Raise your hand if you know you should study your Bible, but just can’t seem to connect, even when you can find time.
Me! Me! Me! ME!
I will be 49 in July, I have read through the Bible twice, I have entered into Bible study in the churches I have attended, and have tried either my own random cracks at studying, or have taken short-term studies that include a DVD and all the questions and answers a person might want to complete the task.
All that should stand for something, shouldn’t it? But it doesn’t.
Not one of these methods found me devoting time to God in his Word. Not one of them helped connect me to a daily need to read, know, and remember. None of them acted as a catalyst to dig deeper.
What did help were a few handfuls of simple words.
“Dear God, please give me a hunger for your word, and give me a heart to pursue it every day.” Voila! That door opened faster than fast.
My Bible study, over a period of about 6 months, grew to where it is today, which still has lots of room in the sleeves and length in the legs for more growing. I’m continually learning, continually reviewing, and continually struggling to grow the way God wants me to grow, which feels hard, too stretchy, and far more messy than I would like. I want pain-free growth and change, just the same as I want pain-free dental work.
I always, always, always want tried and true “how to” from someone who says he found success in something with which I struggle. While one size does not fit all, I can at least glean from the harvest of someone else, though their scraps might be still too big for me. I need to grow at my pace, not someone else’s. And so, for your personal gleaning,
I offer my map to Bible study success …
Bible Study from a Comfy Spot on the Farmhouse Couch
Step One: Choose a chapter each day.
I felt the desire to read and study in simple ways, at first. I chose a chapter each day, usually by the “flip and point” method of randomly choosing from my fanned-open Bible. I felt satisfied at feeling the call to read and pray, look and listen, learn and grow. I took notes in a Specially Marked Notebook, so I would have official storage space for what God showed me through his Word. It began and stayed pretty much like a summary, and I jotted a few points here and there that I could apply to my life. I did not do well at the actual application, I handled that more like suggestions for when all the planets align, the moon is full, I feel personally invited by God, and the Spirit moves me exactly the way I need to move, much like a marionette. In other words, not going to happen with my stubborn self.
Yeah. I think it’s clear where this first step led. But, we have to crawl before we walk.
Within a few weeks, I felt a bit misdirected in my random ways. God can guide us through what feels like happenstance or coincidence, but he works in neither of those mediums. God has a never-failing plan, of which we play a part. When we don’t take our cues, someone else will. God keeps right on working over top of, around, and past our wretched, lazy, unmotivated selves, and he will also work with and through our inexperienced, untrained, slightly insecure, step-out in
fear faith selves. His ways are perfect. Ours are usually faulty and half-baked.
I kept reading, outlining, praying, and repeating. This method most closely resembles “trial and error”, and worked for me, because learning from mistakes helps me grow. You probably find that true, too.
Step 2: Find guidance from “gift” sources.
As I worked through, hunt-and-peck style, in study, I began to hear things from various sources about praying for the Spirit to help me understand what I read, to teach me what I needed to learn, to fill me, and to guide my study. These were gifts, set out for me to open and use. Praying gave me purpose. I could pray and feel led to a topic to pursue, then use my concordance (large Bible reference book) or Google to find a Bible chapter or verse that spoke about what I had received from my prayer.
As before, I felt satisfied that I had direction and satisfied that I could see where I had grown. No more plowing into territory God had not prepared for me first.
Connections between the text I read and the life I lived began to happen. In prayer, when I felt the nudge to pray for a friend, I found references in the passages I read that day which directed me to deeper prayer. I would later learn that my friend had some dilemmas she faced that very day, and that my prayer had been not only on topic, but on time. Gifts to pray-er and pray-ee!
I did not always remember to pray before beginning to read. Even when I did remember, I didn’t always feel connected to the passage. Every day feels different, but God would show up outside that prayer and reading time, speaking through radio broadcasts, through family conversation, and through his Spirit working in my heart.
Growth like this felt slow to me. I wanted it all, and I wanted it now. God knows better. He knows we need time, tending, understanding, chances to apply what we learn, and time to grow toward a new level of understanding and spiritual strength.
I had found the guidance I needed, rather than using the wing-and-a-prayer method. The Holy Spirit does not shove. Nudges and murmurings come in small ways, so “be still” takes precedence. I had to learn to let the guidance happen. I still have to work at this.
