This is the final post for the Spiritual Disciplines series, even though Richard Foster mentions several others such as worship and service. I dare say that if the ones we have covered aren't operating in our own lives, then we certainly can't handle the other ones very well. If you wish to continue afterward with the others, feel free to read the book "Celebration of Disciplines" and email me if you want to discuss them with me.
The discipline of Bible Study is often misunderstood by many Christians. I have been to some so-called Bible studies that were coffee chats (no depth, but lots of chat), "I think & feels" (lots of opinion regardless of what Scripture said), and devotionals, which are fine, but not really study. There is no wonder why Christians struggle with daily challenges. If devotions is picking up sea shells on the shore at the beach, then Bible study is excavating down deep for the gems and gold that God has hidden for us to discover. Devotions are nice, but don't carry the substance that Bible study does. As a Christian Education Director and guest teacher, I set up a sandbox with gems on the surface and several within the layers of sand. I had the Sunday School teachers and Bible study leaders see what they could find. The ones who were disgusted with" being treated like children" would hastily snag a couple from the top. But the ones who really wanted to learn began to work toward the bottom, pulling out more and more. On these gems were written some of the things we gain from real Bible study. The truth is that many teachers and leaders don't want to do the prep time it takes to really teach a Bible study! As a Bible Basics teacher, leading a class through how to study the Bible, I put materials on the tables one week for participants to work as a team at each table building a bridge as we continued to discuss the chapter. The next week, I had matchbox cars that each one could pick. I had them drive their cars across their bridges. Some stood well while others collapsed. We talked about the "Timeless Truth" of the passage. Some of the "I think & feels" are like the bridges that collapsed. They aren't as well supported by Scripture. The ones that stood well were the ones who gleaned the "message in a sentence", or Timeless Truth from Scripture. Seriously, people, there is nothing that speaks volumes like tangible illustrations to bring across a point! Again, the ones who thought I was treating them like kids gained very little from the lesson. The ones who wanted to learn, got it! YES! Nothing makes me jump for joy as when someone gets that "Ah-hah!" look and understands the lesson!
With all of that being said, lets go! There
are three basic methods of Bible study as far as I am concerned:Book by book, topical, and situation/dilemma. The books I found very helpful to teach Bible study Know Your Bible by Paul Kent and How to Study the Bible for Yourself by Tim LaHaye. One that was used at Winebrenner Seminary for the Spiritual Formation class when I was there was "Formative Reflection" by Professors Joyce Thornton and Constance Cherry published by Global Classroom. This book is not out where you can purchase it, as far as I know. There are other great books about Bible study which I will give you at the end of this post. The tools you would need are a topical index, concordance, and information about the places, times and cultures of the people in the passages of which you are reading from the Bible. There are wonderfully easy books out there which I will also list at the end for you. But to begin, you need a TRANSLATION of the Bible, not a paraphrase. You will have a better view of what you are studying. Paraphrases are better for devotional reading. Once you are ready, you will be amazed at the gems you find.
Special note: Keep in mind that if you are KJV person that Jesus did NOT tote a big, black leather covered KJV Bible with Scofield notes under His arm!!! Much to fundamentalists' credit, they are probably the ones who do the deepest Bible study. However, if you are a KJV person, you will need to step back from what your pastor or Sunday School teacher taught you. You need to see what God is saying to you personally. That will be the toughest, most important thing you can do. All Christians need to remember that pastors and Bible teachers are humans, too. We are to test what they teach by reading and understanding Scripture.
Book by book- This type of study looks at each book of the Bible, which is a library of books. DO NOT SLICE AND DICE EACH VERSE! That is like staying in magnification mode on your mirror plucking your eyebrows, never taking a look at how you really look! You can imagine what can happen! Eye brow pencil, please!!! Sometimes, you will need to examine certain verses a bit more in depth, then zoom out to see the broader picture of what the human author wanted the readers to know. Begin by reading a chapter in it's entirety. Then go back paragraph by paragraph.
