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!

In the Morning . . .

My alarm goes off at 4:30 (yes a.m.) and after a shower and a steaming cup of life elixir, I am at my desk, ready to dig in and get all spiritual. I open my laptop and see that Facebook says I have notifications – I’ll just check those real quick to see if I need to respond to anyone and see who is having a birthday. I’d also better check the weather to see how I should dress today then I’ll get back to my quiet time But first I need to post the Scripture we’re writing today.  Oh, a friend is asking for prayer. I need to respond to her. And this looks like a good article. Oops, look at the time, I’ve just wasted 20 minutes! I need to get to writing.

I take the responsibility of writing a devotional every day very much to heart. (There have been a few mornings that a little girl needed her Nana and I didn’t get to the devotional.) I get in the Word and start to study, then with fingers on the keyboard, the Word and the Spirit speak and I type. I post the day’s devotional to Facebook and to my blog. Now I have just enough time to fix some breakfast and finish getting ready for work.  But wait. Something is missing. When did I take the time to pray? I didn’t.

With all the things I try to accomplish every morning – shower, feed the cat, clean up after midnight kitchen raids, study, write Scripture, write a devotional, eat breakfast, make lunch, and get out the door and off to work – prayer is too often a casualty of busyness and – let’s be honest – distractions. I know the power of prayer, yet I often fail to make time for it. So I decided to do just that – make time for it. I set my alarm for 4:00. Yes a.m. And to remind me that prayer is the priority, I made a lock screen for my laptop that I see before I can log on. 

David said, “In the morning, O Lord, You hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation” (Ps 5:3). I realize that God cannot hear my voice in the morning if I’m not praying. I don’t want to miss this precious time. Beloved, have you been with the Lord yet?

Make Every Minute Count

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Facebook is a ministry tool for me, but it is also a huge time-waster. Every day I promise myself I will post my devotional and the Scripture for the day and get off. I swear I won’t jump back in every time I see a notification. But I have yet to pull that off. It’s too easy to get caught up in the pictures of your kiddos and your funny memes and the next thing you know I’ve blown thirty minutes I’ll never get back. That’s why I’ve adapted Moses’ words in Psalm 90:12 and posted them on my wall above my desk: “Teach [me] to number [my minutes], that I may gain a heart of wisdom.”

In his original statement, Moses was asking the Lord to show him how to weigh the time He had been allotted in this life, to recognize its value, and invest it wisely and carefully. I doubt he would have spent much time on social media or surfing the web, playing video games, or watching television.  Moses regarded time as a means to wisdom. And I don’t know about you, but I sure need some wisdom. Interestingly, some translations say “that we may present to You a heart of wisdom.” Now that should make us sit up and pay attention. We will present to God the fruit of our time. Will I honor His gift of time by presenting to Him wise decisions, obedience and faithful service, and a deeper understanding of His Word? That all depends on how I invest in today.

My minutes are pretty stretched every day between work, graduate school, writing, studying, and teaching, and being a full-on Nana (the very best investment of my time).  Every once in a while I have to mop the floors too. I really don’t have time to waste on mindless drivel. But I still do. God has been impressing me with the thought of eternity. Everything in this life should be weighed in the balance of eternity. Every word, every action, every decision has eternal value. That is where the fruit of all the minutes goes. You and I need to learn to number our days and our minutes and invest them in the things that will last forever. Like people and truth and compassion and the gospel. When we stand before the Lord will we have good fruit or lots of memes to show for the time He’s given us? Beloved, how will you make your minutes count?

The Day Jesus was Born

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A friend asked me about the validity of celebrating Jesus’ birth on December 25th. The Bible doesn’t put a date on a calendar, and while we can get a good idea from tracing the astronomical records of a unique star, no one wrote the exact date into the annuals of human history. Many people have commented that shepherds would never have their flocks out in a field or on a hillside where they would be exposed to frigid temperatures. But several scholars have noted that generally, the temperature does not drop to those levels until after our traditional Christmas season, so there is reason to assume we’re pretty close.

I did say that the Bible doesn’t give us a precise date, but it does actually tell us when Jesus was born. Galatians 4:4 says, “When the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman.” I find so much comfort in that. The Bible is chock-full of references to time, from the record of Creation to “the day [when] His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives.” God actually does have a calendar of sorts – a divine calendar – and all of human history flows according to the plans He made before the creation of the world. Everything will happen “when the time has fully come.”

I hope you take that personally. Because the same God who established the universe’s timeline has your name on His calendar too. He is moving in your life according to His purpose and design. He is making things and people and events come together just as He planned. Beloved, your life is not some crazy quilt with pieces of all shapes, sizes, and colors haphazardly sewn together. It is a work of beauty, precision, and exactness, stitched firmly together with blood-red cords. Every moment of your life has been leading up to the magnificent finished project that will be revealed, “when the time has fully come.”