Step 3: Attend a challenging Bible study.
I had attended Bible studies many times. Some reminded me of some college classes, in which I felt the leader wanted only to have his own words or ideas repeated in every response, or I felt that I had missed a prerequisite course that would have really helped me feel less stupid. Small group studies sometimes turned to gossip, or to self-help style outreach, rather than learning about God’s word and applying it directly to life in a serious and proactive way.
When a friend invited me to try a new Bible study designed by Kay Arthur, called “Precepts”, I performed a spur-of-the-moment acceptance. As time for the study grew closer, I began to have misgivings, as I often do when I don’t take care to answer after prayer, thought, and asking my husband’s input. I felt the desire to back out for selfish reasons — not wanting to drive 90 minutes round trip, and not wanting to step out of my present comfort zone. Also, the thought of homework, which our Sunday School teacher can never get anyone to do, felt a bit on the ominous side.
But I went.
On the very first meeting, I felt amazingly energized. The Precepts study style requires homework between meeting sessions, and I jumped into that work with exuberance I have never previously felt in group studies. Precepts provides all the questions and focuses of study, and while following it, teaches the learner how to ask his own questions and how to translate the Bible’s message personally.
At the twelfth and final session, I did not feel ready to finish. The small group I had met with twelve times had grown in many directions as well as bonded, and now we needed to go forth and multiply.
The Precepts technique works for me. I will take another official study very soon, probably online, and challenge myself to understand the technique in deeper ways.
Step 4: Take off the training wheels.
Armed with the experiences of 6 months of Bible study trial and error, guidance, and technique, an invitation came to me to attend a women’s conference with Lisa TerKeurst, guest speaker. Yes, please! I follow Proverbs 31 devotionals via e-mail each day, and Lysa’s words and encouragement have flowed from sources like KLOVE Radio, Facebook at Proverbs 31 Ministries and at her official FB page, Lysa TerKeurst. I signed up as fast as I could pray, think, and check with my husband about it.
At the conference, we heard from Lysa about her current book, Uninvited, and how our relationship with God can cover all forms of human rejection that we may have faced or will face, and that giving our first minutes of the day to our Creator can make the difference between a good day and a great day. All good. The nugget I found at this conference, a treasure I keep with me every day, is the devotional app Lysa introduced to us, called First 5. I downloaded First 5 that day, and began reading and studying with it the very next morning.
Hallelujah, Amen. Why?
This daily reading and study, named for the idea disciplining ourselves to giving our waking moments to God as a personal sacrifice, and as our first connection of the day, has changed my life, has given me another leg up on connecting with and learning from God’s word, and has made me want to learn even more.
Step 5: Kick it up a notch, stylize, grow, and love God’s word.
First 5 stands as the one devotional/study I have done that has remained with me for many months, and I look forward to it’s fresh and timely instruction on a new chapter every day. I can interact with others, if I wish, or keep to myself. Every day can be a little bit different!
Along with First 5, I continue the Precepts method, usually working on the chapter from the current day’s First 5, as well as branching out into other books. For instance, now, I work through the First 5 chapter in 2 Samuel in the morning, and in the evening, I am roaming Genesis, chapter by chapter.
I have found greater joy in reading and studying, and include some word study (from the Hebrew and Greek, usually using Google and my big ol’ concordance). No one could have paved this path for me, other than God. No one could have suggested the stops I have made along the way. Certainly, I can find encouragement from others as I share what I have discovered and connected. That’s a great aspect of the Christian community a person build when attending a church and other faith-based activities — others will smile in a knowing way when they recognize themselves in someone’s struggle or victory. Some will come alongside and help push through the tough spots, and still others will offer simple encouragement.
Each of our paths may look very different from anyone else’s, and that’s why it’s a walk in faith … God has a plan for each of us, and we must find our own way, rather than copy, mirror, or mimic anyone else’s path.
The time to start? Now.
Who’s stopping you? Probably you.
Who’s in this with you? God. He knows everything, is everywhere, and created the whole thing to begin with — no doubt, he’ll make a great guide for you, too. All you need to do is pray and take that first step.