“Do you read the Bible?”
“Of course I do!”
“Then, what did you learn today?”
The first question is easy. The second leaves us stumped. We could give answers like, “Well, I learned that David killed Goliath,” or, “I read that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.” But we have the feeling that isn’t quite what is meant. We need to make the transition from merely reading the Bible to actively studying the Bible.
There are many ways of studying the Bible. All of them are beneficial. Some people enjoy using commentaries, historical references, word studies (even Greek!), or study guides. I recommend trying all of these study aids at some point in order to find what you like best and what helps you the most to grow in “the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Which is, after all, the purpose for which we study the Bible.)
But we should also have a plan for studying the Bible with nothing but the Bible in front of us, a piece of paper and a pen, and fifteen minutes. Here's one approach:
Step One: Pick a passage.
Step Two: Read it carefully.
Step Three: Explain the passage in your own words.
Step Four: Ask yourself -- What does this passage tell me about God?
Step Five: Ask yourself -- What does this passage tell me about people?
Step Six: Ask yourself -- How can I apply this to my life? Am I in a similar circumstance? Do I really understand this aspect of God’s nature? What can I learn about myself from this passage?
Step Seven: Pray for increased faith and understanding about God -- specifically, about what you have learned about him from the passage. Pray for changes in yourself to become more “a man or woman after God’s own heart” -- specifically, in the ways you have learned from this passage.
Take a quick example: read the story of David and Goliath. If you just “read” it, you might be able to say that David killed Goliath, the Israelites beat the Philistines, etc. If you “study” it as above, you might say the following:
How could I re-state this story? David killed Goliath against all odds, with nothing but a stone and a sling and belief that God could do it.
What do I learn about God? God is willing and able to work powerfully (even miraculously) in our lives when we turn to him in faith.
What do I learn about man? David wasn’t a soldier or a hero -- he was a kid who was a shepherd who had been faithful in tending his sheep . . . and he became a hero of Israel with faith, a stone, and a sling.
How can I apply this to my life? Do I believe that God is willing and able to work powerfully in my life? Do I have the kind of faith David showed? Have I been faithful in “tending the sheep”? (After all, that was where David learned the courage and skill he showed against Goliath.) Do I dream as big as David did? Or do I settle for defeat and mediocrity?
And pray ... Lord, I praise you for being an all-powerful God. For being a God who takes shepherds and makes them heroes. For being a God who delights in our faith and pours out his power through our lives in response to our faith. Help me to be more like David: to tend the ordinary things in my life faithfully, yet to dream God-sized dreams, and to develop the faith to believe that you will turn those dreams into a grace-filled reality.