Six tips for effective Bible Study

If you ask me how to grow spiritually, I will tell you to read your Bible. All of it. I’ll also tell you don’t expect to blossom into a super-Christian overnight, or even after you’ve read it through one time. I’ve been reading my Bible for more than thirty years. (I know – to some of you, I’m a teenager in the Scriptures.) I didn’t understand much after the first time through nor the second. But by the third time through, I started recognizing things and the more laps I completed the more the Bible began to made sense. I still can’t claim super-Christian status, but I know more now than I did when I started. I thought I’d share a few things that transformed my Bible-reading – and me.

The very first step I took into Bible study was chasing down the cross-references in the margins which sparked the passion I still have to connect the Old and New Testaments. That made me hungry for more. Another tip that revolutionized my Bible study is to consider the full context of the Scripture you’re reading. Context is like x-ray vision glasses that help you see deeper into the passage. What happened before your passage? What happened after? How does your passage fit into the whole?

Then the Holy Spirit started sending me on digs for word meanings. Word meanings change from generation to generation. We need to know what the original author was saying, not the 21st century meaning of his words. And writing out Scripture helps me focus on each word.

I also slowed my pace. I learn so much more when I take smaller, deeper bites. I’ve found that consuming the entire Bible in about 3 years is best for me. And I love to read the Bible in chronological order. The events in Scripture didn’t happen in the order in which our modern Bibles place them. Following a chronological reading plan helped me see the overarching story and discern the long-term (aka – eternal) plan of God throughout human history. It helped me to better identify His character and faithfulness as I watched Him consistently work out His plan.

The Bible is not a “one-and-done” kind of book. You can’t just read through it in a year and expect to gain all the wisdom and knowledge you need for life. The most important tip I can give you for effective, transforming Bible study is time and faithfulness. An investment of time- every day – in the Word of God brings huge dividends. Come on, Beloved, let’s dig in!

Dry Ground

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“O God, You are my God, earnestly I seek You; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for You, in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1).

“Lord, I just feel so dry, like the cracked ground of a desert,” I wrote in my prayer one day.  It was the best description of my life. My soul felt dry and my body was weary.  My spirit longed for Living Water.  In my parched state, I pleaded with God to send relief.

As He so often does, the Holy Spirit sent me on a “Biblical scavenger-hunt” to see what the Word has to say.  He took me to Exodus 14 where Moses, through the power of the Lord, caused the sea to part and the people crossed over “on dry ground.”  He took me to Joshua 3 where again the Israelites crossed the Jordan (at flood stage, mind you) by way of a divinely dried-up riverbed. They didn’t slug through mud and muck but walked on firm, dry land.  Then He took me to Ezekiel 37, where the prophet spoke the Word of the Lord and dry bones came to life again, with tendons and flesh and the breath of Life.  Finally, He took me to Isaiah 53 and reminded me that Jesus was called “a tender shoot, like a root out of dry ground,” (v. 2).

In all of these, He reminded me that dry seasons can be the gateway to the Promised Land.  They can precede a time of awakening and renewal, and they can actually become a place of growth.  I learned through these examples that surviving dry seasons requires perseverance, listening to the Word of God, and being humble and submissive before Him.  These are lifelines during these times when our hearts and our spirits are like a cracked desert.

Beloved, if you are in Christ, God will use even the dry seasons of your life to fulfill His plan and purpose.  You need not be afraid, but press in and press on.  There is Living Water in His Word and His Spirit.  He will send the refreshing you need.  Then “The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.  It will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for Joy” (Isaiah 35:1). God will bring beauty to the desert, the wilderness, and your dry heart.

Babes in Christ – or Men and Women of God?

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My granddaughter eats from a plate that belonged to her daddy when he was her age. It is made of hard plastic and has brightly-colored cartoon dinosaurs painted on it – she calls them “puppies” and so puppies they are. We’ve tried to remember to always hand wash it, to preserve the puppies’ colors because dishwasher detergent tends to fade and bleach away designs on dishware. But lately, it’s been put in the dishwasher rather than take the few minutes to hand wash it with a gentle cleanser. A couple of days ago I noticed flecks of white showing in the puppies and the colors were not as bright as they had been. Our laziness was beginning to show – and it was beginning to diminish the dish.

