Yes, that’s the book for me.
I stand alone on the Word of God.
This popular children’s song sums up a great truth in a few lines- the Bible is the book for us, and we can stand alone (with confidence) on God’s Word. But how many of us really know how to do that? We teach our children that all the answers we need are found in God’s Holy Word, and yet how many of us go to another source for answers?
I am not a Bible scholar, but I love God’s Word. I’ve completed many different Bible studies: some in a classroom, some on my own with a workbook requiring me to fill in blanks, some that included extensive historical perspectives and wise leaders providing lectures filled with insights. I’ve also taught preschool children for nearly a decade. Do you want to know what I’ve discovered? Children are often more comfortable exploring God’s Word than the adults who are supposed to be the examples!
In this digital age of quick answers and access to millions of perspectives from around the world, we’ve become intimidated by the oldest source of information available: the Bible. Many of us are unfamiliar with even the most basic knowledge of the Bible; did you know there are sixty-six books in the Bible? Thirty-nine are in the Old Testament, and twenty-seven are in the New Testament. The books of the Bible are also divided into groups, such as Law, History, Poetry, Prophecy and Letters.
In a standard Bible (assuming there is no lengthy commentary or added study aids), if you open your Bible to the middle, you’ll find yourself in the Old Testament, usually in Psalm or Proverbs. If you then open to the middle again, on the left, you’ll find yourself in the Old Testament, usually in 1 or 2 Samuel. Open to the middle on the right side (instead of the left) and you’ll be in the New Testament, usually Matthew, which is the first book of the New Testament.
Perhaps you already knew those things, and you may even know the books of the Bible- in order! The question now is what are you doing with that knowledge? Do you rely on workbooks, videos, or Bible teachers to lead you in your study? Many “old” Christians are still nervous about opening their Bible and letting God lead their study- they are afraid that they will miss something if they don’t have a commentary or workbook. Many of us wonder if we can discover the “right” answer on our own, without someone guiding us to understanding.
The Holy Spirit inspired the entire Bible, but we often forget what that means. Consider this: if God could inspire fishermen, shepherds, prophets and kings to hear and record the Message that would stand for eternity, why do we think we can’t trust the Holy Spirit to lead us in understanding that same Message?
The truth is that we can trust the Holy Spirit to lead us. God wants to speak directly to us, and we must learn to come to the Bible with confidence. God has blessed us with many gifted writers and teachers, but satan has convinced us of the lie that only gifted writers and teachers can understand God’s Word. It is my prayer that you will accept the challenge to come to God’s Word expectantly and confidently, using only the Holy Spirit to guide your study.
In order to gain confidence in your ability to understand God’s Word, begin by finding a translation of the Bible that is comfortable for you to read. Perhaps the most common is the New International Version, but there are many options available. A good way to choose the translation that suits you is to go to a Bible bookstore and read a familiar passage in 2 or 3 different translations. Ask your minister or friends who are actively studying the Bible which translation they prefer. Ultimately, the translation you choose must be one that you can easily understand and feels natural to you.
The truth is that few adults actually know all the books of the Bible, and certainly not in order. Don’t feel that you must memorize them before you begin to study. The Bible is a book, and like every book, the Bible has a table of contents. Don’t be afraid to use it! I promise that as you study and become familiar with God’s Word, you’ll naturally learn the books of the Bible.
Before you begin studying, pray! Ask God to use the Bible to speak to you, and ask the Holy Spirit to help you understand God’s Word and apply it to your life. Then, simply begin with B-I-B-L-E:
“Be” aware of the emotions, questions and/or anxieties you are bringing before God. Be ready to focus on nothing but God’s Word. Be willing to stop on a passage of Scripture for as long as it takes for you to glean the message of it.
“Inquire” about what you feel God wants you to understand. Is there a person or situation that keeps coming to your mind? Consider what it is that resonates with you at that moment. Is it a verse or phrase that keeps coming to you unexpectedly? Is there a praise song that echoes as you go through your day? Most Bibles have a concordance at the very back. This is a wonderful tool when you don’t feel led to a specific passage, but you sense a word, phrase or emotion that comes to you again and again. The concordance lists words and phrases that are found in specific Bible verses. You can use the concordance to lead you to specific passages within the Bible that address what is on your heart. Pray as you read, pausing to ask God to confirm when you’ve found the passage you are supposed to study that day.
