7 Tips for Better Bible Study

I came across this blog by Mark Driscoll, pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Wash., and had to repost it because all too often we make it all about the reading/gleaning knowledge aspect alone, and don’t take into consideration other key elements. Also, he talks about how bible study encourages and commands us to be the church. As Alistair Begg is fond of saying, “The plain things are the main things and the main things are the plain things.”

An important point that we often miss as believers (in whatever stage of life transformation by the gospel) and that becomes discouraging is we tend to think because we’re limited in knowledge, etc. we can’t be affective or show Christ to others. There are things that you believe in Scripture that are true, but you just don’t fully understand why you believe them, nor can you adequately defend them. Your “ignorance” does not make your beliefs wrong, does it? You may need to grow deeply in your knowledge, but your beliefs are true and remain unchanged. Your conviction of their truth deepens, but the truth is the truth. You tracking with me?

Ok, here’s Driscoll:

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When tempted by the devil to turn stones into bread after a 40-day fast in the wilderness, Jesus responded by saying simply and profoundly, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

Paul, when writing to his protégé, Timothy, writes that, “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 3:16–17).

David writes, “I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes” (Psalm 119:48).

The implications are clear: life and growth come from the study of God’s words through Scripture. We are not to read and study the Bible begrudgingly but rather view it as the source of life and, like David, love God’s word.

But the reality is that we all struggle at times to study faithfully or joyfully. So, it’s nice to have a few principles to help us refocus our love and study of Scripture. Below are seven principles that I’ve found beneficial.

1. Actively serve and participate in a local church to learn with and from other Christians.

Colossians 3:16 (NIV): “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.”

2. Be under the authority of Scripture to be interpreted by it, not over the Scripture to be interpreted by you.

Hebrews 4:12–13 (NIV): “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-­edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

3. Pick up the Bible for life transformation, not just mental information.

John 5:39–40 (NIV): “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”

4. Pick up the Bible for relational purposes—not functional ones—so that you will love God and not just know or use him.

Matthew 7:21–23 (NIV): “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’“

5. Don’t just get into the Word; get the Word into you.

Memorization, Psalm 119:11: “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”

Meditation, Ezra 7:10: “For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.”

6. Take advantage of godly Bible commentators, your pastor, respected theologians in church history, and wise Christian friends to better understand Scripture.

Romans 12:7 (NIV): “If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach . . .”

7. Don’t think you need more knowledge. Often you need more obedience to the knowledge you already have.

James 1:22 (NIV): “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”

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Responding to Fear

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. (Psalm 56:3)

Do you have those days where you beat yourself up for being fearful or doubting? How should we respond to our fears? John Piper gives us some encouragement and biblical insights:

One possible response to the truth that our anxiety is rooted in our failure to live by faith in future grace goes like this: “I have to deal with feelings of anxiety almost every day; and so I feel like my faith in God’s grace must be totally inadequate. So I wonder if I can have any assurance of being saved at all.”

My response to this concern is: Suppose you are in a car race and your enemy, who doesn’t want you to finish the race, throws mud on your windshield. The fact that you temporarily lose sight of your goal and start to swerve does not mean that you are going to quit the race.

And it certainly doesn’t mean that you are on the wrong racetrack. Otherwise, the enemy wouldn’t bother you at all. What it means is that you should turn on your windshield wipers and use your windshield washer.

When anxiety strikes and blurs our vision of God’s glory and the great¬ness of the future that he plans for us, this does not mean that we are faith¬less, or that we will not make it to heaven. It means our faith is being attacked.

At first blow, our belief in God’s promises may sputter and swerve. But whether we stay on track and make it to the finish line depends on whether, by grace, we set in motion a process of resistance — whether we fight back against the unbelief of anxiety. Will we turn on the windshield wipers and will we use our windshield washer?

Psalm 56:3 says, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.”

Notice: it does not say, “I never struggle with fear.” Fear strikes, and the battle begins. So the Bible does not assume that true believers will have no anxieties. Instead, the Bible tells us how to fight when they strike.

