I get it. Studying the Bible can be intimidating even with a neat, pre-organized Bible study guide. It can be difficult to keep up with even if you have an accountability group with passages scheduled to read. I understand why studying the Bible on your own time without a guide can feel confusing, beyond your abilities, or even impossible. The simple truth is that DIY Bible Study doesn’t have to be overwhelming.
I’ve already written a Beginner’s Guide to Stress-Free Bible Study. You might have already read it. If not, go take a look at it now. Now, I want to take a moment to show you how any regular person can teach themselves to study any and all passages of God’s Word. But first, let’s answer some questions.
Is it important to DIY Bible study?
Yes! It is one of the most important habits, right alongside prayer, that Christians need to have. Let me break this down for you:
- There are 1,189 chapters in the Bible
- If you only read 3 chapters a week, it will take you 396.33 weeks (or 7.62 years) to go through the entire Bible
- The average sermon or group Bible Study doesn’t cover an entire chapter
- Passages will be repeated during this time
- Some passages will most likely never be taught in a traditional group setting
If you rely on other people to teach you God’s entire word, you will spend your entire lifetime waiting to study everything. That means you’re missing some of God’s inspired Word that is good for your life.
Do I have to be good at Bible study for it to be worth it?
That’s the best part about studying the Bible. You don’t have to be good at it because God has given us a counselor in the Holy Spirit that is good at it for us. As we read and seek to apply God’s Word to our lives, the Holy Spirit helps us filter exactly what we need to hear.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. I can remember very little of Isaiah. I think I understand even less than I remember. I’ve read the entire book probably nine times since I was a teenager and still struggle with it.
It’s still an important part of my faith at this point. It’s vivid use of light stands out to me as I see myself as a person who “once stood in darkness” but who “saw a great light” when I met the Savior. And how Jesus was crushed for our transgressions? That’s a devastating and accurate description of the cross prophesied centuries before Jesus’ sacrifice really happened.
So give yourself permission to struggle. Wonder if there’s something of value in all those names in Leviticus. Search for gold.
But most importantly, let your struggles become a fuel for your faith. Let God’s Word echo in your mind as you learn to love Him and recognize His voice in your life.
Stopping DIY Bible Study from Being Overwhelming
Now, I’m going to let you take a close look at my current Bible Study notes. Like I mentioned in Joyful Resolutions to make, I’m studying the minor prophets this year. These are probably some of the most difficult books for people to read and study. First of all, with the exception of Jonah, you don’t often see these books taught in church.
Second, they’re very easy to flip past. Third, they’re not really put in chronological order so it’s hard to picture them alongside other parts of the Bible.
That brings me to my first inside look:
Step #1 – Writing the Historical Background is a Must for most DIY Bible Study
Do you need to timelines and other images for studying the Bible? Absolutely not. I did it because I have 12 books to go through. I knew I would appreciate this reference a lot. I have a very simple color-code for the kings of Israel and Judah. Red = bad. Green = good.
When I’m done with Hosea, my first book, I’ll add his time as a prophet to the bottom half of the timeline. This will let me see when prophets overlap with each other.
The point of a historical background is to give you a better idea of what was happening behind-the-scenes.
It helps me to have a more cemented idea of when a book was originally written and to be reminded that life could look very different back then.
This is nonnegotiable for Old Testament prophecy but is also helpful for New Testament writings.
Steps to do this:
- The Bible mentions kingdom and king names for a reason. Use this to learn what was happening behind the scenes.
- If you’re looking at a prophecy book, cross-reference with 1 & 2 Kings and 1 & 2 Chronicles to find Israel’s history, too.
- A simple internet search on a Biblical book’s background should help a lot
Step #2: Initial Thoughts are the Foundation for DIY Bible Study
Seriously, just start. There’s nobody grading you. There’s no such thing as an A+ or an F. Just write down a passage reference with whatever stands out to you. If you notice, I take very simple notes for the most part. What I do try to do is find something to notate at least once every 10 verses.
I notate things like questions, devotional thoughts, life applications, and connections to other passages if they were part of my initial thoughts.
If you’re confused about something, you have two options. 1) Take a pause immediately to research your question. 2) Jot down your question. I like to use a big question mark like you’d find on a middle-school girl’s science fair poster.
If you weed out your thoughts at the start, you’ll sabotage your DIY Bible study. You can deliberate, consider, dismiss, or write an entire book on your thoughts as you feel led to do in later steps.
Step #3 – Connections Build Confidence
You’ll see in my notes (if you can read my handwriting) that I make connections in my initial reading. It’s perfectly okay if this doesn’t happen for you. However, do find time to slow down. Ask yourself, “How does this passage relate to others that I’ve read?”
Again, just write down what comes to mind. Don’t doubt yourself. You’ll find that the more you study, the easier this will become. Making connections will build your own confidence about your Bible study.
Step #4 – Ponder (That’s Southern for Meditate)
Consider all you have written with your initial thoughts and connections. Is anything a contradiction to what you’ve either: a) been taught or b) another passage that you know? Investigate. Reread the passages multiple times. Write down your questions or concerns.
There’s no picture for this one. I don’t write down my deepest ponderings unless I’m worried that Mommy brain will strike before I’m done. My ponderings usually end in either Step #5 or in a solid conclusion that lives on.
An example of a pondering though:
God mercifully rescued Hagar and Ishmael in the desert not once but twice. He provided them water and sustained their lives. Hagar and Ishmael are characters who represent followers of God trying to fulfill God’s plan through their own actions. If Hosea 2:3-4 is a reference to Hagar, then it could be implying that God will no longer have mercy on those who rely on their own plans rather than God. This does seem to flow with the rest of Chapter 2.
Step #5 – Investigate
You have your questions. Maybe you’ve finished your book of the Bible or maybe they’ve just built up to a point that you can no longer stand it. It’s time to investigate. You know your passages that are standing out by now so you are armed to dig a little deeper. Here’s how you can do it:
- Google “Strongs Concordance insert passage” to find a word-by-word breakdown of the passage. This is my favorite.
- Use a website like biblegateway.com to search a topic or keyword. For example, Hosea mentions Jezreel. I couldn’t remember what happened at Jezreel so a search on that keyword helped me understand that element of Hosea 1 better.
- Use the power of the internet to find brainy Bible academics who might provider greater insight. Often, gotquestions.org can be helpful. They usually cross-reference throughout the entire Bible and don’t talk too nerdy.
- Take it to a pastor or older Christian that you trust.
- Find a book on the subject. In fact, find 3 or 4. If possible, read opposing views.
Step #6 – Rinse and Repeat
Keep doing it. Read your book of the Bible or passage in rounds, slowly allowing the Holy Spirit to carve it into your heart. Or, if you’re still very new at DIY Bible study, move on to something else after one round. Once you make Bible study a habit, you’ll have plenty of time to go back to books you’ve already read.
So there you have it! Does DIY Bible study still look overwhelming? Don’t let it scare you. You’ve got this!