How to Grow in Bible Literacy, Part 1

Most Christians want to know their Bibles better. Of course we do. It is the word of God written for his people. But in order to do that we need good tools. Below are some of the things I’ve learned over the years of trying.

Make it a Habit

All the books about habit building that have come out recently should tell us something about the usefulness of habits. If we try to study God’s word only intermittently, we will grow in our knowledge, but not by much. Just like every teacher you ever had said, you’ll learn a lot more if you study a little bit every day than if you try to cram in long study sessions every few months.

Don’t Just Read, Study

Many of us were taught to read our Bibles daily, and that’s great place to start. In fact, reading is the first step of studying. But it is only the first step. I don’t follow a Bible reading plan anymore because studying has produced so much more fruit. I followed one for years, but eventually gave it up so that I would have more time to study. It’s been a good decision. That said, if you’re unfamiliar with the Bible as a whole or have never read the whole book, reading it through will help you know more context as you study. As you read, make at least a little time to practice the habits of closer study.

Read Repetitively

Even though we want to do more than simply read scripture, in order to study well, we must read a lot. For shorter passages, plan on reading them through at the beginning of each study session. When studying large sections of scripture, like a whole book, read it through two or three times before digging into the details. As you go, study the passage a few chapters at a time. At the beginning of each study session, read those chapters. In addition, occasionally re-reading the whole book will help you to put everything in context.

Have a Plan

I usually have a game plan for what I want to work on during my study time. When I sit down, I already know that I will compare two passages, or look for all the characteristics of God I can within a passage. This means I can use the full half hour I have for studying, rather than spending the first ten minutes figuring out my next step. Not only does this strategy mean I use my time better, it also makes one day’s learning flow into the next more effectively.

However, sometimes I hear my son stirring before I even get to my desk. Toddlers don’t regard clocks. They just wake up yelling “choo choo” for no apparent reason. When that happens, I save my plan for the next day, and just read the passage as much as I can before he comes running to me, demanding snuggles. Even in this unplanned reading, I generally notice something I hadn’t seen before or think of a question. I usually can’t do anything except mark it in the margins, but it helps move my study process forward despite the abbreviated time.

Employ Marginalia

Read from a copy of the text with lots of room for marking things. It should be double spaced with a good sized margin. Plan on filling it up as you go along. If you have a beautiful Bible that just feels to precious to write in, take that to church along with a notebook, but study out of something you can write all over. I have a growing collection of black binders full of printed copies of various passages. The printed pages give me the mental freedom to write all over the page, no matter how insignificant a note seems, because I’ll never run out of room. I can just print another copy.

Pray the Scriptures

As you study, pray through the passage. Pray not only for your study, but also pray the scriptures back to God. This practice deepens my understanding and helps me connect what I’m learning to the character of God. My cerebral self needs to slow down and be with God through his Word, not just study it. Otherwise, I’ll slip into treating it like a text book rather than the living word of God.

Apply What You’ve Learned

Most of us jump to application. We do our morning quiet time and try to find something to take away, to apply and obey. The desire to obey is good, but we need to do a lot more work to get to applications that are actually from scripture, rather than what we think scripture might be saying. However, we should not study to the neglect of applying God’s word to our lives. In fact, in the application of God’s word, we develop better eyes to see the truth of God’s word, which grows our love for Him and his word. 

If you feel lost in getting started studying the Bible, I pray that these tips help you along your path. I’ve never implemented these perfectly, nor do I think I ever will. But by coming back to them again and again, I have had the joy of growing in my knowledge of the Lord. God has made his word accessible. We just have to do the work to understand it. 

Next week, I’ll share some more practices I’ve learned over the years of trying to grow in my knowledge of scripture.

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