SPECIAL NOTE: Since Bible study and teaching figure strongly in each blog post, it dawned on me some of you may be curious as to know more of who I am and the guiding principles of my Bible study. I’d like to take a handful of blog posts to explore this area of Bible study, before going back to the study on love in 1 Corinthians 13.
I also draw out from the text some things not commonly taught, so to know “where I’m coming from” is very legitimate. Of course, I’m confident in what I believe God shows me every week. But, I’d encourage everyone to be a “good Berean.” In fact, I beg of you to study the Scriptures for yourselves and check everything by them, no matter who or what you listen to, read and/or follow.
Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. –Acts 17:11
Next, I’m still a believer in the “New Year’s Resolution.” It’s a new year and, therefore, a new start! I encourage you to take (more) seriously the study of the Bible this next year as if your life depends on it, which it does.
Lastly, I personally love to study the Bible and teach it! I’d like to share some of the principles and methods I use to study the Bible, in the hopes that it may open your eyes not only to understand where I’m coming from, but also to develop (or further develop) a Bible study process of your own. God assures us that if we put in the time, prayer and effort, we will see marvelous things in His Word! (Psalm 119:18)
Whenever I use the word “backstory,” I think of Flynn Rider in Tangled, when he said, “Sorry, Blondie, I don’t do backstories.” You see, Flynn Rider was in reality Eugene Fitzherbert, a poor orphan, who dreamed of living the swashbuckling life of the fictional character, Flynigan Rider. Henceforth, a new alter ego was born.
My past, in contrast, is NOT that different from my present. I’ve always been more “Eugene Fitzherbert” than “Flynn Rider.” In short, I’ve always been only myself.
When my first birthday came, the Korean tradition was to lay out various items in front of me to see which one I’d pick. Each item corresponded to a life direction and all eyes were on me. I could pick up a book (scholar), red yarn (long life), money (wealth), a stethoscope (health profession), paintbrush (artist), etc.
Let’s see, which one would I pick?? I probably was thinking, which one would be the easiest and most comfortable to put in my mouth? (Chewing something would be good right now. I’m feeling kind of nervous being in the spotlight.)
The pen, it is!
Yes, according to my mom’s report I picked up the pen.
To me, it all seems so of God! Because I like to express myself through writing. And, for a long time now, I’ve believed “the pen is mightier than the sword!”
I’ve always loved words, both reading and writing them, which helps when you want to study the Bible!
As a young student, I remember my dad gifting me with a sizable, hardback dictionary and thesaurus set. I loved them and used them all the time. He also forced me to learn how to type, even though I murmured and complained of its tediousness! I can’t begin to say how grateful I am to him today! Somehow… I think my dad knew what my future might entail. (Yup, a whole lot of typing, but also a respectful attention to words and what they mean, including their various shades of meaning.)
Later, when it came time to go to university, I majored in English Literature, Language Arts having always been my favorite subject. (How else can you explain someone who looks up word definitions for fun?)
All that to say, God seemed to have equipped me to be a woman of words and, later, the Word of God.
God had already placed so much paper and kindling into the fire pit. Now, the only thing needed was to light the match.
GOD LIGHTS A PASSION FOR HIM IN MY HEART!
Though I accepted Christ at age nine, I didn’t seriously pursue Him, until I was seventeen. Oh, I would talk to him in the in-between years and even pour out my heart to Him, but I didn’t really grow in the knowledge of God until later. In a strange way, He was already becoming my best friend and confidante.
In my late teens, I dedicated my life again to Christ at a Baptist church. The pastor and his wife were so good to me. The pastor patiently listened to me and answered all my questions. He took the time to explain God’s grace to me. At first, I couldn’t comprehend how God could unconditionally love me, but it would sink in over time.
Later, when someone invited me to a charismatic home group, that’s when my relationship with God really took off! It would be a natural transition to later join that church. There, I learned about intimacy with God, prayer, discipleship, the power and gifts of the Holy Spirit and a host of other things. I’m the type of person who runs fast and hard from the beginning, so I did. I wanted to learn everything I could about what it meant to be a Christian and to walk in everything God had for me!