The writer of Hebrews chastised the recipients of his letter saying, “We have much to say about this but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn” (5:11). The word “slow” caught my attention, and I grabbed my spiritual shovel to start digging.  What I found was a very sharp rebuke. That word does not indicate a learning disability – it speaks to a heart problem instead. The word means “lazy, undisciplined, no longer trying to learn.” Oh. The writer continued by saying that they were not growing and progressing in their understanding of God’s Word and their faith – “you need milk, not solid food!” (v. 12). They were content being spiritual “infants” sucking on their spiritual bottle.

So how do we grow in our faith? How do we go from babies on milk to men and women producing fruit for the Kingdom of God? The writer continued, “Solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (v. 14). Spiritual growth requires spiritual discipline –effort and time and developing holy habits that become an ingrained part of our character. Salvation is always the work of God, but growing in our faith requires our cooperation. Beloved, lets you and I determine to put down our bottles, shake off our laziness, and grow up. Let’s revive those bright colors so that the world can see the unfading beauty of men and women of God.

Little by Little

“Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 1:6

I am leaving this morning with a group of ladies to a Christian Women’s Conference, with a powerful and godly speaker and a wonderful worship music.  Two days of Christian fellowship, singing, hearing the Word, and no kid or hubby.  I am looking forward to this like a thirsty man in a desert looks forward to a refreshing spring.  I have been blessed to attend many of these conferences over the years, but I confess I have not always gotten what I had hoped out of them.

For many years I approached every conference with the same thought, “This one will change me for good!”  I would go with my journal ready to write down some life-altering truth that would finally “fix” everything in me that was broken.  I knew I would come home so filled with the Spirit that my family, friends, co-workers, even my cat would notice the new me.  And I did hear powerful truths and receive wonderful messages from the Lord.  The praise and worship music would wash over me and cleanse so much of the bitterness and anxiety from my heart.

But I eventually had to come home and before too long, the “old me” would show her snarling face again.  What happened to my life-changing experience?  Can I go back and pick up that new spirit again?  It was the same with the many books I read – surely this book will have the answer to all my struggles and I will be changed when I close the cover.

I bet you can relate on some level.  Sunday after Sunday we go to church with the hope that the Pastor will say something today that will put all our broken pieces back in place.  There are those rare and blessed times that a word spoken or read does produce a life-changing effect, but for most of us, that is not the case.  And I think I am beginning to understand why.

Look back at our key verse and you will see that the transformation we seek is an ongoing work, it is a process, one that won’t be fully completed until we are face to face with the One who began the work.  Look at verse 9 where Paul prays “that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.” Do you see the progression and growth in his words?  Again Paul says, “…that you may become blameless and pure,” (Phil. 2:15, emphasis added), and in Colossians 1:10 – “growing in the knowledge of God.”   Paul also said that “we are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory” (2 Cor. 3:18).  Being-an action word that denotes an ongoing process.

In our society that glorifies the instant, we struggle with those things that come at a slower pace.   God does not rush us through to spiritual maturity.  A tree that grows rapidly often has a weak root system that cannot anchor it during a storm.

In the time of Israel’s exodus from Egypt, God lead them into a land of promise and blessing, a land that was inhabited by strong, wicked people who were not keen on giving up their homes.  Exodus 23: 28-30 is the Lord’s promise to drive them out – but not in one fell swoop.  Listen to verse 30-“Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land.”  You see God knew that they would be overwhelmed by the task of settling the land, so He promised to open it up to them “little by little” as they became a stronger nation and could successfully take possession of it.

God has a wonderful possession for you, His child.  He has a legacy of spiritual maturity that He is building in your life and witness, but He will not rush you.  He has a plan, and a timeline for accomplishing that plan.  He desires to build you into a believer with “deeper roots” -roots that will enable you to stand against the storms of life.  He wants to make your life a beautiful offering to His glory.

Do not get discouraged because you are not “there yet,” or because you struggle in your walk.  God sees your heart. He knows you desire to live a victorious Christian life; and the truth is, in His eyes “you are more than a conqueror through Him who loves you” (Rom. 8:37, adapted).

 Holy Father, help me, day by day, to “be transformed by the renewing of my mind” (Rom. 12:2) and to allow you to work in me to bring me to maturity; a strong tree with deep roots in You.  Amen