Future Grace, Multnomah Books (Colorado Springs, CO), pages 53-54

A Few Problems With Us and American Christianity

We are so eager to go out and create a legacy of some sort, to change lives with the gospel, to minister effectively, pray for revival, and to make systems better. All of these are wonderful, godly desires – if they’re from the heart. But (and I ask myself this same question) how many of you are doing that SAME thing, on a SMALLER scale, with the family, loved ones, friends, bank teller, hair stylist, recluse neighbor, etc. in your lives? How can God entrust us with the bigger things in life if we can’t be faithful in the little things He’s so abundantly blessed us with and put in front of us? Or how can we even be as effective? Food for thought.

On both a bigger and smaller scale, as I mentioned earlier, these are wonderful, God-given desires. But, we have to guard the intentions of our hearts. Because anything beautiful can become twisted. We see it everyday around us – this tendency to worship the creation rather than the Creator. We all have this struggle between being Pharisaical and pursuing/living out holiness.

Each of us, to varying degrees, is a Pharisee. We’re religious hypocrites. We’re assured of our own righteousness because of what we do and do not do, instead of what Jesus had done for us. Anytime we read a verse about the Pharisees, we need to realize that they were the ‘Bible guys’ – they were the serious, devoted Biblicists….

Mark Driscoll

It’s not just about doing, but why we do it. Are you seeking to do good for others and drown yourself in ministry because you’ll feel better about yourself, out of duty or because you feel you’ll earn more of God’s love, grace and forgiveness? Are you doing it to prove a point or prove yourself to others?

That is such an impossible feat and crushing goal/burden. You’re doing it from a fear – and as Scripture tells us, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18 NKJV)

You can’t earn any more or any less of God’s love and grace (insert Romans 6:1 here). He paid it in full on the cross. It is finished. There’s such freedom in that to then to fall more in love with Christ and joyfully live out and serve others with the purpose of showing them a glimpse of His perfect love and holiness.

Look at how Jesus did community and missions with every kind of person. One of the main problems with the church in America today is that we teach people to be narrow-minded with all these “do’s” and don’ts” instead of showing and teaching them from the Bible what it looks like to pursue holiness on the straight and narrow path. “For the gate is narrow and the way is HARD that leads to LIFE, and those who find it are FEW” (Matt. 7:14). On that note, we often want to interpret Christian living through our American lifestyle. Or we’ve been told that Jesus is like Tinker Bell – just sprinkling the love dust – and that He wants our happiness in the way of health, wealth and prosperity. Many are turned off and disillusioned by this lie that looks “good.” We’ve managed to Americanize “Christianity.” We see in churches, especially in the Bible belt that it’s become our social feel-good-about-my-spirituality-and-meet-people club. But on the flip side of that – we can’t become bitter, blame or discredit entirely the effect of the church in people’s lives. Who are we to play God in that sweeping determination? And we most certainly shouldn’t use it to fuel our pride and justify ourselves.

I don’t know about you, but more and more I realize how I am my greatest hinderance and enemy to pursuing Christ and Christ-likeness. And the longer I live and am a Christian, the less I feel I know and progressed. I pray you feel the urgency and call — to then pray for more of the Holy Spirit and live it out. It’s HARD. The apostle Paul said he had to beat his body black and blue (not sure if that’s literal or figuratively, but you get the point). I pray that I will discipline my heart to look at every choice/action/thought (from the smallest to the biggest) through the lens of eternity and not from my short-sighted, selfish one.

Bible-Reading Funk

This is for the skeptics, the faint of heart, the procrastinators – because we are all of those things at times, and we all wrestle with having this desire to read God’s Word from a hungry heart full of this quiet excitement to discover and know more fully of who He is.

Let me to encourage you, as I do myself, to read your Bible more and more every year. Read it with a pen and paper. Read it whether you feel like it or not. Pray without ceasing that the joy return and pleasures increase.

Bible-reading is not a cure for a bad conscience; it’s chemo for your cancer. Legalists feel better because the box is checked. Saints feel better when their blindness lifts, and they see Jesus in the word.

– John Piper

If you despair or feel you’re not getting anything from reading the word. 1) Check your heart. 2) Check your technique for studying it. 3) Find encouragement in the words of Mr. Ryle:

Do not think you are getting no good from the Bible, merely because you do not see that good day by day. The greatest effects are by no means those which make the most noise, and are most easily observed. The greatest effects are often silent, quiet, and hard to detect at the time they are being produced.

Think of the influence of the moon upon the earth, and of the air upon the human lungs. Remember how silently the dew falls, and how imperceptibly the grass grows. There may be far more doing than you think in your soul by your Bible-reading.

