Eight Ways to Kickstart Bible Study Time in 2020
Do you feel like your Bible study time needs refreshing? I certainly have felt that need.
Several years ago, after the beginning of a new year, I realized I had been limiting my time in the Bible to merely hopping around. I’d read one verse or a single story without really taking time to savor the what I was reading.
I also realized I had several other books I had read and reread more times than any one book in scripture. If you asked me, I could easily quote portions of those books at the drop of a hat. Why wasn’t I doing that with the Bible?
So, I made the typical New Year’s Resolution. I would read through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation and I would read specifically to learn what I could about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. I determined I would need my Bible, a concordance, a new journal, a couple of different colors of pens and dry highlighters.
Then I claimed Isaiah 50:4-5 as a promise that at whatever time God woke me up in the morning I would get up and spend time in Bible study.
What I didn’t learn until a year later was that that while I was feeling an urgent need to spend deliberate daily time in Bible reading and study, God was impressing my best friend to pray for me every morning.
God showed His faithfulness, every morning that year I woke up before the time set on my alarm clock. I had enough time to spend in prayer, reading and journaling and no matter how early I was awakened I always had energy for the the whole day.
That year-long journey richly enhanced my faith and walk with God. I’ve grown to love studying His Word and how it encourages and enlightens my life.
As we begin a new year and a new decade I thought it would be helpful for me to review some of the ways to dig deeper into God’s word.
Rewrite the Text
Rewriting the text is helpful. It enables you to identify key words and sentences in the text you are studying as well as improving memorization. When you have identified the key words and ideas you can recognize the connections within the passage which in turn makes it possible to create an outline.
For example, studying about prayer by reading Jesus’ words recorded in Mathew 6:5-15 from the Sermon on the Mount you would rewrite a portion of this text:
“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Matthew 6:5-8 ESV
Now that you’ve rewritten the text and identified the key words and ideas you can make a simple outline. Here is an example using Matthew 6:5-15:
“Jesus Teaches Us How to Pray”— Matthew 6:5–15
A. How not to pray, Matthew 6:5, 7, 8
- Hypocritically in public, 6:5
- With useless repetition, 6:7, 8
B. How to pray, 6:6, 9–13
- In private to your Heavenly Father, 6:6
- Following the pattern of Jesus’ model prayer, 6:9–13
There are two ways to go about studying words in scripture. You can study words by Bible books and you can do a general word study.
When studying words by Bible books you are paying attention to key words in the book that have special significance. For example, if you you are studying the book of First John you will find it helpful to pay attention to how John uses the words light and darkness. By doing so you are digging deeper and paying attention to the message John was seeking to give.
With general word study you will make use of a concordance to find and trace great words that underpin doctrines of the Bible. For example you might follow the word “grace” from the Old Testament and on through the New Testament. In so doing you will begin to see how God has always extended and dealt with humanity in grace.
Examine a Verse
When you study by verses you will find some that seem to be very straight forward having one simple meaning. However, many verses found throughout scripture are rich with great Bible truths demanding more detailed study.
There are many ways for you to study a single verse and sometimes using a combination of these ways will give you a richer reward. Here are some different ways you can study a verse.
Study a verse by paying attention to the verbs, pay attention to the nouns, identify the personalities, and look for the great ideas revealed.
Let’s look at John 3:16 and find what stand out with focus on the verbs, “loved … gave … should not perish … have …”
You could make a comparative list like this:
- God loved…Humankind believes
- God gave…Humankind shall not perish…Humankind has everlasting life.
Or look at the simple straightforward message reveled by focusing on the nouns: “God … world … only begotten Son … whoever … everlasting life.”
By taking time to settle into a verse and dig you will come away not only with deeper understanding you will also settle it more firmly in your memory for better recall.
Not ready to study by chapters or you are finding that the chapter is so loaded you need to slow down. Study a paragraph at a time. Remember a paragraph is usually several sentences of thought in writing.