GOD LIGHTS A PASSION FOR PRAYER AND THE WORD OF GOD!
At one point, I attended a special conference. The speaker asked us all to close our eyes and ask God for a life verse. He wanted us to listen carefully, because he really believed God would give us one. I earnestly asked and then remained quiet. I heard a voice inside of my heart say “Acts 6:4.” It was very clear. I had no idea what that verse said, but it didn’t take me long to flip through my Bible to get to Acts. I read:
But we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word. –Acts 6:4
I took that verse as a mandate from God! I’d give myself to prayer and to Bible study for years to come! God lit the fire! The flames began to burn and smolder their way through the paper and kindling and the rest is history as God kept adding logs to the fire for a perpetual burning.
HISTORY IN GOD: OIL IN THE LAMP (Matthew 25:1-13)
I’d constantly pray that God would give me a hunger and thirst for His Word, which He did. It helped that I also had jobs where, get this, I’d get paid to study the Bible for hours and hours at a time. For example, at one point, I sat in a booth as a parking attendant. (Not much to do, when cars aren’t coming though, other than to read and study my Bible.) During one season, my family owned a convenience store, where you’d often find me with my Bible on my knees, my notepad at my side, and me with a pen, underlying and circling words in the divine text. During those solitary hours, I’d write countless pages of journal notes: copying Scriptures, stringing together my thoughts, connecting one verse with three or four others.
Eventually, I got a Master’s degree at a seminary. (Of course, Bible study was on the menu there also.) I was a youth pastor for two years where I got a lot of practice teaching the Bible. More recently, I practically lived in a prayer room for two years, for twenty four hours a week, praying and reading the Bible.
Why do I bring this up? Just to say that I’ve spent thousands of hours studying the Word of God. Not always to teach, not always for the sake of ministry, not always because I had a platform, but for the sake of the Word of God itself! Digging for its truths, discovering its treasures, experiencing a love affair with the living, animated Word of God! When you’ve spent thousands of hours studying one thing, you get kind of familiar with it!
Do I think someone needs to get a seminary degree to properly study the Bible? ABSOLUTELY NOT! (Please note the all caps and the exclamation mark!)
I don’t think anyone needs to go to a seminary to learn how to study the Bible on their own, let alone teach it. In fact, I’ve learned more from my own personal Bible study over the years than my seminary education. These days, I wouldn’t encourage anyone to go to a seminary, unless specifically called by God to go. Sadly, many seminaries have been compromised in ways that actually chip away at one’s faith, instead of undergirding and building it up. If one feels led to go, it’s important to be especially prayerful and selective.
Also, I share these things to emphasize the fact that it takes time, focus and effort to really know the length, depth and breadth of something. The Bible declares, “All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.” (Proverbs 14:23)
QUESTIONS TO ANSWER
We tend to evaluate teachers (of any subject), which we should. Do they know their subject matter? How well do they know it? Etc. I wouldn’t be surprised if it crossed a mind or two to ask, who is this person? How can I know I can trust her? All fair questions to ask. Since the blog posts contain Biblical teaching, it’s important to know. I resort to Bible study and teaching, because it’s the only way I know to ascertain the mind of God on any given subject, besides hearing or receiving revelation from God directly. [Yes, I believe that God can and does speak to us.] As God unfolds His Word, I am the first to learn.
For someone who’s had a lot of schooling, I don’t naturally put much credit in degrees, education in general or “expert opinions.” As far as I’m concerned, the lay person in the back row could know just as much, or even more than the deacons, the elders and the pastor. But, it depends on how they spend their time in the secret place. God through the Bible is an impartial, nondiscriminatory, equal opportunity granter of revelation and understanding. But, we must be the ones to pray and search and dig for it like buried treasure! (Proverbs 2:1-11)
Your commandments make me wiser than my enemies, for they are always with me. I have more insight than all my teachers, for Your testimonies are my meditation. I discern more than the elders, for I obey your precepts. –Psalm 119:98-100
Please don’t listen to someone just because they have a degree or they’ve written a book or they’re the CEO of such and such a company. Or, even if they’ve spent countless hours doing something. It’s very possible to be a “Bible scholar” and still have an unrenewed mind. Frightening. Always pray to God for discernment and test things by the Word and the Spirit!
