The Bible is not an easy read. Yet so many Christians approach the Bible as if they ought to be experts at what it contains. They believe that just by nature of being a Christian, Bible study should come naturally to them. I believed this lie for the longest time. I’m not sure I would have ever vocalized it as such, but my experience proved it. Instead of being a source of joy and delight, opening God’s Word was an activity filled with guilt and failure. It paralyzed me and left me feeling less-than for not having the amazing “quiet times” everyone else around me seemed to be having.
If you find yourself scratching your head when it comes time for Bible study, know that you are NOT alone. In fact, you are probably in the majority. But just because you’re in that boat doesn’t mean you have to stay there. The Bible is the primary way we can know God and the purpose He has for our lives. It is God’s revelation to us, His very words which tell us who He is and who we are because of Christ. It is a gift of grace, a treat to be enjoyed and savored. The Bible is filled with the spiritual nourishment our souls crave.
Here are 8 actions to take when you have no idea what you are reading:
This one seems obvious, doesn’t it? Yet I continually forget to pause and proclaim my need for God to guide me as I study. Each time you sit down to study, ask the Spirit to open your eyes to see the truth from His Word (Psalm 119:18). Declare your need for His guidance (Psalm 25:4-5) and your desire for heart change (Psalm 51:10). Ask for a greater understanding (James 1:5) and craving for His truth (Psalm 119:20).
2. Zoom out and get the big picture.
You’ve probably heard, context is king. But, how do we actually go about figuring the context out? Starting at the bird’s-eye view is a great place to start. The Bible Project has incredible videos for each book of the Bible to help you see the big picture of what you are reading. Getting a “lay of the land” will always help in our understanding of the smaller pieces. The more you see each piece as part of the whole, and the better you understand the big picture, the more it will all fit together in your mind over time.
Quick tip: Skim the headings before and after the passage you are reading. It may trigger memories of other passages you’ve studied or heard teachings on, and help you see where the pieces fit together.
3. Be sure you are asking the right questions.
Many come to God’s Word asking the wrong questions. Two common ones are, “What does this passage mean to me?” and, “What am I supposed to do about it?” These are not inherently wrong to ask, but they are not the best ones to ask first. The reality is, it doesn’t really matter what this verse means to us. It matters what those words meant to the original audience.
We need to shift our inquiries to that which will help us understand the original intent. After understanding the context, we can ask questions like, “What is true about God in this passage?” and “What is true about me, because of Jesus?” Over time, you’ll begin seeing the “answers” to these questions before you even ask them. The truths begin to jump off the page. That’s essentially what good Bible study is, learning to ask the right questions to help us see what’s on the page. Only after I know what the Bible was originally meant to mean, can I figure out what it means to me.
4. Phone a friend.
Don’t struggle in silence! When you have no idea what you are reading, consider asking someone you trust for help. Talk to your family about it, ask your pastor or another church leader. Some of the sweetest conversations I’ve had are over and about the Word. This is why small group Bible studies are life-changing. The constant contact and accountability with others around God’s Word keeps us going. When you have no idea what to think about a verse, chances are someone in your group will. Seek out opportunities in your local church to get in the Word with others. If you can’t meet up regularly in person, think outside of the box. Invite a few friends to study and start a text, Facebook, or Voxer group to discuss what you learn each day.
5. Read a commentary and listen to a sermon on the passage.
In this age of information, there is no excuse for ignorance. We have at our disposal tons of free online resources filled with articles, audio, video, and e-books geared toward helping us understand the Bible and what it teaches. Here, here, and here are a few of my go-to’s as they are well-organized and come from teachers I can trust.
6. Invest in resources.
Though there are many free and fabulous resources to find online, don’t stop there. Grab a solid study Bible. Go through books that will train you how to study on your own. Attend an online Bible conference. Purchase some Bible software. Figure out what your next baby step is toward better Bible study, then find a resource to help equip you with what you need to move forward.
Over the years, I’ve personally received many emails and comments saying “the Bible is free,” suggesting that they shouldn’t have to pay for Bible-related products. It’s a sad commentary on the American Christian culture when we’ll throw $100 at a new pair of shoes without blinking, yet we balk at paying $10 for a Bible study. Finding room in the budget for tickets to our favorite sporting event is effortless for many, but pulling out cash for a Christian equipping conference comes with much hesitation. Let’s change this reality and choose to invest richly in our spiritual lives!
7. Keep going.
There have been plenty of times when my time in the Bible just didn’t feel like it was worth it. Nothing jumped off the page. I didn’t hear anything specific. How to respond eluded me. But God intervened. He dropped me into a ministry that taught me how to study my Bible, how to persevere in my studies, and how to walk forward in obedience with what I was learning.
Over the decades of study, I can now see how every page I’ve read is a part of the firm foundation of His truth. It is the bedrock of my life. But it was not an overnight process…nor is it complete. It is the consistent everyday moments of Bible reading and study—over time—that builds up into a treasury of knowledge about God and leads to a lifetime of enjoying God.
8. Remind yourself of the end goal
This is key. If we take steps toward becoming a better “Bible-studier” so that we can be seen by others as super-spiritual, our reward is in that momentary recognition (see Matthew 6). Bible study is not about us. It is not about others. The opening, enjoying, and applying of God’s Word is meant for us to encounter God, enjoy Him, and bear fruit as a result of becoming more like Him. This is the reward! A fruitful life lived for the glory of God. And our fruitfulness is meant for others to see—not so they can be impressed with our Bible study skills but so that in their encounters with us, they can taste and see that the Lord is good.
God, turn our hearts toward your Word! Grant us a deep hunger and thirst for the Bible. Give us the grace to walk forward in obedience in this area. Help us open our Bibles. Consistently. Expectantly. Reverently. May we be men and women who will do our best to present ourselves to you as workmen who need not be ashamed, able to rightly divide the Word of truth.