Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Personal Bible Study 1

The first step in personal Bible study is done before you pick up the Bible.

Pray! Pray that God would open your eyes, your ears, and your heart to see, hear, and learn what He would wish for you. It’s not a bad idea to confirm with him that the purpose of personal Bible study is not checking a box on a spiritual to do list, or learning factoids so that you can win Bible Trivial Pursuit. The primary goal is to please Him. Personal Bible Study involves learning truth, but not for the sake of knowledge, for the sake of knowing THE Truth (the way and the life). Our desire should be to Learn truth about, and from, our Lord so that we might know Him better. It is an amazing truth that perhaps the best way you can please Him is to know Him. It reveals something of His desperate desire and passion for you. However, there is more we can do to please Him. We can obey Him, and show His love to others, on His behalf.

Learn truth….. SO THAT we can please Him
--by seeking to know Him
--by knowing Him
--by obeying Him
--by showing His love to others

Pray that your purposes and goals would be aligned with the ultimate goal of pleasing Him. Pray that His Spirit will guide your mind and emotions as you study. Believe that He will be faithful. (He said “So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding {in the matter} for which I sent it." Isaiah 55:11)

The second step still does not require you to pick up the Bible. Prayerfully determine what kind of study you want to do. There are at least 5 main approaches:

1. “Chapter” summary (or book, or paragraph, or section) – looking for the “big” meaning in the larger context
2. Topical study – studying everything the Bible has to say on a particular subject (as deep as the “End Times” or as practical as “parenting”)
3. Character or Biographical study – a careful look at one particular Bible Character
4. Devotional or Contemplative – slow meditative reading asking probing questions of yourself and the text
5. Word study – studying how one word is used in a text and in other texts to shed light on the specific meaning

I list them in the order I suggest they should be undertaken based on the spiritual maturity level of the student. (A new believer would be much better studying by “chapter” summary, than doing a word study.)

If you will start with a “chapter” study, you need to select a “chapter.” If you are new to personal Bible study, a New Testament Book (not The Book of the Revelation) is probably best. The Gospel of John is a very good place to begin.

A “chapter” (or section) summary can be done on a chapter or a whole book or a paragraph. Paragraphs may actually be best, since chapter (and verse) divisions are not “inspired” and are usually better used for convenience of reference instead of for an accurate division between topics. Determining where paragraphs could best be placed can be difficult depending on the translation you use. (Paragraph divisions are not inspired either, and can vary from translation to translation, but they are deliberately placed to keep sections of meaning together.)

A section summary is best begun with a little bit of background work. The understanding of a section is sometimes affected by the setting, the author, the historical context, and the geographical and social context. (On Sunday, I’ll show you how this works in I Corinthians 11:2-16…)

After all that, read the section you have prayerfully decided to digest. Remember, God went to the effort to inspire this and preserve this… He believes it is important. Read the section repeatedly, in as many different translations and paraphrases as you can find. Reading it 10 times from at least 5 different versions is not uncommon or excessive. (On Sunday, we’ll talk a bit about various translations and their strengths and weaknesses.)
Then, write a caption or title for the section. Answer the question, “What’s the “Big Idea?” Outline the section. Re-write the section in your own words. List the key words and concepts. Write out what is confusing in the section. What questions does it raise but not clearly answer? (We’ll talk about answering those questions when we look at topical studies). Write a summary of what this section reveals about God, any member of the Godhead, and about you. (I’ll show you a simple form that is useful.) Develop an application that is:

· Personal – It should be central to my daily life
· Practical – It should contain elements that are practicable on a regular basis and are measurable
· Possible - Each application should be realistically doable and realistic (not necessarily easy)
· Provable – You should keep a record of the measurable element to each application

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