How Do I Study The Bible?
People always ask; “how should I study the Bible? What’s the best method?” Should I read it front to back, or chronologically, or thematically, or in one year, or in 90 days – what’s the best way? Being a plodding type of person, I’m of the opinion that there is no short cut, no fast track, no magic method that is going to be a “best” way. I think it’s basically the old school process of… just read it! Read the Bible over and over again—not once, or twice, or three times, but many, many times. That’s really all anybody can do – is just read it. Read it until you become familiar and cognizant of its contents, until you are so familiar with your Bible, be it KJV, ESV, or The Message, that you can close your eyes and visualize the passage and locate it on a specific page exactly where it belongs.
When I was a novice musician I used to practice my scales trying to remember all the sharps and flats and key signatures as well as the different fingerings for each scale. It was information overload. I recall an occasion when I was observing an experienced professional musician warming up; watching him effortlessly and flawlessly perform the same exercises and scales that I labored through. I marveled at his ability to recall all the information.
When I asked him how he could possibly remember all the details - and perform them with such ease he replied that he had done it so long that is was automatic, that he did it without thought and without effort. I think this is how it should be with our best results at studying the bible. It should become spontaneous; involuntary. We should get to the point that we have read the bible so often, so prayerfully, so thoughtfully, so earnestly, so diligently that it comes to us instinctively on where to locate a passage. When the facts and data of the Scripture are in our heads and our hearts then we can safely rely on the Holy Spirit to interpret those facts and data – instead of relying on someone else to find and interpret them for you.
Christians must be taught and trained. To teach is to cause to know; to train is to cause to do; knowing and doing are related as a means to an end, as a cause and effect. “If you know these things, happy are you if you do them.”
Theory precedes practice. Even as a novice musician it was apparent that my practice would be unproductive if I didn’t prepare myself on the theoretical side. As a piano player I had to learn the lines on the treble clef staff: E, G, B, D, F (Every Good Boy Does Fine) as well as the spaces F,A,C,E (FACE). Then I had to learn what notes were played in a major scale, and why, as well as what fingering to use. Only after I understood these very basic things could my practice become more productive.
Just as in music, in Bible study theory precedes practice. How can someone do anything unless he knows how it should be done? We not only have to be taught, we have to be trained. We have to learn the theory; we must acquire the practice and knowledge as a means to an end. I know, it doesn’t sound very inspired. You want to just pick up the bible, randomly pick a scripture and then have wisdom pour out to you. Yeah…that’s gonna work. Okay, in plodding terms…. here’s what I mean about Theory precedes practice as it pertains to Bible Study:
To study bible you need to be born again. This is not optional. You don’t have to know how to read Greek or Hebrew – but you must be born again. It isn’t the mind that makes the theologian; it’s the heart.
To study the bible you need to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Not only is the heart changed at salvation but the Holy Spirit renews our minds. The bible says that…The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14 ESV). So, a natural, person isn’t going to accept the truth that the words of Scripture are in fact the words of God. We need to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
To study the bible you have to have a ravenous appetite for the bible. Christians who don’t have an appetite for the bible are sick. In the same way a person with no appetite for food is sick, or on his way to being sick. You have to be able to put your heart into the work for studying the bible – if you’re not hungry for it then it simply becomes dead works, a task, a drudgery and it fails. Cultivate your appetite!
To study the bible you need a work ethic. Hard work. Men don’t find gold nuggets lying around on the surface of the earth. They have to look for them, and the deeper they dig, and the harder they work, the more precious treasure they find. There are no rewards for laziness. The Word is infinite and inexhaustible, but the great need is for the hard work to diligently study it.
To study the bible requires obedience. When we discover a new truth in the Scripture it has to be create a change in our conduct and become part of our character. When we get our heads crammed with knowledge it’s like a ship with all its cargo on the upper deck – it’s top heavy ; a very dangerous and unstable condition. Likewise, scriptural truth has to move down from the head to the heart. If we don’t respond to the light that we’ve been given then God may refuse further light until I live up to what I have and obey him in what I know.
To study the bible requires humility. “If a man thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing that he ought to know”. Disciple means: Learner. God actually resists the proud – but he gives grace to the humble. It seems to be a true observation that the people who know the most think they know the least, and the people who know the least think they know it all.
