When I first became a Christian at the age of fifteen, I had no idea how to approach the Bible. I knew it was important, and as a new follower of Christ, that I should immerse myself in His love letter to us, but I had no idea where to begin and no one to teach me where to start. I picked up an old Bible that we had laying around the house, and opened it to the beginning and just started reading. My intent was to read all the way through. I got to the book of Joshua before I just stopped. I wanted to be engaging with the words on the page, and I just wasn’t. I spent the rest of my high school years trying really hard to dive deep into God’s word, but honestly, I just didn’t love it yet.
Then I went away to a Christian college. That was overwhelming in a different way–all of a sudden I was surrounded by people who grew up in Christian homes and had been part of youth groups and Bible studies for years. I felt so out of my element, and that I didn’t fit in. I had to duck my head every time people just spouted off Bible facts because I didn’t know them and I didn’t want my lack of knowledge to show. I loved God with all my heart, and He was so wonderfully sweet to me during my teenage years when I was getting to know Him for the first time. I didn’t have any other Christian friends. I didn’t have a church to get involved in. He truly sustained our relationship during those years in such a beautiful way. But college brought out the very real fact that although I loved God and had experienced Him in my life in so many ways, I still didn’t know much about Him and His Word.
My freshman year was when I first began to find my footing in God’s Word. I minored in Biblical studies, and received an amazing education during my four years in college. I joined different Bible studies and was immersed in a Christian community for the first time in my life. I soaked it all up, and still miss those days so so much. I started reading God’s Word to know Him and seek Him and hear from Him. I started to find what so many others around me had found all their lives–life and peace and truth. His Word was being written on my heart, and I was being changed.
Since then, my times in the Word have been very up and down. I love God’s Word, I truly do. But I also want to be real and say that there are times when I also don’t. When it is hard to open the pages of my Bible and wrestle with what is there before me. It is hard to keep going when things feel stale and there is no new insight and no new revelation. And yet there are also times when I just can’t get enough, and everything I read is full of so much hope and I can hear God speaking directly into my life and my circumstances. Those moments where I can lose myself for hours and hours on end in His Word. I live for those moments. I wish it was like that always, but I don’t want to pretend that it is always easy and full of these great revelatory sort of moments. It’s not. But regardless of whether it is a season of great insight or one of quiet perseverance, there is no better place that we can hear from God than in His Word. And it never fails to amaze me that we have the freedom to open the pages of our Bibles and find Him there every single day.
The way that I go about studying the Bible isn’t some big methodical method. It changes from time to time. But there are some things that I do on a regular basis to help me dive deep into the Word to learn not only context and background info of certain books and people–which is so important–but to also dive deep into the truths that are before me.
Lately I have become super convicted about how I approach the Word of God. If you know me at all, you know how I love to STUDY! I used to be the girl that would surround herself with commentaries, all manner of study Bibles and actual Bible studies, and then just dive into a new book of the Bible. And I wholeheartedly believe that commentaries and Bible studies have such a valuable role to play in our walks with God. However, I also think that it is equally important for us to just wrestle with the words that are before us without jumping immediately to someone else’s thoughts on the matter. God wants to speak to us through His Word. He wants us to ask the hard questions and to grapple with understanding. That’s how we know Him more. That’s how we know the Word more.
So lately, before bringing in any other study tools in my study, I simply start by reading. I recently went through the book of Hosea, and when I began that study, I just read the book through multiple times. Whatever I am reading, I always try to the read the book through in its entirety before I go back and take it chapter by chapter or even verse by verse. It helps so much to understand the context. I write down any questions or stand out thoughts as I go, but mostly I just read to get a gist of what the book is about.
And then comes my favorite part. I actually go to my computer, copy and paste each chapter into a Word document, make the margins wide and double space the text, and print out the WHOLE BOOK. Is that a LOT of paper? Depending on the book, it most certainly is! But it gives space for me to dive deeper into each chapter of the text and to scribble all over it, and I have learned so much as a result!