The point is not to know when He came, but to know that He came and why He came. To set you free from your bondage of sin and to give you eternal life. So feel free to celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25th with joy and thanksgiving for God’s perfect, divine plan. And remember that He’s an “on-time” God. It won’t be a second late. Nor will it be a second early. It will be “when the time has fully come.”

The Rescue Plan

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Some themes have become so familiar in the Christian world that we speak them and receive them without a second thought. Things like: “God helps those who help themselves.” Now, I’ve read the Bible from cover to cover many times over and I tell you for certain, it’s not in there. Or how about, “God will never give you more than you can handle.” Again, I’ve never found that in the Bible and  I can tell you from my own life, it ain’t so.  I heard another one recently that always comes around at Christmas and Easter, this human idea that God looked down from heaven and saw mankind in bondage to sin and death and sent His son in response. While it certainly expresses God’s heart of mercy for His creation, it’s not exactly the truth.

How do I know that? Because the Bible says that Jesus is “the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world” (Rev. 13:8). Before man could ever cry out for redemption, the Redeemer had already paid the price. What in the world does that mean? Well, it’s not a worldly concept at all, it’s the divine plan created in heaven before God scooped up a handful of dust – even before He said, “Let there be light.” Jesus was always meant to come to earth as a tiny baby and live a perfect, sinless life, and die an undeserved and cruel death.  He was always meant to lie in a tomb for three days and heaven never doubted that He would rise again, because that was the plan all along. Christmas and Easter were not God’s knee-jerk reaction to our predicament.

We also need to understand that time in the heavenly realm is not like time here on earth. God sees the end and the beginning all at the same time because He is the sovereign Lord of Heaven and Earth – and time. His plan wasn’t something that had to unfold from heaven’s perspective, though it took thousands of years to accomplish on earth. It was already a done deal. When the Father gazed at the Baby in the manger he saw the man on the cross. And so should we.

Aren’t you glad that He didn’t wait for you to cry out from the pit before He set a rescue plan in place? He planned it long before you needed it. That should give you great hope, Beloved. God had you in mind all along.

Devoted

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I’m writing a paper for my grad class on Romans 12:9-21. Paul wrote the book of Romans to address the tension between the Jewish and Gentile believers.  He explained that they were all sinners in need of God’s grace through Jesus Christ and that God didn’t favor one group over the other. Then he told them how that grace should be lived out every day as a community – a unified body.  He talked about choosing good and overcoming evil.  He talked about being zealous in serving the Lord, about being Joyful, hopeful, patient, generous, and hospitable.  He talked about how to endure persecution with grace. All good stuff and all very important.  But the verse that keeps drawing my attention is “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love” (v. 10). I have to ask myself, “Am I?” and I don’t like the answer.

The word “devoted” implies affection that parents feel for their children (and grandchildren). It is tenderness and compassion. It is concern and earnestness to do what is best for the beloved. If you know me at all you know I am “devoted” to my granddaughter and I will do whatever is necessary to care for and about her.  I know you feel the same toward your own children and grands. But how am I toward those outside of my own home? Not as devoted if I’m honest. Ah, but in my defense, I’m busy. I work. I’m a grad student. I am very involved in caring for Joy. I teach Sunday School. I write every day. I’m trying to keep my household running. (I don’t cook much – props to my husband.)  And your life is very full as well. We probably all feel that we’re doing the best we can.

I think busyness is one of the devil’s favorite tools for shutting down real relationships – and real evangelism. With work, school, family, church, and community responsibilities, we just don’t have a lot of time to get involved in other people’s lives.` But then again, it comes down to love, doesn’t it? I don’t know . . . maybe this word is just for me today.  Maybe not.  The truth is we will always make time for what we love: making money, sports, entertainment, leisure, T.V., scrapbooking, gaming, Facebook . . .  and hopefully squeeze in some time for Jesus, Bible study, prayer, and people. Beloved, who or what are you devoted to?

Minutes, Hours, Days, and Years

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My days are packed. I am up at 4:30 and before I leave the house I have filled my morning with Bible study, prayer, writing, (and usually Joy!). And coffee. I put in a full day at the best job ever and come home to supper (my hubby is retired and does the cooking – I am blessed!). I clean-up, often bathe Joy and then spend the rest of the evening studying. I hit the bed and start the cycle all over again. Seven of those make a week and those weeks make a month. Months become years and somehow, it’s almost 2022. That’s why my heart is pricked by Moses’ prayer: “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). He is not saying, “teach us to count how old we are.” The word “number” here means to “weigh out,” – to place value on our days. Moses could have said, “Teach us to weigh our days . . .”