But, I give my background as a way to show you where I have come from and to communicate the sincere desires of my heart concerning my passion for the Word of God and the critical importance of rightly dividing it.
RED ALERT WARNING: DON’T THROW THE BABY OUT WITH THE BATHWATER
For anybody who studies/teaches/preaches the Word of God, it’s a labor of love. Or, at least, I’d hope so. It is for me.
Warnings or accusations of being “a Pharisee,” due to so much focus on the Word, should only make us humble and circumspect, but it shouldn’t keep us from the Word of God. Tragically, we may draw back from a deeper study of the Bible to appease our own conscience, someone else’s legitimate concern for us or someone else’s misunderstanding of our holy ambition!
These ideas follow the same line of thinking Paul addressed with the Romans in regards to sin and grace. He had already affirmed that where sin abounds, grace abounds even more, but he didn’t want them to swing too far in the other direction, and, thereby, make a different kind of mistake.
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid… –Romans 6:1-2
Let me explain. It’s like saying, “Well, let me not study as much, or put so much focus on the Bible, so that I could learn how to truly love God and people more and become less of a Pharisee.” (Does that sound like God? Does that sound right?)
The answer isn’t drawing back from the Word of God, but being humble and dealing with one’s heart issues before God. God wants us to study His Word deeply AND love God and people radically… at the same time! It’s not one or the other. IT’S BOTH IN DYNAMIC TENSION!
HOW CAN WE VALUE BOTH THE LOVE LETTER AND THE PERSON WHO WROTE IT?
In the Bible, countless verses encourage us to fully love, feast upon and trust the Word of God. In fact, Psalm 119 is a love letter dedicated to praising God’s Word. Psalm 119 is also said to be the longest chapter in the Bible. (That is, after chapter breaks were put into the Bible.)
I’ve had to learn this lesson of balance over and over again. The BOTH/AND instead of the EITHER/OR. Therefore, I humble myself before all of you and covet your prayers in this area!
Even as we strive to keep this balance, we must always be careful to put intimacy with Jesus first and foremost. God makes it clear that eternal life is KNOWING God and the one whom He has sent, not knowing the minutiae of the Bible. (John 17:3)
You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. –John 5:39-40
However wonderful it’d be to receive a love letter, I’d much rather have the person than the letter. But, it’s also nice when you can have both. Some of the most precious treasures held in a relationship are the letters two people have written to one another. Until Jesus comes back for us, the love letter of the Bible communicates His will and intentions for us. We can discover more of His heart through the unfolding of His Word by the Holy Spirit. After Jesus returns, we will continue to mine the revelation of this love letter for all eternity. (Psalm 119:89)
But, as mentioned before, we partner with God! I’ve done my part in pouring over the Word of God! Nobody can take those hours, days, months and years away from me. They’re a part of my history! Since I’m pretty familiar with the Bible, God is able to piece a lot of things together from that base of knowledge, what the Bible would call the treasure house of things old and new. (Matthew 13:52) [More on this process later!]
As we know from the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, we can’t transfer our history in God (the oil) to one another. It’s not like I can offer you a free download. You must develop your own history in God and in His Word! I trust that if it’s important enough to you, you will!
Remember… we have a partnership with God. We do our part and God does His. He won’t do what we’re called to do, and we can’t do what only He can do.
Even though, at times, I may imagine myself to be a ‘Flynn Rider,” I’m really only a “Eugene Fitzherbert,” who’s worked hard and taken the time to know the Word of God by His grace, power and revelation.
That process, the hours given to each day and all of God’s resources are available to EACH AND EVERY one of us!
Needless to say, no matter where we’re at today, there’s always much more to learn and discover.
I may be called to be a teacher, equipped in various ways to better study the Word of God, but I still had to put in my own prayers, time and effort. Honestly, because of the grace of the Spirit, a lot of the time, it didn’t even seem like an effort.