– J. C. Ryle (Practical Religion, 136)

If you’re not sure where to begin or how to study your Bible, read my post on Bible Intake: 5 Components.

Shalom,

Rachel B. Duke

Don’t Let Discouragement Choke You

 

Jon Bloom, president of Desiring God, which he and John Piper launched in 1994, wrote on a topic that, as Aragorn said, “would take the heart of me.”

I especially needed to hear it today as I am about to embark on my first ever bike “race” Hotter ‘n Hell this weekend. I must confess I’m nervous for several reasons: mostly because I’ve never done it before; afraid I will get on the wrong course; someone will collide into me and something bloody happen; bonking (when you’re body is zapped of everything and you just collapse). But out of all of it there’s an underlying fear and prayer: that I won’t become frustrated and impatient with myself (it will project to others around me too) at my lack of skills/speed. I will have to fight feeling discouragement. It all boils down to faith and perspective. I need to honestly realize where I am as a beginner cyclist, and realize I have a lot to work towards. I don’t need to beat myself up that I “suck,” but take heart and realize that I can only get better with time and practice. I also need to enjoy myself and realize how I have progressed under Chris’ wonderful, patient training. Oh, and I need to fight against my stupid pride and just accept that there will ALWAYS be someone better than me, and that’s OK.

We all face discouragement and we tend to fuel it with doubts and frustration and impatience – a lack of faith. How do you cope with yours? Read Bloom’s article below:

Discouragement is a temptation “common to man” (1 Corinthians 10:13). And in dealing with it sometimes we need tenderness and other times we need toughness. But either way discouragement is not to be tolerated or wallowed in. It’s to be fought.

If we linger in discouragement it can be costly. Its sense of defeat and hopelessness saps us of energy and vision. It can consume a lot of time. It can keep us from doing what we need to do because we don’t want to face it. And it can even be contagious, weakening others’ faith.

When we feel discouraged we want comfort, which is right to feel. But the comforts we often turn to are ways to avoid our fears rather than ways to muster our courage to face and overcome them. When this happens discouragement simply becomes sinful indulgence in unbelief, no different than indulging in lust or anger or other sins of unbelief.

Jesus does not want us to be discouraged. In fact, he commands us not to be. Listen to what Jesus says to his disciples just before what probably was the most discouraging experience of their lives — his brutal death: “Let not your hearts be troubled” (John 14:1, emphasis added).

Note Jesus’s words, “let not.” These are not merely comforting; they are commands. He knew they would be tempted to fear. Things were going to look very bad, like the whole mission was imploding. What were they to do instead of being afraid? Believe! “Believe in God; believe also in me.”

In other words, “Don’t let your hearts be ruled by what you see. Let them be ruled by what I promise you.” And that’s what he’s saying to you and me too.

What’s tempting you to discouragement today? Are you having a hard time believing that God really will work for good what looks so bad to you (Romans 8:28)?

Then it’s time to fight, not pout or shrink. Think of discouragement as your faith being choked. When you’re choking, it’s not the time to plop down in front of the TV with a plate of comfort food to medicate your melancholy. You need to dislodge the obstruction so you can breathe. You need to fight for life. You may need to get someone to give you the Heimlich.

Go get encouragement — faith-fueled courage. Don’t let discouragement choke you. It’s dislodged by believing promises. God gave us the Bible so that “through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). It says amazing things like:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?… No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Romans 8:35,37)

Don’t let your heart be ruled by what you see. Let it be ruled by what Jesus promises you.

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)

Shalom,

Rachel B. Duke

For the Love of Literature!

I had to re-post this from Desiring God’s site for several reasons; all of which make me tingle with the delight of God’s awesomeness from the tips of my toes to my head. John Piper said, “After preaching on the inestimable value of God’s inspired word on August 11, I was so moved that the desire to say it again another way kept urging me on. So I wrote this.”

Reason #1

I have this nerdy delight in all things literature, especially when it comes to the Holy Spirit revealing truths from passages I’d never seen before.

Reason #2

I always admire people who can turn anything into a flowery poem, because I can’t. Go figure, right? I get all nerdy and find great amusement in rhyming things. For instance, have you noticed that the script: “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear,” on your side car mirrors. I pointed that out to Chris the other day and he just guffawed. Oh, and let me take this moment to give a Happy Birthday shout-out to my bucket of awesome, boyfriend, Chris! Don’t change….as Mitch would say.