Ask yourself these questions: Who, What, When, Where and How. Understand who the human author is and who the original audience was, then who are the characters (if available). What is happening or has happened in the passage? What is going on in history? For example, if you were studying the book of Daniel, you would need to understand that Israel was in exile since the Babylonians took them captive. Daniel and his friends were taken into a training program set up by the King Nebuchandnezzar. You would need to understand customs that aren't normal to us today. You would also need to understand the government of the time and what happened that caused Israel to be a divided kingdom.When did this take place? How were they captured and held? This could take you days, weeks and months to finish the book. It is like having a monster jigsaw puzzle on the table that you put pieces together a bit at a time.
Using a Bible dictionary, you could look at words and their meanings. This is important because it clarifies the intention of an author centuries ago in a foreign land who wrote in a language we don't speak today. You can even look across 3 or 4 translations at passages you want to examine. Write down the words used that are the same and different that stand out to you.
Prayerfully ask, What message am I picking up in this passage? What Timeless Truth is bridging the time of the Bible to you today? Write it down. Then prayerfully elaborate on your findings. Write down any questions that remain, then move on to the next chapter.
Topical-- topical studies are looking for what God has to say about various topics of interest, i.e. marriage, family, church, etc. You would want a topical index to help you and the willingness to let go of preconceived notions. It is important to bring from God's Word what He has to say not what we want Him to say. Turn your search into a question.
Pick your topic and look up what passages refer to that topic. Write down the ones significant to your search and begin reading each one. Jot down notes for each passage as you go. Look for a theme and variations from that theme. Prayerfully consider the impression you get from what you have read. This would be your Timeless Truth. What does it mean to you now? What is God saying in response to your question? This could take some time as well.
4-D Living-- This is a term I use when I teach this method of seeing what God would say and have us do in light of a particular situation or dilemma. In many ways, it is asking God to problem solve for you. This method was taught at Winebrenner Seminary in 1998-1999, but not titled the way I have it. Outlined below are the 4 steps:
Describe- describe your situation or dilemma in great detail. Do not spare your words. It is important to know what is truly on your heart so you can look at God's Word thoroughly.
Discover-- Use 3-4 sources dealing with the issue along with a good Bible translation. They should be reputable sources. Speaking with a Godly person such as your pastor to see what he/she would say about it is very helpful. Don't be afraid to look at a source that opposes your personal viewpoint. It can get you to look more objectively at your issue. Write down impressions from your sources.
Deliberate-- Prayerfully consider your discover section in light of what you described. Note what you are seeing and understanding. Write down any questions that have formed as a result. Is there something God wants you to do?
Determine-- Come up with an action plan for what God has said to you. If He wants you to change your attitude, write down how you would begin in simple steps. If He wants you to do something particular, write down steps to accomplish it. They should be reasonable, do-able steps that show progress as you go. Then make yourself accountable to someone and set some "dates". Be willing to make adjustments as you go. If you fail to accomplish something, don't beat yourself up. Just re-write your action plan so you can continue to move forward. Your time table is not necessarily God's timetable. If you must wait, then wait with anticipation and prayer.
Questions: What Spiritual Discipline is easiest for you and why? What Spiritual Discipline is the most difficult and why?
May the Lord bless you as you seek His wisdom and knowledge in His Word!
Scripture passages relating to Bible Study:
Psalm 119:9, 11
2 Timothy 2:15
Here are some further resources for you:
There are several great Study Bibles with all the tools in them. The ones I like are the New Open Bible and the NIV Study Bible.
These can be found on Christianbook.com
How to Study the Bible by Kay Arthur
How to Study the Bible by Robert West
Who's Who in the Bible by Zondervan
All the Men and All the Women of the Bible by Zondervan
All the Miracles of the Bible by Zondervan
All the Prophecies of the Bible by Zondervan Publishing
New International Version Bible Commentary by Zondervan Publishing
Bible commentaries are available for the Bible translation you have.
If you are looking to become a more effective Bible teacher, there are wonderful reputable programs for you. You can check with your pastor or look at these: