I’m a snacker.
I eat a good breakfast and a healthy evening meal, but I don’t really do lunch. Instead, throughout the day, I graze my way through whatever snacks are within reach—crisps, chocolate, cookies, cake. Consequently, by the evening my body is crying out for some real nourishment. Snacking offers instant relief from hunger, but it’s not long-lasting. It doesn’t truly satisfy. What my body really needs is a good, healthy meal.
It’s easy to have a snacking approach to bible reading, but quickly skimming over a couple of verses or a favourite Psalm in the morning isn’t going to keep us spiritually nourished and sustained for the long term. We need more.
For many of us, life is busy and we often feel over-stretched. I don’t want to compound any feelings of guilt you may have about not spending enough time reading the bible. But I do want to encourage each of us to make the most of the time we have. And that means replacing some of our snacks with a hearty meal.
If we want to get to know God better through his word, we will need to spend some time feasting on it—digging below the surface, asking questions, meditating on the truths we uncover, delighting in the God who reveals himself to us, and letting his word renew our minds and transform our lives (Romans 12:2).
That might sound overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. You don’t need a seminary degree to learn how to feed your soul well. You can begin right now—at home. Here are 4 steps to help you get started.
Pray… for desire and discipline
The two biggest obstacles to regular bible study are a lack of desire and a lack of discipline. We can’t overcome these obstacles in our own strength, so we need to pray. First, we need to ask God to awaken our hearts to love him more and desire to meet him in his word. And then we need to pray for the discipline to make time, open our bibles, and get started.
I have a friend who feels uncomfortable praying for a desire to study the bible. She feels that she should naturally be enthusiastic about it—and that God must be offended when she isn’t. But God knows us intimately—he understands our thoughts, feelings, desires (and lack of them) far better than we understand ourselves. And so we can confess our lack of desire to him and ask him to redirect our hearts so that we will want to know him more deeply through his word.
“Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” (1 Peter 2:2-3)
Pray that God will make you hungry for his word, but don’t wait for desire before you get started. I have often found that discipline fosters delight. As I discipline myself to study—even when I don’t feel like it—I begin to enjoy it more. My feelings catch up with my habits.
We also need to pray for discipline to study. There are so many demands and distractions that will keep us from opening our bibles if we let them. We need the Holy Spirit’s help to guard our time in the word. Why not look through your calendar at the beginning of each week and schedule in your bible study time—just like you would any other important appointment. Then pray for the discipline to keep that appointment. Of course, unexpected things crop up that genuinely need attending to, but, as far as you’re able, try to guard your study time and be disciplined to use it for study—not scrolling!
Whether you’ve got 10 minutes or an hour, your bible study time will be more fruitful if you have a plan.
Start by planning what you will study. Rather than jumping from one passage to another, choose one portion of scripture to feast on over several days or weeks. Lingering longer in one place will give you time to understand it more fully and let its truth take root in your heart. Start with a small portion: a New Testament letter, such as Colossians; or an Old Testament narrative, like Jonah. Plan to read through the text regularly so you become familiar with it.
Be realistic. If you’re in a particularly busy season, plan just one session each week for longer study but aim to read some or all of the text on the other days. That way, you’ll be able to reflect regularly on what you’re learning. You could also listen to it on an audio bible app while you’re driving. Don’t feel discouraged if you only manage to read a few verses some days—it will still do you good. Not all of our physical meals are spectacular feasts but they still nourish us. In the same way, these times of repetitive reading and reflection will feed our souls and help us become more familiar with the portion of scripture we’re studying.
Write out some simple questions that you can ask as you read through the text (I have these written on a card in the front of my bible):
What does it say? (Specifically, what does it teach about God?)
What does it mean?
So what? (How should I respond?)
For your longer study times, you may find it helpful to have some more detailed questions prepared—especially for your first study in a particular book/letter:
What genre of writing is this (narrative, history, prophecy, letter, etc)?
Who is writing?
Why are they writing—what is the context?
Where does this fit in the big bible story?
What is the main point the author is making?
You may want to use a study bible, commentary or online bible tool to help you answer some of those questions, but you’ll be able to work some of it out as you read and re-read the text and look up any cross-references given.
It’s also helpful to plan some accountability for your study times. Tell a friend what you’re planning to study and invite her to ask you how it’s going and what you’re learning. This will help you to be disciplined in keeping to your schedule, and encourage you to persevere as you see your progress. Your friend may decide to study the same bible passages so you can reflect on them together.
Prepare… to meet God
There are some practical things we need to do as we prepare to study. We’ll want to find a place to study, gather our bible, notebook, pens, and any study materials we’re using. But we also need to prepare our hearts and minds for something extraordinary. Because as we get ready to study his word, God is ready to meet us in it.
Jesus is with us as we open its pages. His Spirit is ready to guide our minds into understanding and our hearts into obedience. We may sometimes be unenthusiastic or half-hearted as we approach God’s word, but he is always whole-hearted and enthusiastic in his desire to meet with us. Isn’t that astonishing? The God who spoke stars and solar systems into existence is ready and eager to speak to you and I through his word. He wants to reveal more of himself to us—so we can know him in deeper, richer and fuller ways than we thought possible.
So as we approach bible study we want to prepare to encounter him. If I’m honest, I don’t always open my bible with this expectation. Sometimes the familiarity of the habit inhibits my sense of wonder and anticipation. I’ve found it helpful to pray, with the Psalmist:
“Open my eyes that I may behold wonderful things out of your law…Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways.” Psalm 119: 18, 37
Praying like this before opening my bible reminds me of the joy and privilege that awaits me. It redirects my attention away from the trivial and toward the eternal. It refocuses my gaze from myself to my Saviour.
Bible study takes diligence and patience. Some passages are hard to understand—and even harder to apply. The rewards aren’t always instant, but it’s worth persevering. And, as with any habit, it becomes more natural the more we practise, so don’t be discouraged if you find it hard at first.
Remember the goal of bible study: to know and enjoy our majestic, holy God, and to be transformed into the likeness of his Son—bearing fruit that will last into eternity. Anticipating this delight should spur us on to persevere when study seems hard or when distractions press in.
“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:18
(This article was first published at Servants of Grace)