The Lenten Season gives us opportunity to reflect on who Christ is and examine our hearts as we prepare for Easter. During Lent, many practice fasting, self-denial, or increased acts of service. It is a time to repent of our sin and receive forgiveness. The ultimate goal is heart transformation – as we enter into Christ’s suffering, we become more like him. This year, we offer this Lenten blog series as a way to help you become closer to Jesus. Each post will reflect on a different spiritual discipline – some inward, others outward; some individual, others corporate. May these spiritual practices facilitate God’s formation of your soul. Today’s post was written by Hope Edwards, one of our church members and also a student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength,” (Mark 12:30).
Love for God is far more robust than a mushy, gushy feeling. Love is a whole-person enterprise that engages our heart, soul, strength, and mind. How do we love God with all our mind? One primary means is to study Scripture. Study is a rigorous analytical investigation into God’s self-revelation by which we come to know Him, to delight in Him, and to be transformed by Him. Let’s unpack the purpose of our study and its nature, nuts and bolts, and aids.
Purpose of study
We study Scripture to know God. The Bible is the most intimate book ever written. Intimate? Yes, far from abstract propositions, the words of Scripture are the written means by which the awe-inspiring God breaks through our time/space trap to tell us who He is—His personal character, will and desires, and acts within history. And through Scripture we discover the ultimate center of knowledge is not a supreme Doctrine, but a most beautiful Person. The invisible God became visible in the face of Jesus Christ. Jesus is a Person, not a Doctrine.
Knowledge of this Person, therefore, is Life itself. Just hours before Jesus gave his life, He let his inner disciples eavesdrop on his conversation with the Father: “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (Jn. 17:3). This life-giving knowledge sets us free. Jesus said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (Jn. 8:31). And this freeing knowledge transforms our ordinary days into extraordinary acts of holy worship: “Do not be conformed to this world,” Paul exhorts, “but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2).
God pierces our hearts through our minds. May every Bible study lead to greater love for Christ.
Nature of study
Richard Foster in Celebration of Discipline lays out four steps that distinguish study from other Word-centered disciplines. First, study requires repeated practice. Like athletic drills, repetition in study creates “muscle memory” that ingrains habits of thought in the mind. The more regularly we steep our minds in Scripture, the more we develop a sense of the thoughts of God. Second, study requires concentration. Whoever said study was easy? Study involves perspiration. We can take comfort from the Apostle Peter who also found Paul’s writings to be “hard to understand” (1 Pt. 3:16). But persevere. Perspiration multiplies the pleasure when you arrive at understanding. Understanding is discerned insight into God’s reality of truth. It is like drawing back window curtains to gaze upon the good order of God’s design in our world. But understanding is not the end of study. The fruit of study is reaped in reflection. Reflection leads to wisdom. It is applied understanding. Wisdom skillfully applies new knowledge to everyday life.
Nuts and bolts of study
Study is a discipline not just for church pastors and staff or seminary professors and students. Study is for all those to whom God has given a mind—that includes you. Yes, God has hardwired every person differently, so some may “come alive” in the discipline of study and others may come alive in the disciplines of prayer, solitude, service, etc. But no matter how we are designed, we must all worship him with our minds. This involves study. So take comfort. That means the method of study is not some “ancient black belt art,” but it is a learned skill accessible to everyone.
Let’s get practical. Studying a particular Bible passage is like being a news reporter. And you can start now. You don’t need to wait to begin until you have an entire afternoon or evening blocked off. Why not carve out 35 minutes today or tomorrow morning as part of your devotions—or whenever you can pull away. If it’s helpful, grab pen and paper and a timer. Set the time for half an hour, and spend 10 minutes on each of the three questions below. Conclude your time with 5 minutes of prayer, praising God for what he has taught you about himself and asking Him to apply the truths of his Word into your day.
1) Observation: What does the passage say?
- Who: List key people and describe their role in the passage
- What: List key words and events
- When: List all expressions of time (then, when, after, before)
- Where: List all geographical locations in the passage
- Why: List terms of conclusion/result/purpose (so that, for this reason, therefore) & record the intention of the author/speaker
- How: List the procedure(s) or person(s) used to accomplish the passage action
2) Interpretation: What did the passage mean when it was written?
- Content: what is being said
- Context: verses/passages/story of which your text is a part
- Culture: examine historical/cultural settings (see tools below)
- Consultation: use secondary resources (see tools below)
3) Application: What does the passage mean for us today?
- Praise: How does greater knowledge from this passage lead me to worship God?
- Confess: In light of the truth of God’s Word, is there sin I need to confess to God that I might be forgiven?
- Obey: In light of God’s character in this passage, how should I live for him today at work, this week at home, this season of life?
- Share: With whom can I share my discovery of God’s character? A co-worker, neighbor, friend, family member? Share with not only Christians, but also non-Christians.
Aids for interpretation in study
While the discipline of study must engage you directly with God’s Word, it can be helpful to consult resources to aid interpretation, i.e. answering the question: What did the passage mean when it was written?
Check out these resources from our church library:
- dictionary: The New Strong’s Complete Dictionary of Bible Words
- encyclopedia: The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Eerdmans)
- concordance: NIV Bible Verse Finder (Zondervan); The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
- atlas: NIV Atlas of the Bible(Zondervan); Bible Atlas (Holman)
- commentaries: our Bible reference section has tons of book-specific commentaries
Source: The outline of the nuts and bolts of study is borrowed from Campus Outreach’s material on inductive Bible study methods.