It's January and high on many people's list of new year resolutions is reading through the Bible.
You don't have to be overwhelmed by Shakespearean-sounding language or names of people and places that are a struggle to pronounce. You don't even have to have a set amount of chapters to read everyday. You can do your own Bible study and get closer to God by following a few tips that will help you make the best of your study time.
Ready to grow? Let's go!
10 Bible study tips for beginners
1. MAKE A DATE WITH GOD.
No, you can't go on a date with God (that would be weird). But you can schedule your Bible study for the same time and place to create a God-habit. If you're just starting out, set aside 15 minutes and schedule an alarm on your phone. Once you get started, I bet it will be hard to stop at just 15 minutes.
2. BE READY!
Make it easy on yourself and keep all your Bible study stuff in the same place where you can see it. Here's a quick list of things you'll find useful when it's time to study:
3. ASK THE HOLY SPIRIT TO GUIDE YOU AS YOU READ.
This is the simplest thing you can do to upgrade your Bible study game. Ask God for help. That's it! You don't even have to bow your head or close your eyes, although you can do those things if it makes you more comfortable. Jesus called the Holy Spirit our helper and our teacher and that means you have a 24x7x365 personal tutor that is ready and willing to break down anything you don't understand. Every lesson is custom-designed with you in mind and the Holy Spirit always speaks your language (even if you mostly use slang). Isn't that awesome?
4. LISTEN CAREFULLY.
While you are reading, you may hear or sense the Holy Spirit directing you to read a verse again or ask a question about what you just read. Go with the flow! Paying attention to the nudge you get from God while you're reading is always worth taking a detour or two.
A few years ago, I was having fun in my regular bible study time when I started sensing the Holy Spirit direct me to another book of the Bible. To be honest, I was deeply engaged in what I was reading and I told the Holy Spirit I would get to that book next time. A couple more days past and I kept having the same experience and kept telling God I would get to it later. About a week or so later, I bumped into a friend of mine that was in the middle of a depression. He had experienced some disappointments at work and with his family and was angry at God for not showing up like he thought that God should. He was even saying he didn't believe in God anymore, distanced himself from all his friends and seemed like he was considering suicide. I tried to talk to him but he wouldn't listen to anything I had to say.
Needless to say, I was pretty concerned for my friend and wanted to help him. I found someone to pray for him with me and kept seeking God about what I could do to help. And suddenly that nudge returned to read that same book of the Bible that the Holy Spirit had been trying to get me to read over a week ago. I gave up on resisting the urge and turned to the book of Ecclesiastes only to find that Solomon, the writer, sounded exactly like my friend. I realized that the Holy Spirit had been trying to warn me the whole time and prepare me for how to respond to my friend's situation. Immediately after reading the whole book, I knew exactly what to say to my friend and his whole attitude eventually changed. And all of that was a result of some good ol' Bible study. Listening for God while you're studying can open up opportunities to help yourself and others.
5. READ IT HOW IT WAS WRITTEN.
There are a slew of famous stories from the Bible that you may have come across on TV, portrayed in a movie, or heard from a minister at some point in time. It's great to see scenes from the Bible play out on a big screen or hear a great speaker make a good point from the text, but make sure that you read the Bible for yourself. It's easy to skim stories that we think we already know, but God has a way of showing you something new when you diligently read what the writer has actually written. For example, it's common to believe that three wise men visited Jesus and his parents while they were still in the manger right after his birth. You may have even seen this pictured on a Christmas greeting card or passed by a nativity scene on someone's front lawn (even a church). But if you read the book of Matthew as it is written, you'll find out that the writer never told how many Magi came to see Jesus and that they came to his house, not to the manger. In fact, the writer just names three types of gifts, not three people. Reading what has been written helps you to accurately understand the truth of God's Word, instead of just being "familiar" with it. God places a lot of importance on words, so we should do the same.
When you're ready to take your study to the next level, you can even use a Hebrew-Greek dictionary or concordance to see the original words used and the extra layers of meaning that comes with them. (A great free online resource for this is www.biblehub.com.) After all, you do know that the Bible wasn't originally written in English, right? Don't let your understanding get lost in translation.