Pay attention to headings and chapter titles, if your Bible has them. If it doesn’t, watch for when the author changes the subject. Sometimes a new paragraph can indicate a new subject.
Then, as you read and journal, use the study tips that you use for word and verse study. Again, read carefully for main topic or thought.
Chapter by Chapter
Depending on the Bible translation you are using, the Old and New Testaments average a total of 1,189 chapters. By pacing yourself a chapter a day, you can study your way through the Bible in a little over three years.
While reading a chapter you will need to read carefully, seek to find the main subject or subjects. Give each chapter a title that identifies its main content. Some translations already have the chapters titled so this part may be simple, however don’t skip them.
Pay attention and reread the chapter. Make a simple outline that includes the main thoughts. Journal any practical or theological problems or questions that appear as you reread the chapter.
Next, make use of your concordance. Identify the key words in those verses and search what other portions of the Bible reveal answers to your questions you’ve written down. Compare scripture with scripture to seek its true meaning.
Remember, just like reading a letter or any other book. Context is important. To truly understand one chapter, you must study it with the surrounding chapters.
Read a Book
The skills you develop studying verses, paragraphs and chapters will serve you well as you begin to study the Bible by books. Here are a couple of methods for studying by Bible books.
One way to study a book of the Bible is called the inductive method. This process is made up of reading the book several times and studying the details of the book. Comparing scripture with scripture and from those details drawing general conclusions and principles regarding the contents and purpose of the book and then finding practical application to your own life.
Another way to study an entire book is called the synthetic method. There are similarities between this method and the inductive method. However, with this one you are reading more to gain a general overview of the book without digging for details. Often this study becomes more of an historical study.
Either of these two methods will require you to slow down and take time to read and reread the book. Each time you read ask yourself relevant questions and journal the answers you find as you read.
Here are some important questions to ask at each rereading.
- First reading: What is the main theme or emphasis of this book? What are the key verses?
- Second reading: Keeping the theme of the book in mind, pay attention to how it is emphasized and developed. Look for any special problems or applications.
- Third reading: What am I learning about the author and their circumstances when they wrote the book?
- Fourth reading: What am I learning about the people to whom the book was written? What were their circumstances, needs, or problems?
- Fifth reading: What are the main divisions of the book? Is there any outline apparent in the logical order and development of the book?
- Sixth and successive readings: Look for other facts and/or information that your earlier readings have suggested. By now certain words will stand out in the book. Pay attention to how often they occur.
Pick a Topic
Studying the Bible according to topics or subject is closely related to the method of studying by words. The list of topics is unlimited! Here are a few ideas to get you started. You can dive in and study about God’s promises, prayer, poems, and songs.
For a topical study on prayer you look up the word “pray” and “prayer” in your concordance as well as looking up every form of the word and related word such as “ask” and “intercession.”
Study these verses and bring together all the teachings on prayer that you find. You will find conditions of prayer, words to be used, results to expect, when to pray, and where to pray.
It is worthwhile to take the time to study the Bible through biographies. Taking time to study the people of the Old and New Testaments shows how God revealed Himself to people and through people like you and me. Here are a few individuals to get you started:
To begin your study, read the Bible book or passages in which this person’s life is prominent, for example, Abraham in Genesis 12–25, plus references to Abraham in Hebrews 11 and Romans 4.
Trace character with your concordance.
Be careful to note indirect references to the person in other portions of Scripture. Make note of the individual’s relationship and responses to God. Ask God how He wants to work in your life.
These eight Bible study methods are in no way an exhaustive list. You and I are each unique individuals that God speaks to differently. In my experience there is no single right way to study God’s Word.
Keep in mind that these are just a few examples, not rules that you have to follow to the letter. Having said that, there is one non-negotiable study rule I’ve set for myself.
Every time I open the Bible I start with prayer. I ask the Holy Spirit to lead and enlighten my study of the Word. I encourage you to do the same.
He’s promised that when we ask, we will receive.