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.

Chew on This for Awhile

I’ll never forget my first week of gymnastics practice at Georgia Tech, 37 years ago.  I would arrive at the locker room to get dressed for our workout and two of my new teammates would be talking to each other about Bible verses they had written out on small index cards.  They were telling each other the insights they had gleaned from their respected verses as they thought about them while walking to and from classes that day.  Eventually they included me in these discussions.  At first I thought they were weird. I had never seen anyone mediate on Scripture and I certainly had never heard anyone talk about what God was saying to them.  Yet I wanted what these guys had.  I wanted to learn to how to have God speak directly to me from the Bible.

The Willow Creek Association made the following discovery during their Reveal Survey: “Reflection on Scripture is the most powerful spiritual practice to help people move forward in their love for God and others.”  In other words, meditating on Scripture is the single most important practice for the maturity of a follower of Jesus.  Meditating on Scripture is the concentrated reflection on a verse or passage until we not only understand it in its Biblical context but we have heard from the Holy Spirit as to how it intersects with our lives.

Mediating on Scripture can take many forms.  My teammates taught me to write out a Bible verse each day during my devotional time with God.  They encouraged me to carry that verse around with me throughout the day.  So I did.  As I went from class to class, I remembering asking questions about the verse:  What does it mean? What am I to do with it?  I personalized the verse: “Jim. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so Jim may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:6).  I would paraphrase the verse: “Whenever I am in a conversation I need to make sure my words are always kind, forgiving and point people to Jesus.”  Most importantly, I prayed about the verse.  I would pray that God would help me understand the verse and show me how he would have me apply it that day.

You may want to do this with the verses you are memorizing.  After all, memorization without meditation is an empty discipline.

Today, I meditate mostly by writing about a verse in my SOAP journal.  That exercise has all the ingredients of good meditation: Observation (What does it mean?). Application (What am I to do with it?), and Prayer (Lord, help me apply this).

What is your favorite way to mediate and reflect on Scripture?

Hiding the Word in My Heart

Scripture memory has been a practice of God’s people from the beginning.  Shortly after Moses gave the Israelites the law, he instructed them to commit it to memory. Deuteronomy 6:4-9, Joshua 1:8 and Psalm 119:11 are among many verses that indicate that memorizing and meditating on God’s word was to be a common practice.  There can be no doubt that Jesus, as well as the New Testament writers, had committed a large amount of Scripture to memory.  We know that memorization of Scripture was a major part of a young Jewish person’s training.  Furthermore, throughout history great men and women of the faith have added Scripture memory to their devotional practices.

I learned to memorize Scripture early on in my Christian walk.  I was introduced to the Navigator’s Topical Memory System when I was in college.  These 60 verses taught me a pattern of memorization that I have continued.   I have now memorized over 400 verses.  I have also memorized whole books of the Bible.  I personally prefer memorizing key verses and paragraphs over whole books.  That, however, is a personal preference.  There is no right or wrong way to memorize. The key is to start committing God’s word to memory.

I will share with you what I do.  As I said, it isn’t the only way, but it is what I know and what works for me.

  • When I am reading the Bible and come to a verse that stands out as one that I would want to commit to memory, I write its reference inside the front cover of my Bible.  Usually these are verses on which I have made a SOAP journal entry.  Periodically, I write or type out these verses on index or business cards.
  • I memorize a new verse every week.  I mostly do this during my devotional time.  However, by writing them on small cards I can take them with me during the day.  When I have a spare moment I can pull out the memory verse and work on committing it to memory.
  • Every day I review a number of previously memorized verses.  I like to cycle through all my memorized verses and review them at least once every two weeks.  Periodically, it is good to have someone check me as I review my verses.  I have been surprised at how easy it is to memorize a verse incorrectly and not even know until someone corrects me.
  • I always say the reference to the verses before and after reciting the actual words of the verse. I have found that once I memorize a verse, I tend to remember the words. However, unless I am diligent to say the references before and after every time I review the verse, I can easily forget where it is found.
  • I never want to forget the context of the verse I have memorized.  Occasionally I have to go back to the passage and remind myself who said the verse and why.  I don’t want to ever quote the verse and apply it incorrectly.

There are lots of mnemonic trick and tips.  My way is not too clever.  I just keep saying a phrase at a time until I have the verse memorized.

How do you memorize Bible verses? Have you memorized whole books?  Which ones?

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