Random graphic insert:

Reason #3

Both my dad and brother, Haden are fabulous at creating beautiful, soul-stirring poems and this reminded me of them.

Reason #4

Piper wrote a poem on the exact passage I read and studied for my Bible devotion today.

Now you look at those reasons and tell me God is not awesome. Love it. Got my happy dance on. Ok, you don’t have to be as excited as me, but I wanted to share this poem with you, so that you can be encouraged and blessed through it.

THE TRUTH

A Meditation on 2 Timothy 3:14–17

Stay, Timothy. Stay in this firmament,
This world of light within the world. Relent
From wandering, from chasing mist. Remain!
Outside awaits the glistening world, insane.

Stay, Timothy. This sky, this vast terrain
Where you now stand, is not a painting, vain.
Nor is your mother fanciful. God wrought
This world. You were not fooled, but brought.

Stay, Timothy. A thousand flowers, fraught
With heaven’s milk and holy fragrance ought
To make you stop, so strewn with deity
This sacred garden spreads. Eternally.

Stay, Timothy, my son, and do not be
A fool. The brightness here is how you see
Your way to heav’n. And there is shadowing
That shows in silhouette your shining King.

Stay, Timothy. Remember, everything
In this bright world is beneficial. Sing,
And feast on holy food, and taste the way
Of love. Then it will be your joy to stay.

Shalom,

Rachel B. Duke

Believing is Seeing

“We must get over wanting to be needed – this is the hardest of all temptations to resist.” – C.S. Lewis

Today was just a C.S. Lewis type of day (note: after writing this whole thing out, I discovered all the quotes I found somehow fit perfectly within and complemented my post). It all started when I was sent this quote as a way of encouragement:

Faith is the art of holding on to things in spite of your changing moods and circumstances.

I had read/heard of the quote before, but it had slipped my mind. Then in my Bible reading plan (Soul Detox from YouVersion) complemented that quote when I was assigned to read and study Psalm 27. Verse 14 stood out to me:

Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!

I don’t know about you, but some days in my heart it feels that the world is ending, even though, in reality, the sun is still shining. I grappled with this verse. Ok, Lord, I can wait, which is agony enough, but “be strong”? There are so many times I feel so weak that I feel I’ll snap in two. I’m ashamed to even write that, knowing my “hardships” (see, I even have to put that in quotes) are minute. But then I realized in really chewing on this verse that waiting on the Lord – trusting in His faithfulness, having an eternal/godly perspective, clinging to Him, basing your hope and joy in Him – DOES produce a strength you cannot conjure on your own. It’s a different kind of strength than we typically think of.

Besides being complicated, reality, in my experience, is usually odd.

It’s ironic – sometimes I have to write these blog posts out to realize the depth of my sin, the narrowness of my perspective and my lack of faith. But on the flip-side of that I see the humbling mercy of God in Christ, the riches of His love, His pursuit of me despite my wanderings and how much He has blessed me with. It’s so easy to fall into being self-centered – some struggle with that enslaving downfall more than others. Let me encourage you, as I encourage myself, to strive for holiness in seeking to fulfill the Great Commandment (Matt. 22:37-39):

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

Because I find the times in which I serve and love on others, some of the most beautiful and richest moments of my life because my focus is no longer on me.

This is one of the miracles of love: It gives a power of seeing through its own enchantments and yet not being disenchanted.

So, if you think about it upside down (which is really right side up) you’re really showing yourself some love….and I want to be careful here….this is what I don’t mean….I don’t mean that you should love others to get something from them. What I meant by that statement is despite what the world and your sinful side tells you about how you shouldn’t do this or that for a person or they deserve this or that and not your love/grace…..DON’T listen to those lies. Know that you may suffer and maybe you won’t “gain” anything on earth, but I’d encourage you to look at Christ’s life on earth and what you have to gain eternally.

Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even agony into a glory.

Perspective is such a key word here. It’s SO hard and I know I fail often. Don’t beat yourself when you fall down. Know His mercies are new every morning and that He has already forgiven it when He died for you (quickly insert Romans 6:1 here).

It’s not the load that breaks you down. It’s the way you carry it.

Let me leave you with this one last encouragement and commandment from Hebrews 12:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith…

Shalom,

Rachel B. Duke