Like I said, I used to ALWAYS pray, “God, give me a hunger and thirst for your Word! God, give me great retention for your Word! (In other words, help me to remember the things I study.) Is there any doubt God wants to answer that prayer more than we, ourselves, want it answered?
I have tried to be careful not to project my unique calling, opportunities and experiences onto everyone else saying this is the way to do it. Each of us has our own relationship with God and path to follow. Moreover, God’s given each of us a measure of faith to go deeper into the Word of God for ourselves.
The thing of it is, you can dig for buried treasure just as much as the next person! I promise you, from someone who has witnessed and experienced what can be found, “There’s gold in them thar hills!” (quote from Mark Twain)
What differentiates people on a level playing field is a combination of priority, passion and commitment! I believe God’s calling many of us “to continually give ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word,” especially in the unique times we’re living in. God says the oil we produce in our time with Him will separate the wise from the foolish. (Matthew 25:1-13)
Now, my friends, is the time to be wise!
Let’s make 2020 the year of diving deep(er) into studying the Bible! Let’s make it a year of exploration, discovery and hunting for treasure!
As a preview, in the next week we’ll look at various Bible study principles
- the Bible study principle found in John 3
- what it means for the “water of the word to turn into wine” (John 2:1-11)
- how Jesus “opens up our understanding to understand the scriptures” (Luke 24:45)
- and what it means to “eat the scroll!” (Ezekiel 3:3; Revelation 10:10)
REFLECTION AND APPLICATION QUESTIONS
1. Read Acts 17:11 about the Berean Jews. Write down the verse in a journal. Start praying into the verse.
Break down the verse and observe the reasons why the Bereans stood out from the rest.
How can you apply those “Berean characteristics” into your own life for 2020?
Some things to consider: Do you ever Biblically evaluate the messages you receive about Jesus and Christianity? So many messages are given these days, with “Jesus” and “the Bible” attached to them? Many of them are distorted, if not false. Some messengers are well-intentioned, while others are not. Some messengers are proven and some are not. And, yet, even proven, Biblically-sound messengers can veer off course.
All that to say, we all need to get into the habit of critically evaluating the messages we receive to see if they’re true to God’s Word.
LEARN HOW TO NOT TAKE THINGS FOR GRANTED!
2. Even though I mention “New Year’s Resolution,” I really mean coming up with some realistic, measurable, doable goals regarding Bible study for this next year.
Pray and think through it! Write down a few key goals to use as guidelines for the new year. No undue expectations or condemnation. If you miss a day or a week or whatever, you can push delete and continue to walk out your guidelines. Forming holy habits takes time, trial and error, staying motivated and perseverance. You can do it!
For though a righteous man may fall seven time, he still gets up. –Proverbs 24:16
3. I prayed for a life verse during my early Christian years, which literally directed the course of my life and habits from that point forward. Pray for a life verse. You may have to pray more than once or over a certain period of time. But, my firm conviction, is that God will speak to you.
And, when he does, ask Him for the wisdom to walk it out. My particular verse was straightforward, and, therefore, easy to follow. Other verses may be less so. Ask God to fill in more of the details for you and show you how to carry it out! Entering into a deeper, longer dialogue with God about these life issues can only be a good thing.
4. Consider: How can I become more familiar with the Word of God this next year?
The more familiar someone is with a certain subject, the more hope they have to understand it. I don’t want to put a heavy burden or expectation on anyone. We don’t have to be stressed out wondering if we’re doing something correctly or not.
All I did for years was just study the Bible on my own. I underlined verses that stood out to me. I circled what I had thought were key words. I wrote down verses I want to comment on and, then, responded in writing. I wrote down other verses I thought could give me more insight into that passage and/or concept and went on a treasure hunt. All the while praying for God’s revelation and insight. It was really that simple and straightforward.
Keep in mind, back in my early days I did much of this writing by hand. I filled notebooks with Bible study notes. They say “writing by hand” can help you to better retain the things you’ve written.
