Christians are people of the Book. By that I mean Christians are guided, first and foremost, by the Bible. We believe that the Bible contains the wisdom and truth God wants His people to know.
This is why many Christians have a goal of reading through the Bible each year. The commitment to read the Bible the reveals their desire to be more familiar with the Book that is to guide their lives.
The problem that many of us face, me included, is that there are parts of the Bible which are difficult to read. So if you expect to come away with a little nugget of truth from your reading each day, you might be disappointed. It is hard to understand how parts of the Bible apply to our lives.
Not only is there the difficulty in understanding the Bible, but there is also the reality of how our memory works. We simply do not remember what we read which means there isn’t much transformation happening in our hearts and minds.
In Romans the apostle Paul wrote:
Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God. — Romans 12:2 (CSB)
To keep from being conformed in the image of the world we need to be intentional about being transformed into the image of Jesus. This starts with the renewal of our minds. To be transformed we need to give our minds the proper material to dwell on. While reading is the foundation of getting God’s truth into our minds, I think many of us need to take the next step and create a system of Bible Study that fits our lives and personalities.
I know there are different study systems available, but I have found many of them too complicated and time intensive to consistently do. Over the years this discouraged to me as I have tried to study the Bible.
I want to share with you what I do to study the Bible and get God’s Word into my heart and mind.
First, get a Bible translation that is easy to read. Don’t get hung up on “what is the best Bible translation?” All the main translations had a team of scholars working on them to create the most accurate translation as possible. Remember, get a translation and not a paraphrase like the Message or the Living Bible. While paraphrases have a place, they are usually the work of one person trying to smooth out the English translation. For ease of reading I would recommend the New Living Translation (which is what I preach from) or the Christian Standard Bible (which has become my go to Bible translation in 2022).
Second, get a good Study Bible. Until this past year I have never had a Study Bible, but now I own several on my Olive Tree Bible Software, and I have discovered that they are super helpful in my sermon preparation each week. Now there are a number of speciality Study Bibles out there that I have found not near as helpful, they have good articles and highlights in them, they lack the commentary notes that are useful. The Study Bibles I have found useful this year are the CSB Study Bible, the NIV Study Bible, the ESV Global Study Bible, and the NIV Bible Background Study Bible.
Another option would be to invest in Olive Tree Bible Software. While the the App is free and there are some free resources to go with it, to get the most out of it you need to purchase resources like study bibles and commentaries. To give it a try you can sing up for a study pack (there are NIV, ESV, and NKJV study packs available for $60 a year). Learning how to use Olive Tree this last year has transformed my study time.
Third, get a notebook or journal that you will use exclusively for Bible Study. You can use this journal for your regular personal study as well as taking notes from the sermons and classes you listen to. I use the note feature in the Olive Tree Bible Software. Writing things down helps you to remember them and it gives you a place to refer back to if you desire.
Fourth, adopt a Bible Study Method. This is what held me back for years, I couldn’t find one that I could understand, that fit the rhythm of my life, and that could be done an a regular basis. A few years ago I decided to develop my own method. I call it the STOP Bible Study Method and it is the way I start out my sermon study each week. It is also what I use to work through books of the Bible on my own. STOP stands for Summarize, Truth, Observations, and Prayer. What you do is at the top of the page write down the passage you are studying, I usually only do a paragraph or two at a time. Then read the passage. After reading the passage take a few minutes to summarize what you read (which usually requires rereading it a few times). After summarizing the passage, write down what you think the main point or truth of the passage is (this usually becomes my Big Idea for the sermon). Once you have the truth down, make some observations about the passage. These observations can be things that stood out to you, questions that you have, or other details that you found interesting. Finally, write out a prayer asking God to help you apply the passage, or at least the truth of it, to your life.
Fifth, use the Study Bible to read the commentary notes on the passage to get a better understanding of what the text is about. Write down any ideas that you think are important to remember. This way you are not only relying on your own ideas and observations, but are also gaining the insights from scholars who have studied the passage.
Sixth, make a commitment to attend Sunday morning worship and other study times that your local church family offers. Individual study time is important, but study and discussion with a group is crucial. We benefit from the perspectives of other people in our pursuit of spiritual formation.
Study is a crucial part of our spiritual formation. I encourage you to make space for study in your life.