A 2016 Barna Group study found that 66% of Americans can at least “somewhat agree” that the Bible “contains everything a person needs to know to live a meaningful life.” Meanwhile, only 35% of respondents to this study said they read their Bible outside of church events more than one a month. There is a commitment problem to God’s Word among American Christians.
The Bible has sixty-six books and 1,189 chapters directly inspired by God. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says:
“Every Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness that each person who belongs to God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (WEB).
A lack of commitment to studying the Bible is dangerous to the Church as a collective for three reasons.
- It contributes to growing illiteracy concerning theology and the faith.
- It prevents individuals from learning God’s voice.
- It stops the Church from being equipped for good work.
Clearly studying the Bible is important. But knowing why it’s important doesn’t help if you don’t how. So what do you do? And how do you stop it from becoming more stressful than it is joyful?
The Stress-free and Joy-Inducing Way to Study the Bible
My creative writing instructor was eccentric and unpredictable. Aren’t they all? He once taught a lesson on writing rituals, or the practices writers use to quickly engage in their craft. Another time he almost kicked me out of class because I dared to pull out my phone so I could familiarize myself with a poem being discussed. As he taught lessons, inspiration would randomly seize control. The result? An order to us to turn in 20 fresh pages of fiction or a new poem in an obscure format within a week.
He taught me the greatest lesson about faith in one very simple lecture. He began, “Some days I spend hours in my office copying, by hand, pages from the great classics.” He did this so he could feel how the words flowed together and formed patterns. It was his practice to improve his own craft from writers who had gone before.
The moral of the lesson: we cannot imitate what we don’t study.
Studying always requires dedication and discipline. However, how can we be a “Little Christ” (the literal meaning of Christian) if we don’t even know who He was or what He did. It’s important.
It also doesn’t have to be stressful. In fact, there’s more room for joy when we learn a stress-free way to study the Bible.
Rules for a Productive Bible Study Time
Rule #1 – There are no true rules
You know you need to study the Bible more consistently. Your busy life keeps you distracted, exhausted, and unable to focus. You decide to let it slip another day while privately vowing, “Tomorrow I’m going to make this a priority.”
How do you feel? Bad? How do you motivate yourself to keep your promise?
What if I told you that Christians are prone to legalism when it comes to studying God’s Word? Often the motivation is some form of punishment or an attempt to add more into an exhausting day, such as refusing to eat breakfast until you’ve read three chapters or waking up an hour earlier. These approaches turn Bible Study into a burdensome duty rather than an act of worship.
Why on earth or heaven would we place rules on how we study the Bible that God Himself did not place? Pursue joy and worship. Don’t set rules about how to read or study the Bible that stress you out.
Rule #2 – Set goals
With that said, goals are a great way to focus your attention as long as you give yourself grace for falling short of them. You can set a goal to read a certain number of verses each day, to read a certain amount of time each day, or to finish studying a certain book of the Bible.
Rule #3 – Develop consistency, not an environment
Let’s say you’re a busy mom of two. Your home is noisy, your kids constantly interrupt what you are doing, and your day-to-day schedule changes frequently. What’s more valuable for this woman? Reading three chapters a day when she has a quiet moment to herself? Or reading 20 verses a day in a room with her children?
Hi! That woman is me. I love a warm, cozy, and quiet environment for reading the Bible. If I relied on it, I would never study anything new. It’s better to develop some kind of consistency for your Bible time than it is to tie yourself down to the perfect environment.
Consistency doesn’t always mean the same for every single person. can take the form of reading at a specific time of the day, during a specific event (I used to like doing my Bible Study while the girl sate breakfast), or by making use of the first downtime in your schedule. The last one is my current plan. This means that I might end up reading the Bible at 10am or 8pm. That’s okay.
See Rule #1. Priority doesn’t always mean first. It simply means that it’s on your must-do list before bed.
Rule #4 – Cultivate an attitude of worship
What is worship? Worship remembers who God is. He is the Creator, love, and our healer. When we remember who God is, we also remember who we are. We are created, loved, and healed from sin. Do you feel joy welling in your heart?
There are many ways to worship God, of course. All worship is the secret to joy.
You can remember to have an attitude of worship when studying the Bible by getting your mission statement straight. I read the Bible to learn more about God so that I, through the help of the Holy Spirit’s work in my life, become more like Him. I can worship Him when I better know who He is.
Why do you read the Bible? Write it down!
Rule #5 – Keep notes
They don’t have to be very detailed notes. You do need a way to keep track of what you’ve studied, learned, and prayed, however. At the very least, at some point you are going to ask yourself, “What books of the Bible haven’t I read lately?” Save yourself the headache and get yourself a decent tracker for your Bible Reading.
I have one for free here, but you can also find my prettier paid versions in my Etsy shop.
Different Study Methods
Q: “What is the right way to study the Bible?”