5. Read and study Psalm 119, the psalmist’s love letter to the Word of God. Psalm 119 offers so many different ways God’s Word can help you out personally. Pick out 5 to 10 verses or passages that really speak to you in this psalm and meditate on them more deeply. Explore how you may walk out those truths/principles with God’s help.
For example: Psalm 119:98-100 (the little passage I included in the blog post) not only has terrific results, but things to obey and put into practice. Incidentally, I LOVE this passage! It’s my firm conviction.
- “Your commandments make me wiser than my enemies, for they are always with me.” How can I keep God’s Word always with me? Reading and speaking about the Word often; posting it on my walls, car dashboard, etc.; meditation; memorization, etc.
When God charged Joshua with leading the people of God to conquer the Promised Land, He didn’t give him official battle plans. God told Joshua to meditate upon the Word of God day and night and to never let it depart from His mouth! (Joshua 1)
- “I have more insight than all my teachers, for Your testimonies are my meditation.” Self-explanatory. What are some systems I can put into place to ponder the Word of God throughout the day? If I’m in some Bible study, do I take the extra time to study out the passages and meditate on the things God highlights? (Once again, I truly believe God is an equal opportunity, impartial giver of revelation and insight, when we’re willing to do our part.)
- “I discern more than the elders, for I obey your precepts.” Obedience is so key to understanding more deeply. Obedience leads to transformation and transformation leads to a greater capacity to understand and perceive things from God’s perspective. God will give us more understanding and revelation, if we’ve stewarded well the things He’s already revealed to us. How can I apply the Bible to my life more regularly? Maybe, I can include 1,2 or 3 action steps to particular verses, passages and/or topics of study.
Do you see the progression from the first verse to the third verse? God gives more progressively as we invest more of ourselves into the process. Discerning more than the elders involves more wisdom and revelation than being wiser than my enemies.
I really like this one saying when it comes to personal investment. My paraphrase: When it comes to breakfast, the pig is more invested than the chicken or the cow. (Okay, think about it.) In the same way, though both are important, obedience (a death to the flesh) is a greater investment than scripture meditation. As an example, God helped draw out those principles simply from me looking more carefully at each verse in the passage. You can do that, too.
6. Under the section “Red Alert Warning: Don’t Throw the Baby Out with the Bathwater”
Think and pray about this issue for yourself personally. How can we study the Word of God deeply AND love God and people radically at the same time?
Are these concepts mutually exclusive? Did God intend it to be one or the other? If not, then, where did we get this thinking? I mean, shouldn’t going deeper into the Word cause us to love people better?
Consider some issues:
- Your own views
- Our humanistic culture
- (Bad) experiences with legalistic, Pharisaical people or those perceived to be
- Distorted views of love and acceptance
- The example of Jesus
Jesus is the Word of God! Yet, while He walked the Earth, He was highly relational and loved both God and people better than anyone! This is how I know we can’t sacrifice one for the other! Both are important and both should feed into one another.
If I’ve had issues of my own in this area, and I personally have, how can I deal with my own heart before God. It’s first and foremost a heart issue before anything else!
I’m probing a little here for a reason. Whether we realize it or not, sometimes, we shy away from the Word of God, because of faulty thinking we’ve picked up along the way.
To fully embrace the Word of God, to make it our holy ambition to know it better and better, we must identify, dig out and repent of all of our distorted thinking in regards to God’s Word to clear the way for it. The example I gave is just one such distortion and blockage.
I will run the course of Your commandments, For You shall enlarge my heart. –Proverbs 119:32
7. The Bible compares the process of Bible study and seeking God as a treasure hunt! Read and study Proverbs 1 and 2, but especially chapter 2 to understand what going on a Bible treasure hunt means! What is God calling us to do? What kind of mindset does He want us to have? What will He give us in return if we seek out these things as if they were treasure? Do your own journal writing and Bible study for Proverbs 2 or chapters 1 and 2.
8. Commit to pray!
- Pray to have a hunger and thirst for God’s Word!
- Pray for the Holy Spirit to illuminate your understanding!
- Pray for the Holy Spirit to be your guide and teacher in Bible study!
- Pray you would have great retention for the things you study!
- Your own personal prayer.
- Your own personal prayer.