer.
One of the best ways to study the Bible is with a small group of people.
There are at least two reasons this is helpful. Perhaps an illustration can help with the first. Have you ever thought about something and worked all the details and aspects out in your head? Most of us have. We think through, ponder, shape, and reshape our thoughts until what we are encountering makes “sense” to us. We eventually have it “all worked out.” Perhaps this has never happened to you, but it does to me. I have something “all worked out” in my mind, and it makes perfect sense until I try to explain it to someone else. Sometimes as I listen to the words coming from my mouth, I think, “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard!” It made sense in my thoughts, but I gained another perspective as I began to verbalize it. The same is true in Bible study. Using multiple senses of reading, speaking, and hearing God’s Word can help us have a better perspective. There is real synergy in studying together.
There’s another illustration of why group Bible study is beneficial. Each Bible passage is full of unlimited truth. We are often only ready for a small part of that truth because of our past and current experiences. God will only show us the part of His truth for which we are ready. He gives you a small piece of the big picture of His Truth. When we study together, each person receives a small piece of the bigger picture based on their past and current experience. As we come together in a group, each person can bring their piece of the picture and as a group, we get a bigger glimpse of the whole than any one person could see. God can use the experiences of others to teach us more about who He is.
There are many ways of studying the Bible. Here are two simple, intuitive ways I have used and taught others to use.
If you are new to Bible study, I would suggest beginning in the New Testament with the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. After that, continue in the New Testament before you venture into the Old Testament. As you read the passage for the day, ask these questions and record what you learn.
- Is there a caution about sin to avoid?
- Is there a promise made that we should claim or follow?
- Is there a word of encouragement or admonition for my daily life?
- Is there a command from God to be followed?
- Is there an action that needs to be taken? Is there something we need to do with what we have read or a way it should shape our daily life?
As God reveals His perspective to us, He will give us answers to these questions. All questions may not be answered in each passage but as we start looking for answers our study moves us from reading about God to hearing from Him.
Here is another set of questions to use. These are particularly helpful as you study the Bible in a small group.
- Is there something you read with which you agree, and it confirms what you need to do?
- Is there something you read with which you disagree? (It’s okay to disagree with God until we can get a bigger and clearer understanding of His picture)
- Is there something you read that you don’t fully understand? (Perhaps someone else in the group can help you with this or you can learn more from your resources)
- Is there something you read that teaches about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, or the church?
- Is there a command to follow or a change that needs to be made in your daily life?
Studying the Bible is not merely for information but about allowing God’s Word to transform our lives.
There is another very important aspect of Bible study. It is very tempting to read a passage and then move on to the next. I would encourage you to read and reread your selected passage every day for a week. Reflecting is important. Cows spend many hours grazing on grass until their stomach is full. But to get nourishment from the grass they must regurgitate it and “chew their cud.” They chew on what they have eaten for some time to get all the nourishment it contains. Do the same with your Bible passage. Reread, reflect, and meditate on it for several days so God can help you get the most from the passage. The best Bible study is not just for information but to allow God’s Word to transform our lives. Transformation takes time as you read, reread, reflect, meditate, and allow God’s Word to change you into the person He intends you to be.
Like most things in life, the more you do it, the better you will become. The same is true with Bible study but with one big exception. God Himself wants to breathe into you through His Word. You won’t be doing this alone. The Holy Spirit (God within you) will help you understand the Bible, God’s Word for you. The more you study God’s Word, the more He is able to teach you from it.
Looking to start right now? Check out our Bible Study section. Receive relatable teachings tailored to all aspects of life. Gain confidence to face each day with perseverance and wisdom. Enrich your prayer life as you communicate with God each day. Read more!