BY MICHELLE WILLIAMS, GRACE ATTENDER
Thinking about diving into a dense, ancient text from cover to cover on your own can be a daunting venture. That’s why Grace Church is committed to offering resources and helpful guidance on how to study the Bible. Even if you’re brand new to the Bible, you can achieve a personally meaningful experience that will leave a lasting impact on your life as you begin to read and study these pages.
Read on for ideas and insight that can help you go from overwhelmed to excited about immersing yourself in the Bible!
A Solid Foundation
Before you dive into the Bible, take a bit of time to orient yourself. Consider listening to a few sermons from Grace Church’s initial BYOB series, especially the first and second sermons. You’ll gain such a valuable baseline perspective of not only how to study the Bible, but an overview of the genres you’ll encounter, the overall storyline and themes, and also encouragement for discovering passion and joy in the pages.
In addition to the information available from Grace Church, one of our favorite outside resources is The Bible Project. You’ll find a comprehensive How to Read the Bible video series and other helpful guides at bibleproject.com.
Finally, we strongly encourage you to review The Three Worlds and the Text Concept. Our pastors outlined this helpful practice for us during the first BYOB series, and it has changed everything for so many Bible readers at Grace Church! Check it out and you’ll see why.
Common Reading Practices
You don’t have to go this alone! There are a lot of people who are so passionate about the Bible and its blessings, and many have developed helpful reading practices and styles. You can learn from those who have traversed the path before you, and your experience will be enriched as a result.
The brand new Bible reader may find guided devotions extremely helpful. Similar to a church sermon, you’ll study passages in the Bible alongside someone who has devoted their own time to studying and understanding the underlying meaning and its current-day application from their own perspective. You’ll find a plethora of guided devotions around the interwebs. YouVersion offers a Bible app that delivers the Bible in a comprehensive set of languages and translations as well as a full library of guided devotional plans. Coming alongside an experienced Bible reader can be one of the easiest ways to start extracting your own treasures from its text.
Lectio Divina is a reading practice almost as ancient as the Bible itself. This study style, literally translated as sacred reading, is a repetitive, thoughtful reading and contemplation of Scripture passages with an attitude of surrender and openness. Some traditions instruct reading the chosen passage a minimum of four times to become deeply immersed in it. The practice involves imagining that you’re personally part of the story, seeing the ancient surroundings and imagining life in that moment. As you read, watch for words or phrases that pop out at you and ask God to guide you. You might journal about your responses to the passage and then sit quietly and listen for God to speak to you. Many have deepened their relationship with God through this spiritual practice.
More recently, Inductive Bible Study was introduced as a method for how to study the Bible. This practice is carried out in a process combining three skills—observation, interpretation and application. Observation of a passage is gaining an understanding of what the text is saying. After your observation, you should be able to paraphrase a summary of the chapter. An interpretation of the passage is the discovery of its meaning. Interpretation might involve investigating cross-referenced Scripture, consulting word meanings, or digging into the cultural background. The application phase overlays the meaning of the passage onto your current life situation so that you may contemplate the impact your learning should make for you personally. You may prefer to keep a journal for making observation, interpretation and application notes through each chapter as you read.
Begin With a Plan
What do you hope to discover in the Bible? Are you simply curious about the contents of the pages? Do you have unanswered questions for God? Do you feel like something is missing in your life and maybe you’ll find it in an exploration of Scripture? Do you desire to know who this man named Jesus is and what he was all about? As you learn more about how to study the Bible, consider also why you are studying the Bible. Knowing your personal why can help to fan your flames during the times you encounter pieces of the text that are difficult to wade through.
When I was relatively new to regularly studying the Bible, I was intrigued by a suggestion I heard from Dr. Matthew Sleeth when he spoke at Grace Church about Creation Care. He said, “The next time you read through the Bible, pay close attention to the meaning and importance of trees. Trees show up a lot in the Bible. You’ll find sometimes that very specific information is given about the types of trees in particular stories. It’s fascinating.” His simple suggestion was enough to put my curiosity into overdrive, and it helped me push through even the depths of Leviticus the first time I stumbled into the book.
If you have questions you want answered, write down as many as you can think of prior to opening the Bible. After you’ve done this, try to let go of your own expectations regarding the answers. Commit to approaching the Bible with an open mind and a listening ear. Also, practice letting go of the strong need for answers at all and instead focus on patiently abiding in God for the wisdom and guidance your life needs. I started reading the Bible with an extensive list of questions, some of which I found to be sufficiently answered in rapid-fire progression right there in the book of Genesis. But I’m still mulling over some of the other questions with God to this day. I’ve found that abiding with God in the mystery of it all can be very fulfilling. Letting go of the need for certainty over time has brought great comfort and peace to my life, and that’s something I wasn’t expecting as I began my regular practice of Bible study.
We are excited for you to dig in now that you know a little more about how to study the Bible. As you become more familiar with the text, you’ll understand why so many of our worldly neighbors have been transformed by their experiences with God’s Word. You’ll be touched by the love God feels for humanity and changed by the demonstration of the love that Jesus revealed to us during his life. You might even feel pulled in to the mission God has for us as followers of Christ.