The First Step in Bible Study

G. Campbell Morgan, the great Bible teacher and preacher, was known to have read a book of the Bible over 50 times before he would begin to teach it.  The more I read the Bible the more I am convinced of the wisdom of this approach.  I am currently starting a study of Hebrews in preparation for leading a men’s study of it at the first of the year.  My first step is to read through Hebrews in one setting numerous times.  Actually, I am listening to it using as many different translations as possible.  To do this I use the YouVersion app.  It takes about 45 minutes each time through.

So far I have listened to Hebrews 3 times.  Only 47 to go!  Each time I glean a better understanding of the message of the book and I realize how limited my understanding has been of some of my favorite verses from Hebrews.  Yesterday I counted that over the years I have memorized 26 verses from Hebrews.  By getting the bigger picture of the book through reading through it in single settings, my understanding of these individual verses is becoming much more complete.

Too often we approach Bible study by going straight to a verse, pulling it out of context, trying to figure out its meaning, and then looking for other verses that back up our conclusions.  When we do that, cross-referencing really becomes proof-texting.  The better approach to Bible study is to read the book in its entirety first, preferably numerous times.  Only after we grasp the big picture of the book are we ready to begin to dig into the specifics.

Try this approach.  Start with Philemon.  Read it 10 times.  It will take about 3 minutes each time.  See if this doesn’t transform the way you approach Bible study.

2 Ways to Devotional Consistency

Here are two great ways to bring some accountability into your devotional life:

  1. Find a couple  people of the same gender and meet once a week for an hour to share devotional thoughts.  When you come together over lunch or coffee, each of you read a SOAP journal entry from the previous week to each other.  This is a wonderful way to learn what God is doing in the lives of your friends.  It only takes about 15-20 minutes for everyone to share their thoughts and then you have the rest of your hour to dig deeper, pray or just visit.
  2. Come together with a small group of people once a week and do your SOAP journaling together.  Here is how that works:
  • Each person on their own reads the Scripture passage privately and records their journal entry. This works best if everyone is reading the same passage. (20 minutes)
  • Come back together as a group. Each person shares what they wrote in their journal. Talk about your discoveries. (20 minutes)
  • Pray for each other. (20 minutes)

Both of these are great ways to disciple others. Find a couple of friends and give one or both a try.

The Discipline of Godliness

When does reading the Bible on a daily basis become an obligation and a drag?  I can remember when I first began the practice of having a daily devotional time.  I was told that good devotions included a minimum of reading the Bible and prayer.  So I set out to spend some time each day to read the Bible and pray.  It was hard and took great discipline, and I didn’t have it.  Consequently, I missed a lot of days.  Over time (literally, years), however, as I practiced the discipline of spending time each day with God, it became easier.  Now it is not hard to make this the first thing I do each day.  In fact, it is something to which I look forward.

But isn’t that the way is with any discipline?  During my high school and college years I was involved in the sport of gymnastics.  We practiced and practiced.  Gymnastics is a 365 day per year sport.  To be proficient in any way requires hours of daily practice.  It was hard work.  Before I ever mastered a particular move or trick I would attempt it over and over again.  Even when I finally learned the trick, I still needed to practice it daily to maintain my proficiency with it.

I once heard someone compare their devotional life to that of a runner.  Eric Liddell in the movie Chariots of Fire tells his sister that when he runs he feels the pleasure of God.  That may have been true when he was a top runner, but when Eric first started running, he probably felt like puking.  Only once in my life did I ever get in good enough shape to enjoy running.  Until then it was a painful exercise that I frankly hated.

Before you give up on having a daily devotional time, remember that it is a discipline.  Keep in mind the words of Paul: “Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7-8).  The key to practicing the discipline of a daily devotional time is remembering the goal.  The discipline is not the goal – nurturing your relationship with the Lord is.

Reading the Bible becomes a drag and an obligation when it becomes a false form of godliness.  The practice of reading the Bible does not make me godly in and of itself.  However, by reading the Bible in a systematic way during my daily devotions and meditating on what it reveals to me about God and myself, causes me to become godly slowly but surely.

What have you done to help you build a discipline of reading the Bible?

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