We know that days are made up of hours, which are made up of minutes. But we forget that every minute counts. Here’s a question for you (and me). Do you have any idea how many minutes a day you spend mindlessly scrolling through Facebook or Instagram or surfing the internet? Have you ever been surprised at just how much time passed while you were thumbing through your phone? I don’t know about you, but I’m guilty of wasting minutes I will never get back. Minutes that make up hours that make up days that make up weeks and months and years and a lifetime. So, I’ve adapted Moses’ prayer: “Lord, teach me to number my minutes, that I may gain a heart of wisdom.” Teach me to weigh them, to understand how precious – and fleeting – they are. Teach me to spend those minutes wisely on eternal things – on the Gospel, on people, on Your Kingdom. I’m not saying, never go on Facebook again; that’s where I connect with most of you. But you and I need to value the time we invest there and make every minute count for eternity. The poet, Mary Oliver, famously asked, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Consider your answer to that question, Beloved, and spend your minutes well.

Five Years Later . . .

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Charles Stanley says: “When circumstances are beyond our control, what we really believe will surface. The depth of our faith in God’s character and promises will become evident, as will any doubts or uncertainties we may have.”

I came across this quote five years ago and at that time I wrote: “I have absolute trust in God’s power and ability to overcome every difficult situation in my life. I don’t doubt His power – I know He can. But I am not as certain about His willingness – I’m not so sure He will.“ There’s nothing wrong with what I wrote. But, like many of you, I’ve been through some stuff in the past five years, and I’ve learned a few things along the way I’d like to share with you.

I’ve learned that God doesn’t need my “suggestions” for how to fix things. I’ve stopped praying, “Lord, if you will just . . .” Because I think too small. God has resources and plans at his fingertips that I could not imagine. Now I pray, “God this is the problem – do what You know is best.”

I’ve learned that whining is not praying. Yes, I take my heart to God. I tell Him my burdens. I bring Him my fears. Sometimes my prayers come from raw pain. But I have banished “woe is me” from my prayers. (Complaining is also not praying, but that was another post.)

And that brings me to the most important thing I’ve learned. My faith needs to be in God, in who He is, not just in what He can do. Because He is “right and true and faithful” (Psalm 33:4). He is good (Ps. 34:8). He is wise (Romans 11:33). He is perfect (Deut. 32:4) His is unfailing love (Ps. 33:18). And He is the God who sees me (Genesis 16:13). When I consider all that He is, I know that I can rest confident that whatever He does, it will be right. The past five years have proven that to be true.

Babbie Mason sang a song that said, “When you don’t understand When don’t see His plan When you can’t trace His hand Trust His Heart.” When you know Him, Beloved, you can trust Him. Every. Single. Time.

Glory!

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Why did Jesus die? To atone for our sins, yes. To bear the curse of mankind, yes. To bring redemption to lost sinners, yes. But what if there’s more to it than that. Reading John 17:1-5 and something jumped out at me.

Glory.

Five times in these verses Jesus speaks of glory.

“Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you” (v. 1).

“I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do” (v. 4).

“And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began” (v. 5).

Jesus began His prayer by saying, “Father, the time has come.” Because we know “the rest of the story” we automatically think he means the time for His death had come. But these verses tell us Jesus had a much different focus. The time had come – not for death – but for glory!

In fact, not once in those five verses did Jesus even mention death. He spoke of eternal life and the work given to Him by the Father. He talked about making known “the only true God.” But death? Not a word.

The cross was the plan. Glory was the purpose.

But how can the cross bring glory to the Godhead?

By lifting high the Son of God so that all men can see Him and believe and have eternal life. God sent His Son to die for you and me, and in His death and resurrection by the Spirit, to glorify the Father and the Son. I don’t know about you, but that makes me want to shout . . .

It Came to Pass . . .

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“So it came to pass, at the end of forty days, that Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made” (Genesis 8:6)

When my son was a baby, a friend gave me some great advice: “Remember, the Bible says, ‘It came to pass,’ not it came to stay.” You can bet I passed it on to my daughter-in-law when my granddaughter was born. Those long sleepless nights will eventually pass and she will sleep through the night. Teething and colic eventually pass. When I spend a couple of hours holding her while she sleeps I remember that these days will pass all too quickly and I’ll miss watching her peaceful face. It’s good parenting advice, but it’s also good life advice.

We will all face difficult days and seasons. But it’s helpful to remind ourselves that those days come and go – they are not forever. In those times I look back at Noah’s story and remember that after many, many days aboard the ark, it came to pass that the waters began to recede and Noah opened the window to let out the dove and let in the fresh air and sunshine. My troubles will pass and so will yours.

Another way to look at this is that the days of our lives come to pass not to stay and the opportunities before us and the people around us are also not permanent.  I have many regrets over things I knew the Lord wanted me to do that I thought I could get around to later. But later never came and the window closed. This past year has taught me, as it has so many of us, that the people we love cannot stay in our lives forever. I never dreamed my big brother would be in heaven before the year’s end. I know many friends for whom COVID has caused great grief. Jobs and business were shown to be temporary, and even the highest office in the nation passed from one hand to another this year.

So here is my advice: Don’t fret the sleepless nights of parenthood, nor the difficult days of life. It does not seem so in the middle of it all, but they will pass. And don’t waste the opportunities God gives you, nor time with the people you love. Life on earth comes to pass, not to stay. Make it count Beloved.