6. READ OUT LOUD.
Reading out loud forces you to read more slowly and more thoughtfully. It also is a great way to practice memorizing scriptures. Remember having story time when you were a little kid? I loved story time and still like to listen to a good mystery audiobook today. Reading out loud can help you imagine the circumstances that the people you are reading about are experiencing and make the Bible more real to you.
Hearing yourself read the Word of God also helps to feed your faith. The book of Romans talks about how faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. Reading the word out loud to yourself is a way of increasing your faith, because you will be hearing yourself say what God said.
7. ASK QUESTIONS.
God can handle your questions! God is not so sensitive or touchy that you can't ask God why or how something is true or supposed to work.
Sometimes you may read something that you have heard someone say in a different way or flat-out said the opposite of what God said. You may even run into scriptures that you have trouble believing, because of the way you were raised or how you were taught. The best person to ask about scriptures and what they mean is the One who inspired them in the first place. That's not to say that people are not a good resource, but always consider the perspective you get from the Holy Spirit to be the highest priority. God wants you to understand and asking good questions will help you do just that. (If you need a little help getting scriptural facts and perspective, try www.gotquestions.org)
8. TAKE NOTES.
You wouldn't go to class and not bring a paper & pencil, would you? I hope not. If you plan to do well in your classes, you have to put in the effort to understand the lessons. The same is true for studying the Bible. Taking notes helps you to remember the key points you run across in your study time. When you take notes, you are showing God that you are serious and intentional about getting to know God better. There may even be times that the Holy Spirit uses your study time to give you specific advice about a situation that you are going through or a warning about something that is coming up. Let me tell you, you don't want to be scrambling trying to find something to write with when God starts giving you the answers ahead of the test! Take notes so that you can review them later and remember what God told you. It's easy to get caught up in your day-to-day life at school or at work and sometimes forget what you've studied or what God said to you. But you'll never be at a loss if you keep a notebook nearby to jot down what God said.
9. MAKE IT PERSONAL.
Have you ever thought that some of the stories in the Bible sound like plots to a science-fiction movie? For example, have you ever heard of this guy named Jonah who refused to go where God sent him and was swallowed by a whale? What could you possibly gain by studying that story? Quite a bit! Stories like Jonah's may seem far fetched but there is always a way to apply the lessons from the lives of other believers into your life. In the case of Jonah, you can see that disobedience had unintended consequences for some people he met along the way. You can also take to heart the way God showed Jonah how merciful and caring He is toward humanity by sending Jonah to warn them of the consequences of their sin and give them a chance to change their ways. Put yourself in the shoes of some of the people you read about in the Bible and think about what you would do in their situation. Even though they lived thousands of years ago, the things they went through are part of the eternal human experience and will always have modern-day relevance to our lives. The next time you're reading through the Bible, don't get stuck on all the throwback scenarios. Instead, think about how you can apply what you're learning to your relationships with friends and family, the things you do at school or work, your hopes & dreams, or your own private, personal challenges. The Word of God is so cool, it can be old-school and new-school at the same time.
10. JUST DO IT.
Lots of preachers call the Bible a life manual and that's very true. The Bible is not just meant to be read, it is meant to be lived. There are principles, promises, and prophecies throughout all 66 books that are living, breathing words of God waiting for you to activate them in your life. As a matter of fact, I think the Holy Spirit's favorite way of teaching us is through experience---God wants us to get out there and use what we know. Living out what you've learned is the best way to show others the character of God. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3 that we are epistles, or messages, written by the spirit of the living God. Did you catch that? We don't just carry the message---we literally are messages from God! If you believe that to be true, then you have to ask yourself---what story does my life tell? When you interact with your neighbors or friends, teachers and parents, or even perfect strangers, does the experience you give people point back to the goodness of God? If it does, great! Keep up the good work! If you honestly think you could use some help, reading and doing the word of God is the solution.
There you have it! Spending time reading the Word of God is one of the best decisions you can make to change your life for the better. You can pick any book to start, but I think the books of Psalms, Proverbs, John and Acts are especially good for beginners. Be consistent with your studying and watch God make a difference in you and through you. Go Hard!
~ Kelly Symone