A: There isn’t one. While God instructs the Israelites to study, teach, recite, and meditate on His word, God also shows His power to use just a few passages to change lives. For example, the Wise Men in the Nativity Story most likely had limited access to the Old Testament. God still used them to make the Messiah’s appearance known. In Acts 8:26-40, an Ethiopian eunuch felt conviction after reading a section of Isaiah.
God can use any method of studying the Bible to teach us new things about Him or His will for us as long as we are willing to listen. However, knowing different methods of studying can help us stay alert or approach familiar passages from a new angle.
Here’s what you need to know about study methods.
Method #1 – Chapter-by-Chapter or Passage-by-Passage
This is probably the most common method for somebody who is trying to learn more about God’s Word. This method helps you work through a book of the Bible one section at a time. This method benefits by helping you absorb context, understand central topics of a book, and helps provide familiarity for later study methods.
When I do a chapter-by-chapter, I like to follow a read-learn-apply method of note-taking. I simply make a note of the passage and date, write a note or two of what stands out, and connect it back to earlier passages in the book. If I have a question about something I read, I’ll usually write that on the margins of my note-taking paper so that I can look it up later. Finally, I try to think of 1 or 2 ways the passage applies to my life. I’ll end with a prayer session.
Method #2 – Topical Bible Studies
Topical Bible studies can be a lot of fun because they quickly give you information on a single topic. These can be good for helping you connect a passage from, say Genesis to a Psalm and then to Jesus’ own life. Topics can include a specific person, an attribute of God, a fruit of the Spirit, how people praised God in the Bible, or what women in the Bible were like.
Another positive to this method is that it helps you reach some deep understandings about God, theology, or how you should live. Unfortunately, there is a downside that can quickly lead you into bad theology. Because topical Bible studies jump through so many passages from different books, you can lose the context. For example, if you just randomly read a passage in Job, you might be reading bad advice from one of Job’s friends rather than actual wisdom.
When I take notes on a topical Bible study, I usually summarize what one passage is saying. The summaries from the different passages will begin to thread together. Sometimes I might do a compare and contrast between two passages.
Topical Bible studies can be easily put together in the internet age. Type “Bible passages on keyword”. Look through multiple sources while creating your own list. You can re-organize passages after you have created a long list.
Method #3 – Historical/Cultural Study aka Hermeneutics
This is my personal favorite but it also the most time-consuming. This method wants to know, “What does this passage mean to the original audience?”
It looks at things like symbolism, what culture was like, and if Scripture is referencing itself. I also include looking at the original language in this category. (Please note that I cannot actually read Hebrew or Greek). I know this sounds confusing, so I’m going to list some examples:
- What significance did Lebanon pines have?
- Why was Jesus mad in the temple?
- What word is translated as modesty in the New Testament and how did the culture itself use it?
- What made the coat of many colors so special?
Honestly, my passage-by-passage readings often turn into this anyways. I’ve learned to channel my inner child and ask a lot of why questions. Researching them helps me better understand a passage as the original audience would have.
Making use of online lexicons is a huge asset for this method. I like being able to pull up a passage, find the word in question, and then click to see a list of other places the Bible uses that same word. It’s also easy to copy and paste a word into a separate google search to see if there are any secular notes on it.
Method #4 – Thematic Bible Study
This is similar to a topical Bible study. However, a topical Bible study does not weed out any passages. A thematic one will only include relevant passages to the question of the study. Thematic Bible studies, in my experience, often involve around a Christian lifestyle question, such as, “How do I have faith during troubling times?” or “What does a Christian mother look like?”
This study method is great for finding answers. However, it can also lead you into debating the finer details of theology or stressing about finding answers. Both of these become a danger when they distract you from your purpose of worshipping God.
My note-taking method varies between the ones that I have already described. It’s also difficult to construct your own thematic Bible Study without first doing a topical study to gather passages.
Now that you know the three basic study methods I use, I want to take a moment and encourage you not to be creative in how you apply them. I like to do a passage-by-passage on a specific book. Sometimes I do this multiple times to suck up the details. However, this quickly morphs into a cultural study as I ask lots of questions about the passages.
By then, I usually have questions about how the book connects to other books of the Bible. I might check the footnotes of my Bible for additional passages to read, run a topical search, or use a lexicon to find out where else the Bible uses a specific word. Finally, as I seek to apply it to my life, it turns into more a themed study.
At the end of the day, what matters is that you are worshipping God and growing in your own faith and knowledge of His word. That is joy. If you feel intimidated by a specific Bible Study method then don’t stress it.
In fact, the New Testament makes it very clear that knowledge is one of the Holy Spirit’s gifts. This means that people like me, who finds it fairly easy to study and remember, have been specifically gifted. Others do not have this gift by God’s own design. If you don’t have the gift of knowledge then worship God with what He has blessed you with.
Meanwhile, seek out some people that you trust to be knowledgeable and considerate of the Bible’s entirety to provide Scriptural advice and accountability into your life. This is how the Church keeps itself grow strong. We don’t all have to be brainiacs. We simply need to love God and faithfulness.
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