To study the bible requires constant prayer. What happens when you read a passage of the bible and it doesn’t make any sense to you – what do you do? Consult your various commentaries? Yes, that’s fine…but get down on your knees and ask God, “what does that passage mean”? Then, get up and study it some more. If it still is baffling get down and pray about it some more. Then get up and go to work and let it roll around in your mind. Confess to God that you need His wisdom to understand it. Continue to pray and ask God for revelation. Martin Luther had a motto: “To have prayed will is to have studied well.”
So, how do I study the Bible? Theory precedes practice. Consider these theories and then get practicing!
Run the race to win!
By Larry Day
As a forgotten and overlooked vet of the “Cold War” I suffer silently. But each year…on 11/11 the pain returns. Its not just on this day, but many a night I wake…paralyzed with the horrifying recurring dream of a particularly bad performance of my trombone solo on Irving Berlin’s classic “Blue Skies”.
I blame myself. There is no one else to blame. There I was…a mighty Petty Officer Third Class…of the US Navy Band…a leader of a dangerous covert ops jazz band….leading highly trained and dangerous musicians…and I was getting ready to go for the high Db on the last note; and I panicked!
I’ve read about soldiers panicking when being routed in a battle; they throw their weapons on the ground and run like the hounds of hell are nipping at their heels. Now, I didn’t actually throw my horn on the ground…but, fear welled up in me…and I just knew that I was not going to make that Db.
So, Just when my shipmates needed me the most – I let them down. I let them down a perfect 4th to be exact. That’s right…I ended on the Ab…the 5th of the chord instead of nailing the tonic up on the Db.
The crowd response at the shopping mall reflected my anemic ending – by continueing to ignore us as they had during the Bee Gee’s medley of “Staying Alive / How Deep Is Your Love”.
My friend Rick…he went down fighting trying to play that Db…split his lip. The third chair trombone…Gruber…he had the sense to not even try. But me…I was like Maverick in Top Gun…the best of the best…but like him…when duty called…I flamed out.
After the gig, it was a simple trick to make my dress white uniform look like I was the ice cream guy….so, I blended in with the civilians (as was our training) and slipped away eating a waffle cone with Rocky Road. The sweet taste in my mouth a bitter contrast to my failure.
And each year…I remember. In my mind…that last note is coming at me…my chops are about to burst from the 5 minute solo…ritard…slow down…crescendo…here it comes….and then I wake up.
Its not pretty folks.
God bless you other vets out there who have served and sacrificed – and enjoyed a military band from time to time.
Seventeenth-century French philosopher (and Christian) Blaise Pascal sought to capture the conflicted state of man – the crown of creation, yet fallen:
“What sort of freak then is man! How novel, how monstrous, how chaotic, how paradoxical, how prodigious! Judge of all things, feeble earthworm, repository of truth, sink of doubt and error, the glory and refuse of the universe!”
Larry Day - reading;
Blaise Pascal, Pensees, trans. A. J. Krailsheimer (London: Penguin, 1995)
By Larry Day
I was reading some Jonathan Edwards recently and his thoughts on spiritual pride leapt off the page at me.
In his work, “Thoughts on the Revival in New England" (1742), he gives a strong account of the revival’s power, and then he gives a very strong assessment of the carnal religiosity that he believes is springing up. He was concerned that revival leaders were beginning to confuse their own hunches and impulses with God’s leading. But mostly he was saddened over the pervasiveness of spiritual pride. True then…and just as true today! Listen to him…
“[Spiritual pride] is the main door by which the devil comes into the hearts of those who are zealous for the advancement of religion … the main handle by which the devil has hold of religious persons … to clog and hinder a work of God. Pride is so serious an impediment because it diverts Christians from repentance and makes them censorious…
Spiritual pride is very apt to suspect others; whereas a humble saint is most jealous of himself, he is so suspicious of nothing in the world as he is of his own heart. … The eminently humble Christian has so much to do at home … that he is not apt to be very busy with other people’s hearts. … He is apt to esteem others better than himself, and is ready to hope that there is nobody but what has more love and thankfulness to God than he.