“Believe” that you will hear God’s voice. Believe that the Bible contains the insight you seek. Believe that God wants to speak to you. Believe that you are capable of understanding and recognizing God’s voice. Believe that the Bible is the true, complete, and inspired Word of God. Believe that the Bible is relevant and alive, able to advise and encourage you as you seek to hear the voice of God.
“Listen” as you read the Bible. Pay attention to the details. Many times God chooses to reveal the message a little at a time. You may not be able to comprehend the full extent of the insight God wants you to gain until hours or even days later. Listen for confirmation of the whispers of insight that you sensed during your Bible study. Listen for opportunities to share and discuss what you’ve read with others. There are no coincidences, and you can trust the God will confirm the message you sensed as you studied.
Finally, Spirit-led Bible study requires that you “Expect” that God will speak to you. Expect that the Holy Spirit is capable of communicating to everyone on a personal level. Expect to leave God’s Word with a thought or insight that resonates with you. Expect that God’s ability to communicate is never affected by our ability to listen. God knows your heart and you can trust that God the Creator is capable of producing understanding and insight in everyone. Wait upon the Lord. Expect that God will meet you.
Now that you’ve discovered the passage that you feel God wants you to study, now what? This is the hard part, isn’t it? This is the place where we long for someone to give us questions to answer, or to tell us what it all means. This is actually where things get exciting, because this is where the Holy Spirit begins to speak the loudest. Now it’s time to “S-T-U-D-Y.”
Read through the text, including the verses immediately before and after the passage you are drawn to study. It often helps to read through the entire chapter so that you can understand how the passage fits into the bigger message and not risk misunderstanding a specific verse because you’ve considered it out of context. Now that you’ve gotten a general idea of the context, re-read the passage you are studying very slowly, underlining or noting on a piece of paper anything that seems “Significant” to you. “Significant” is personal, and will be different for most people. Finding what is Significant is as simple as noticing words or phrases that seem to “jump out” as you read, or even phrases that cause you to pause and try to understand what is being said. Perhaps you’ve noticed a word or phrase that has been repeated; often this indicates something Significant. Now isn’t the time to try to understand why something seems Significant, you’re just paying closer attention to details that God may use to connect with you.
Now that you’ve noticed words or phrases that seem significant, consider the “Theme” of the passage. What seems to be the main idea? Who is speaking? Who is the audience? Let your imagination wander- if the setting or situation is described in the text; consider the sights, sounds, and emotions of the Theme. Can you think of a modern setting that would be similar?
Now consider what you “Understand” about the passage you just read. What questions do you still have about the text? What seems clear to you? Sometimes it will help you to Understand if you re-read the passage slowly, pausing to consider the significant words and phrases. Another way to increase what you Understand is to retell the text using your own words. If it still seems difficult to Understand, it is often helpful to read the same passage in a different translation of the Bible. The key is not expecting to Understand everything. Review what you do Understand and note what questions remain. Be willing to return to this passage again and again until you are confident that you fully Understand what God is saying to you. Here is where you must resist the temptation to go to a commentary or the notes in a study Bible to give you the answer. Wait to use those tools until after you Understand what God is saying to you personally. Commentaries and historical insights are valuable tools and I highly recommend them- AFTER you know that you’ve heard God speaking to you personally.
Each time we study the Bible, we “Discover” something new. Even if we have read or studied the same passage numerous times, God wants us to Discover more today than we did yesterday. What did you notice that you might not have seen before? What does this Scripture passage say about God’s character? What new idea or perspective do you have now that you’ve read this passage several times? Is there something else that you feel God wants you to Discover that still seems hidden?
Finally, ask what God is saying to “You” in this passage. If this isn’t immediately obvious, stop and pray about it. Ask God to give You insight into what You need to know today. Review the significant words and phrases and ask God to show You what made them “jump out.” Don’t give up. Be patient and confident that God has a personal message that You need to understand. Perhaps it isn’t something that applies directly to your life, but is something that God wants You to share with someone who is going to be placed in your path. Expect. Trust. Wait. God speaks; we only need to learn how to listen when the Holy Spirit uses the Bible to communicate with us.