Bible Study Basics: Don't Plan to Fail
In the last Bible Study Basics post, I argued if you do not prioritize Bible study by putting it on your busy calendar, you won't get around to it. Just a few days after publishing, our worlds all became significantly less busy. Sports were cancelled, work went remote for many, and extracurriculars ceased. Now is your chance to really invest your time in developing good Bible study habits!
You've probably heard this famous proverb: "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail." Some attribute the saying to Benjamin Franklin, others to Winston Churchill. Regardless of who came up with the thought, it remains accurate in a lot of situations. If you set about a task, but don't have a clear plan for how you'll accomplish it, your chances of success are slim. This is true for Bible study.
Many believers take a random approach to studying Scripture. They open the text and just start reading, without developing or following a particular approach to understanding it. A caveat is necessary here: even a haphazard method of reading Scripture is better than not reading the Word at all. However, we can benefit all the more by following a plan for comprehension and application.
Thankfully, there are many good Bible study methods available for us to use.
Take Your Time and Make Use of Simple Tools
Perhaps the easiest place to begin is by consulting the explanations in a good study Bible as well as chasing down the cross-references provided in the middle column or at the bottom of a study Bible or reference Bible. Letting Scripture interpret Scripture is one of the foundational rules for proper exegesis. Slowing down, reading less, and really working with the tools offered in a good Bible will go a long way to helping you get much more from Scripture than a blitz, shotgun, or random approach to reading the text.
Remember that understanding the Bible is not a sprint, but a marathon. You will never exhaust the richness of God's revelation. Take your time. The goal isn't to finish a task, but to grow into a complete and well-equipped man or woman of faith.
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:14–17 ESV).
Make it Personal
Over the years, I have gained more from journaling through my study of Scripture than any other practice. Writing down your thoughts, questions, and reflections on the text can help you not only understand but also begin to live the Word of God. Perhaps even write out a prayer based on your reading, asking the Lord to help you apply what you have learned.
There are so many tools and methods available these days that personalization is not only possible, but easily attainable. The idea is to find a method that helps YOU understand and apply God's Word.
Follow a Plan
I have often been asked by new believers where they should start reading in their Bible. My answer might depend on their situation, schedule, current level of Bible knowledge, and personality type. However, I always offer this piece of advice: use a Bible reading plan.
A Bible reading plan is a simple tool that keeps you on track as you read and study.
Some Bible reading plans take you through the text from cover to cover. Some are chronological. Some are yearly and include dates for each reading. Some are not dated at all (my preference). Some include short readings from multiple books or genres each day. But all of them offer ways to keep a consistent rhythm and pace as you read.
Use a Consistent Method
If you've stuck with me until now, you've got a good Bible, you've started reading it with a pen in your hand, and you've decided to utilize a Bible reading plan to keep yourself on track. Perfect! Now, I would urge you to consider using a consistent method as you work through the text.
Again, we are blessed by the work of people who have gone before us and have created really helpful and engaging tools. You may want to consider using one of the following methods:
Dwight Hill explained this approach by writing, "The inductive method makes observations on a passage of Scripture and then draws conclusions based on those observations. Commonly, this method is defined by three parts: Observation, interpretation, and application." The Navigators have taught this method for a long time and it has proven helpful to many, many believers. Check out their excellent checklist!
The SOAP Method
I've heard about this method for many, many years. It's very simple. The acronym stands for: Scripture, Observation, Application, and Prayer. Similar to The Abide Method, it helps us get to the meaning of the text as well as its personal application in your life. You can follow this approach with just your Bible, a pen, and a journal.
Again we look to The Navigators for some help. In this article, we are encouraged to refocus, read, reflect, record, and respond to God's Word. This is a helpful devotional approach to reading the Bible.
These are just a few tools that are available to help you understand and apply the biblical text. After using one for a while, it will become second nature to you and you will be able to study the Bible with more focus and clarity.
I hope this helps you study the Word!