Spiritually proud Christians, on the other hand, are quick to censure others and quick also to separate from them if their beliefs or behaviors do not measure up. They can manifest a carnal spirituality that sets others’ teeth on edge, a self-assurance and unholy boldness, and a dogmatic inflexibility that either argues continually or will not even dialogue. Spiritual pride often disposes persons … to affect a singular way of speaking. It takes great notice of opposition and injuries that are received. It preens itself, while it neglects others.”
The Lord loves the humble and opposes the proud. Pride…spiritually or otherwise…does comes before a fall.
By Larry Day
Yup. I think I am. I just had another birthday. This one brought me to the grand old age of 52. I don’t feel 52 but, then again I’m not sure what its supposed to feel like. I don’t feel half a century old – except in the areas of our culture – specifically in our ceaseless culture of change…more specially with the contemporary church generation (of which I am a part).
I’m a plodder. That’s right. I’m a one- foot- in- front- of- the- other, non sexy, plough-horse plodder. “I plod; therefore, I am”. When it comes to the proverbial tortoise and the hare…I’m the tortoise. Yeah…that’s me; I’m the one on the right…
So, you’re asking…”Larry…are you depressed or something”? Not at all! I’m excited to be a plodder. I want more people to plod. Join me in my plodding quest. I could maybe start a “Plod-cast” with instruction for plodders.
Most people tend to like the sexier and flashier alternative to plodding; sprinting. They want everything fast…they want the scenery to be always in change. They want to say…ditch “church” and be “revolutionaries” and follow Jesus in “real” community and meet under trees, on the beach and in coffee shops. Don’t worry your pretty little self that this isn’t biblical, provides no accountability, and will fail in the long run – it feels cutting edge so it must be good - right?
I see people who want to sprint…when they have not yet mastered the art of Plodding. “What we need is to change the world”! Okay…great…you go with that. Never mind that you haven’t ever held a job, or been faithful in a marriage, haven’t ever raised a child and may still live at home…but, yeah…you go change that world!
Forget my Pastor’s teaching…look at what Bono has accomplished! Oh please! Don’t get me started! No self respecting plodder can go there! With all due respect, what’s harder… to be an idolized rock star who travels around the world wearing shades 24/7, touting good causes and chastising governments for their lack of foreign aid… or to be a line worker at a factory with four kids and a mortgage, who tithes to his church, serves on the church set-up team every week, works with the local food pantry , supports a Christian relief agency and a few missionaries from his disposable income… that’s right…plodding is harder!
You know what…I don’t recall that there is a patron saint of plodding. I think we should change that. I nominate …Ampliatus (Roman 16:8) to be the patron saint of plodding - or maybe Phlegon (v. 14) “Hey…I’ve never heard of those dudes”! Yup. And yet their names are read whenever one reads God’s word. Imagine that!
Being ordinary is okay! And being an ETRAordinary plodder is even better!
“Larry…stop it…I’m special…!”
Folks, the reality is this: Our jobs are often unexciting. Our devotional times often seem uninspired at best. Church services are often forgettable. So what. That’s life. We drive to the same places, go through the same routines with the kids, buy the same groceries at the store, and share a bed with the same person every night. Church is often the same too — same doctrines, same basic order of worship, same preacher, same people.
But guess what… in all the smallness and sameness – in all the plodding, God works! He works like the smallest seed in the garden growing to unbelievable heights, or like the beloved Tychicus, that faithful minister, delivering the mail and apostolic greetings (Eph 6:21).
The fact is this: life is usually pretty ordinary, just like following Jesus most days. Daily discipleship isn’t being a “revolutionary” each morning or an agent of global transformation every evening; it’s a long obedient plodding in the same direction. A “slog” if you will.
My mind plods as well…and I wonder…is it also possible that it’s not the church that needs a total overhaul…but, maybe, us? Is is possible that our boredom has less to do with the church, its doctrines, or its poor leadership and more to do with our unwillingness to tolerate imperfection in others - and our own coldness to the same old message about Jesus’ death and resurrection?
Is it possible that we talk a lot about authentic community but we really aren’t willing to live in it?
Hey…I’m just sayin’….
Put away your sprinter shoes and get some hiking boots and join my plodding quest to run the race…plodding style. When you get to my advanced age – you’ll be glad you did.