Looking for some helpful hints as you begin to study your Bible? Whether you this is your first time looking into scripture for yourself, or you are coming back from a hiatus (we’ve all been there), let these 10 tips and resources help you along the way:
1. Be book oriented: I know, I know. Reading is hard, boring, and difficult on the eyes. There is no way around it. If you want to study God’s Word for yourself, you are going to have to read. If you aren’t ready, that’s fine. Keep listening to great sermons, watching The Bible on the History channel, and enjoy prayer and worship. All of these are wonderful aspects to discovering a deeper relationship with God. In fact, each of these can be great resources to the auditory, visual, or kinesthetic learner. But nothing compares to an intimate understanding of His Word. So get reading glasses if you have to, go as slow as you need to, but let yourself take in the Word of God using the incredible gift God gave you: to read it for yourself.
2. Use a real Bible: Dust off that heavy hunk of God’s Word, open the pages, and smell the paper. Inviting, is it not? Ok, maybe you aren’t the tangible type, but having the book itself in front of you can help when tackling a tough passage. Many Bibles feature cross references (verses that help explain/connect with the verse you are reading), just look in the side note or bottom of the page.
3. Scribble it up: Once you have your Bible in hand, get a pen (or pencil), highlighter, and tabs stickers. Release yourself from the assumption that God’s word is untouchable–it isn’t. God’s word is “living and active” (Hebrews 4:12), and so should you be as you read it.
A pastor friend of mine facilitated the funeral of a wonderful, godly woman. She lived a long life and passed away knowing her destination was the arms of Jesus. The most memorable legacy she left, in the pastor’s eyes at least, was her Bible. Many pages were worn, blank space scribbled with notes and prayers, verses underlined. Know your Bible well, know your Savior well.
4. The Christian book store is your friend. If you are like me, your Bible might not last a lifetime. I wish I was less careless, but I tend to read excitedly, and aggressively. My Bible has ripped corners, chocolate smudges, and tear-stained pages. Every 5 years or so, I purchase a new Bible. The freshness is inviting. The blank page margins intrigue me: “what is God going to teach me this time?”
Also, if your Bible is a child’s version, teen edition, or maybe a hard-to-read translation (like KJV), it might be time to visit your local Christian book store to search for something relevant.
5. Journal the Journey: You might like to use a notebook instead of Bible margins to keep track of your spiritual walk with God. I find the journal to be very helpful. A very godly man keeps a journal as he reads through the whole Bible every year. He has read the Bible in a year for over 20 years! He has over 20 journals, each day features his thoughts on the same passage, every year. He can flip to January 1st, read what God taught Him through Genesis 1, and compare it to what God taught him every January 1st for the last 20 years of his life!
This kind of dedicated journaling leaves quite a legacy.
6. Bring out the big guns: Utilize some helpful commentaries. A good commentary can help explain some of the cultural and theological background behind passages in the Bible. It is a great place to start before reading a book in the Bible (like Isaiah, for instance) to understand the audience the book was written to, the author, and the style of communication (letter, book of history, poetry, etc.)
Shane and I frequently utilize “The Bible Knowledge Commentary,” given to us by our former BCM directors when we began ministry.
Ask your pastor or mentor for one available from your church. Or check your local library. You can also find helpful commentaries via the internet. I suggest the following:
- Old Testament: http://www.denverseminary.edu/resources/the-denver-journal/articles2003/0100/0101.php/
- New Testament: http://www.denverseminary.edu/resources/the-denver-journal/articles2003/0200/0201.php/
(Thanks to John Piper for these suggestions.)
7. Find the free stuff. Speaking of John Piper, this pastor has made some incredible material available for free on his website desiringGod.org. Just visit the resource library.
In fact, many published authors and pastors have free Bible study stuff just waiting to be downloaded. Search their sites for more Bible study resources like books, descriptive sermons (like a sermon series on Ephesians), and more commentaries. Here are some of our favorites, from different denominations and cultural backgrounds (all Bible based):
- Mars Hill (with Pastor Mark Driscoll): http://marshill.com
- The Summit Church (Pastor J.D. Greear): http://www.summitrdu.com
- The Church at Brook Hills (Pastor David Platt): http://www.brookhills.org
- Truth for Life (with Alistair Begg): http://www.truthforlife.org
- Redeemer Presbyterian Church (with Pastor Timothy Keller): http://www.redeemer.com
8. Grab that App: So, you’re living in a dorm room the size of shoe box? Don’t have the cash stash for new commentaries or a study Bible? Live on the run, day to day, barely remembering your phone? GREAT! You can still study your Bible in depth and every day with these free apps for your tablet or smartphone.
- YouVersion: https://www.youversion.com features the Bible in hundreds of different versions and languages; reading plans (I love this feature), and free downloads of the Bible, so the WiFi can’t take it from you… ah, 1st world problems.
- Glo Bible: http://www.globible.com/aninteractivebible/ this app has less versions of the Bible to offer, but it displays some helpful “lenses” with which to study the Bible: Bible content, Atlas, Timeline, Media, and Topics.
9. Bookmark a few Bible study websites: Study your Bible with your computer handy, just in case you run into verses that resemble “Riddles in the Dark” (for you Hobbit fans).
- http://www.biblestudytools.com: great Bible study notes, commentaries, illustrations, daily Bible reading, concordances, a parallel Bible tool, and daily devotionals.
- http://biblos.com: atlas and maps, dictionary, commentaries, reference Bible, Bible in other languages,
- http://www.biblegateway.com: this one is my favorite for searching for verses/themes in the Bible, and in different versions. I like this site better than my YouVersion app (and that’s saying a lot!)
10. And More! What helped you to start reading the Bible? Do you have a resource you love? Help a brother (and a sister) out, and post it in a comment below!