Most Christians think it is important to study the Bible
Most of my Christian friends say that they think they should study the Bible more than they do. Some have a daily time for Bible reading, some don’t, but in general, all seem to feel that they should study more. Churches usually provide Bible study classes in some form, and of course, sermons contain Bible teaching. Why does a Christian need to study the Bible? And if study is a necessity, how might an individual go about it?
I don’t think I can speak for anyone else, so I will speak for myself. My answer to the first question is this. I need to study the Bible, because there is no better way to shine God’s light of truth on myself. If I am ever going to be different than I am today, I need to see the things in my life that ought to change. I cannot be transformed by God’s truth, if I don’t know God’s truth. I can learn the truth by studying the Bible.
Some might say that it is presumptuous for a private individual to read and interpret the Bible on her own. After all, it is a big book full of complex teaching. An individual can hardly sort it out without help. My response to that point is that there are lots of helps available – dictionaries, maps, commentaries, and even well-designed studies of specific texts. In fact, the amount of help available is almost overwhelming. However, there is one help that is available to every Christian without charge. Every Christian can call on the indwelling Holy Spirit for help understanding the Bible.
It takes time and prayer to develop a habit of studying the Bible
For many years, my personal study time has begun with a prayer that the Holy Spirit will shine the light of Truth on what I read and then shine the light of Truth on my life in order that I may apply God’s Truth in my life. I don’t claim that I have received any startling visions or messages as a result. Rather, as I read, there is a dawning of recognition of the relationship of the Bible text to some aspect of my life. I have never taken any big growth spurts. Rather, my growth in the faith has been nourished bite by bite. When I look back ten years, I can see that I have grown, but day to day, it sometimes seems that I learn nothing.
I do not limit my search for help in understanding to my prayers to the Holy Spirit. After all, God does not need to take the Holy Spirit’s time (please forgive my anthropomorphic reference to time for an eternal being) to teach me ancient history or Middle East geography or languages or archeology. God has given me a mind, and he has led many people to write many books that are helpful. In fact, with the passage of time, I realize that the Holy Spirit expects me to inform myself intellectually in every way that I can in order for the transformational teaching to be as rich as possible.
No single study method is best for every occasion or for every person
This realization leads to the second question – if I need to study, how do I go about it?
There are many ways to study the Bible. Whole books have been written on the subject of Bible study methods. I find that listing all the possibilities leaves me very confused and defeated. I can’t do all that. I am not eternal or infinite, so I am limited by time. My intellect has its limits, too, so I don’t understand all the helps. My personality has its own quirks, and that might mean I don’t want to outline the book of Isaiah. There are many ways to study the Bible, but each person must find the way that bears fruit.
For me, a couple of things are central to my study. First, I read passages from the Old and New Testaments daily. I follow a plan that covers the whole Bible in two years. I also read and meditate on the Daily Texts issued by the Moravian Church. These readings expose me to a lot of teaching. On any normal day, only one thought emerges with relevance to my life at the moment. I probably miss a lot of bigger truths, but I made the decision long ago that I would try to focus on one thing at a time.
Second, I write down my thoughts and meditations. At first, I thought I was simply keeping a journal of my discoveries. However, I have come to understand that the very act of writing down my thought becomes a vehicle for the Holy Spirit to open my mind to new teaching. For me, writing down my thoughts on the text as they develop allows me to worry with troubling concepts and try out explanations and applications on paper. I might be able to come to the same understanding without writing, but my personality is better served by the act of writing. I explore and think all the time by means of writing, and it is my best tool for study and analysis.
As I read and as I write, I take my questions and thoughts to other resources. I have the good fortune to possess quite a few biblical resource books in electronic form, which makes it easy to search them. I also have internet access, and I do some of my research there. But most importantly I try to acquire the intellectual resources in order to give the Holy Spirit as much to work with as possible. It is the leading of the Holy Spirit that reshapes my life.
Bible study is not about more knowledge; it is about transformation
When I was a child, I thought knowing about the Bible was knowledge. I could recite the books in order. I knew the names of the twelve apostles and the twelve tribes. I knew so many Bible stories that my Sunday School teachers were annoyed. However, none of that intellectual content changed my life. In fact, if anything, it made me a little arrogant, or fomented what one teacher called a supercilious air. I actually thought that knowing the facts made me a better Christian than others.
I had to grow up to realize that people who couldn’t even find the book of Haggai were generous to the poor and kind to old people. I struggled to understand the deep meaning of “thou shalt not lie,” but I regularly deceived people by playing games with words I thought they did not understand. I knew the names of the fruits of the spirit, but I didn’t possess any of them.
Then one day, I came face to face with the reality of the cross. I had heard the story and told the story for a lifetime, but the reality had never hit me before. I finally understood that Jesus died for me, and that God had forgiven me, not because I could list the minor prophets, but for Jesus’ sake. I finally realized that knowing about God was not the same thing as knowing God.
God reveals himself in the Bible; Bible study helps us get to know him
That is when I began studying the Bible the right way. The right way to study the Bible is to read it in the full knowledge that it is a revelation that changes your life. It points you to God, and it shows you your failings. It demands that you make changes, and that is very scary. However, if you are studying with the Holy Spirit as your teacher, then you can face the truth and face the needed change with his comforting presence saying, “I will be with you.”
Bible study isn’t about knowing things; it is about knowing God
When I study the Bible, it is like the experience Moses had at the burning bush. He met God, and God asked him to do something hard. Moses made all kinds of excuses in an attempt not to make the change God was asking, but God said to him, “I will be with you.” This is what happens when I read the Bible. In the Bible, I see truth that demands I make some changes in my life. Those changes are hard, challenging, overwhelming. I can’t think how I will ever do anything God wants, but the Holy Spirit says, “I will be with you.”
That is why a Christian needs to study the Bible.
By Katherine Harms, author of Oceans of Love, available at Amazon . You can learn more about Katherine at Living on Tilt . If you are an author who is looking for an editor, visit Katherine Harms, Editor, and learn how to she can help you prepare your manuscript for publication.
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