I grew up in church my entire life. As a kid, I learned all the stories in Sunday School, memorized all the verses in AWANA, and had many godly people pouring into my life and relationship with God. But none of that could compare to the life transformation that took place in me when I started doing one simple thing… studying the Bible for myself.
I was in Jr. High at the time and, honestly, living a pretty hypocritical life. I went through all the right motions at church, but at school would do anything to fit in and be popular. During those years I continued to be involved in our church’s youth ministry and had different men leading me in a small group setting as well as mentoring me on a personal level. On one occasion, I remember a volunteer leader named Matt talking to me about the importance of studying my Bible for myself. Now, I already knew the Bible was important. I already knew it was the very Word of God. I already knew it was the authority in my life. (Remember, I went through AWANA!) But that day talking with Matt he made me act on what I knew. He said, “Jared, I challenge you to read your Bible every day for the next month.” Whoa whoa whoa, why so legalistic? It’s not legalistic, it’s that Matt knew the Bible could do something I needed most. So, I was up for the challenge and jumped in.
I don’t remember what book of the Bible I started studying. I don’t know if you could even say I was studying the Bible, because all I knew at the time was how to read it. But each day I would get ready for school and before leaving I would read one chapter. Maybe on an especially good day I would pray when I was done reading that chapter. And you know what happened? Nothing. I can’t remember any new insights of God that took place those first two weeks as I read the Bible. But then I missed a day of reading.
The one month challenge of reading the Bible every day got the best of me and I failed. I hate failure. But guess what happened on that day. I remember standing outside on the field at recess, as a seventh grader, and whatever the circumstances where, I was having a bad day. So I stopped just for a moment and started thinking, “What’s wrong with me today?” I even said a quick prayer to ask God what was wrong with me. (He could have listed a whole bunch of things when I opened up that can… but He didn’t.) All I remember sensing at that time in my mind or heart, or both, was I didn’t read the Bible today! I DIDN’T READ GOD’S WORD TODAY!
That’s when it struck me. There was something different about this book than any other book I had ever read. This book wasn’t as much about me reading it for comprehension, as it was about opening my life to allow God to read me and guide me. That’s what did it for me. The challenge resumed, but not as a challenge, as a new desire in my heart to actually get to interact with and know the Almighty!
This book wasn’t as much about me reading it for comprehension, as it was about opening my life to allow God to read me and guide me.
I wish I could say that every day since has started with a deep time in God’s Word, but it hasn’t. The more complex my life became, the harder it was to prioritize time with God. See, many Christians (maybe even the majority) struggle with reading the Bible daily because it doesn’t seem to make much of a difference in their lives and to top it off, it’s hard to understand sometimes. But let me give some tips I’ve learned over the years following my realization of the importance of reading the Bible. And not only reading your Bible, but studying God’s Word. And not only studying to understand, but studying to be transformed by God. I’m not always ritualistic about this process, but here are some steps I try to take when I encounter God’s Word, both in preparation for preaching as well as personal study.
Start with prayer.
It doesn’t have to be long, but start by asking God to use this time to shape you. A prayer I like to say is something I picked up from one of my theology professors in college, “Lord, open your Word to my mind that I may understand it. And open my heart to your Word that I may be transformed by it.”
Ask questions of the text.
Read a section of verses as many times as needed and simply come up with questions. For example: Who is saying this? Who is receiving this? Where are they located? What does that word mean? Are there any repeated words or themes? Etc. This is a hard step to take because we can be in such a hurry to figure out what a passage means. But good questions will help reveal the meaning. Also, a pen and paper are handy for this step.
Write a sentence or two capturing the “big idea”.
Once you’ve gathered the big themes from your selected verses, make an attempt at stating the overall message or “big idea” in your own words. You might want to write several drafts of this statement to refine the words that really capture the heart of the passage. And don’t be scared about getting the “right answer”. This is about you drawing near to God, not taking a quiz.
Pray about how it applies to you and changes your life.
Finally, and most importantly, reflect on your own life in light of what God’s Word says. Are there sins to confess? Relationships that need to be restored? Habits that need to be started or stopped? The Bible is not just to be understood but to be practiced so our lives are transformed by God Himself. And transformation doesn’t happen after one time of studying, or one month of studying. We invest in the long-term process of God’s authoritative Word molding us over months and years and decades of communing with Him.
Where will you begin?
If this excites you but you don’t know where to start, consider studying the gospel of Mark. At Green Hills we’ll be hearing sermons from this book for the next 7 months, so let’s dig in and seek to know Jesus more as we strive to follow Him more closely.