Here’s an example of what my Hosea 1 document looked like when I was through with it.
Sometimes I go one chapter at a time. Sometimes just one small section at a time. But I take those printed sheets, and I just start in one spot and go. For Hosea, I have been going chapter by chapter starting in Hosea 1. I grab my printed copy, sit down with a mix of sharpie pens (they’re my favorite!) and highlighters, and start going through the chapter multiple times.
Things I always look for: Any names of God that are represented in the text. Any promises that God makes. Names that are used for the people in the text, and any calls to action for the people that are presented in the text.
I make sure to highlight and underline these things to provide a richer context for the passage. I also write questions in the margin–particularly next to statements that are challenging for me to understand. I make connections to other books of the Bible that I have already read and studied. I look up certain words in the dictionary–words that I often already know the meaning of, but want to understand them as best I can in its particular context. I basically turn those pieces of printer paper into an enormous scribbled over worksheet.
Why do I do this? It gives me space to truly dive into the words that are before me. It allows the Holy Spirit to lead as I grapple with the passage. It forces me to slow down and truly take in each word and statement and understand what is being said. It allows me to draw my own conclusions and try to apply it to myself without the aid of someone else telling me what they think it means.
Often times, I’ll make a list of the characters that were present in that particular chapter or passage. I’ll list them out by name and write a little statement about each one. I’ll also write an outline for the chapter–just quick bullet points of the sequence of events. I end up reading it over and over and over again, and each time I do, I discover something that I didn’t see the last time. It sounds like a lot, but then I also walk away knowing so much.
Once it is all scribbled over and I’ve read through it at least a half a dozen times, I then will read the passage in about three or four different translations of the Bible. I love doing this, because sometimes statements that were difficult to understand are stated in such a way in a different translation that it now makes sense. Sometimes the choice of words in different translations deepens what we have already read. It is a super useful tool when studying the Bible. And just for a quick reference, I ALWAYS study from the ESV. It is by far my favorite translation (although I did just get a She Reads Truth Bible and am trying to fall in love with it–it is CSB). When I move onto others to read different passages, I typically will go for the NASB, NIV, and NKJV. And the best part is, the Word of God is so accessible to us that I’m able to look them all up on my phone!
It’s not super formulaic. I don’t have a big color coding system. I can’t tell you that blue highlighter stands for one thing and pink highlighter stands for something else. For me personally, super regimented ways of doing things don’t work for me. The Bible isn’t some sort of math problem that we can solve. That’s why I really enjoy printing out pages of what I am reading and scribbling all over them. I can be messy and engage with what is before me and let the Holy Spirit teach me and lead me deeper. I have studied the same books multiple times, and it is always so interesting to see how these papers of mine have different notes on them each time as I learn new things or God lays something on my heart.
I like to read. I like to take notes. I like to learn. And I like space to process that all out right alongside the words that I am reading. This has been working super well for me lately. I still will reach for those commentaries from time to time. I still love doing word studies. But I love just showing up to quiet times with nothing more than my Bible and myself. I think we all need to have time when we just immerse ourselves in God’s Word without all the extra resources on the side and grapple with these truths on our own, and allow the Holy Spirit to speak so much louder than commentaries and Bible studies.
I also have some questions that I always love to ask as I go through a passage. I first came across these when I read Tim Keller’s book Prayer. They have enriched my time in the Word even more!
1. Is there any example for me to follow?
2. Is there any command for me to obey?
3. Is there any error for me to avoid?
4. Is there any sin for me to forsake?
5. Is there any promise for me to claim?
6. Is there any new thought about God Himself?
I truly love these questions because they help me to apply the passages that I am reading to my own life and situation. I think it is so important that we know the Word in its proper context, and from there understand what it also means for us today. I hope these will be helpful in your own journey!
That’s a peek into how I go about studying to Bible! I do still truly love all my Bible study resources, but this is how I first go about time in the Word. It has been 100% life changing.
What about you? Is there a method to how you go about studying the Bible? I would love to hear from you!