a firm decision to do or not to do something.
Each time a new year rolls around I’m fascinated by resolutions. Resolutions often involve things that you’ve known for a while that you should (or shouldn’t) be doing, but now (you know, since a new year is beginning) you’re going to actually do (or not do) that thing. In essence, when you make a resolution what you’re really saying is, “I can do better, but something has been holding me back and now (you know, since a new year is beginning) it’s time to step up!” Although studies have shown that more often than not people don’t keep their resolutions, proclaiming out loud to a bunch of people, “I’ve made a decision!” can actually be a great step. Whether we are resolving to save more money, eat fewer donuts, or be more active, we tend to stick to our decision when there are other people walking alongside us in the process.
Reading the Bible is one of those “I can do better” things that can become like a splinter in the back of our minds. We don’t want to get legalistic and feel all guilty all the time, but at the same time it is a pretty cool opportunity to be able to hear God speak to us through His Word. Many of us make mini “resolutions” to spend more time studying the Bible in March, and then again in August, and then again at Thanksgiving, only to experience failure and discouragement because we’re unable to follow through. How do we reverse this pattern? There’s absolutely nothing magical about New Year’s Day that makes us able to keep resolutions, but maybe we can take advantage of the momentum of the moment and see if we can develop some fresh resolve to study the Bible and therefore deepen our relationship with Jesus.
Let’s keep this simple. When it comes to the Bible, there are a few basics:
You’ve Got To Read It
The Bible is a book, so the obvious first step to extract what’s inside the book is to, well, read it. It just makes sense. So why don’t we do it? For one thing, reading books is becoming a lost art in our culture. Recent studies have shown that more than 1/3 of adults in our country have not read one single book since graduating High School. In addition, the Bible can be a tricky book to read. It’s comprised of 66 shorter books written across hundreds of years by dozens of different authors who used a variety of literary genres…whew! It can be overwhelming. Yet, reading the Bible is the logical first step toward being changed by the Bible.
Where do we begin? Start small. Choose a short verse or passage to read each day, maybe something from one of the Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus. You can be “old school” and read verses straight from your Bible, or it might be helpful to write your verse on a note card and carry it with you throughout the day. There are also all kinds of Bible apps that will send you a quick text or email with some daily Bible verses, and there are even websites and other resources available where you can actually have the Bible read to you while you’re exercising or driving your car. Figure out what works best for you. Then, and here’s the key, when you get that email or pull out that note card and you see the verse in front of you, read it. Maybe a couple of times. It’s that simple. It won’t take long. In fact, you might find that you have the time and desire to read some larger chunks or chapters of the Bible. Whatever amount you choose to read, once you’ve read the passage you’re ready for step two.
You’ve Got To Think About It
Our goal is to try and determine the normal interpretation of the verses in front of us. This is going to take a bit more effort, but it’s worth it. It can be helpful to have a couple of questions to ask yourself whenever you engage a new passage. One question I’ve found helpful is, “do I really know what this verse says?” If I don’t, I will ask myself, “what’s confusing about this passage?” Maybe I need more context, or maybe there are people I’m not familiar with or words that I normally don’t use. This is where the involvement of other people can be really helpful. You might try sitting down with your spouse, or one of your friends, or maybe your Life Group, and asking them for their perspective on the passage.
In addition, there is an incredible wealth of great Bible commentary and wisdom available on the internet. Just make sure you’re using reliable resources! As an example, we have found got.questions.org to be a source of very trustworthy content to help with Bible interpretation. It’s a good idea to involve others in your study of the Bible whenever you can. A good portion of the Bible is actually fairly straightforward. Let’s say the verse you’ve chosen is Ephesians 4:29, which says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” The meaning is fairly plain. The question then becomes, how does your life stack up with the wisdom found in this passage? Now you’re ready for the final step.
You’ve Got To Do Something
This can be the hardest part. Because God’s Word is perfect, and we are not, when we read the Bible we tend to gain fresh insight. Once you’ve read the Bible, and then taken some time to think about it, you’ll often face an opportunity to apply what you’ve read and considered. Let’s go back to Ephesians 4:29. Once you’re confident that you understand what this passage says, you can ask yourself some application questions. “How are my words? Are they wholesome? Am I aware of the needs of others? When I start talking do those around me tend to feel torn down or built up?” In asking questions like these you place yourself on the road to significant change. You might even choose to go right back where we started, a resolution. “What needs to change about the way I use my words to be more in line with Ephesians 4:29?” Make a firm decision to do or not do something in order to bring more glory to God.
So, how important is this? Why even bother? When I get stuck (and I do!) and lose my resolve to study the Bible (which happens a LOT!) I remind myself that Jesus Himself is at the center of this entire process. Jesus loves me so much that He died for me, and He wants me to be free from the sinful patterns in my life. Jesus wrote the Bible. The Bible is filled with stories about Jesus, and teachings from Jesus. In fact, the entire Bible is like a giant arrow pointing to Jesus. I get to read about Him, and I get to learn from Him. When I think about what God is able to do in our lives by the power of His Spirit, through the wisdom of the Bible, because of the shed blood of Jesus, I am motivated to dive back into the Bible. I pray the same for you!
Are you looking for help in developing a personal Bible study strategy for the next year? In January, Riverview will be hosting a Bible Basics Workshop to help equip you for this very purpose. In this workshop we will talk about practical ways to get into the Bible and let it influence our lives. This one-day workshop will be held across all of Riv’s venues through the month of January. For details and registration, head to rivchurch.com/events.