As I wrote the title of this post, I thought to myself, ‘That seems simple… how to learn the Bible.’ The title feels like it should take just a semester or two at college to get the Bible under one’s belt. I have a friend who’s highest compliment about someone is, ‘He or she knows the Bible’. But it’s not that simple, right? Now I hope it goes without saying that, in this day and age, we have many, many tools to learn and study the Bible. We have more tools at our disposal than at any other time in history. The bulk of my theological library is on my laptop. I have my Bible reading plan emailed to me everyday. There is a plethora of English translations available in print and in audio format. With all this said, we in the church in the US are ignorant of much of what the Bible says. What are some practical ways that have helped me ‘learn the Bible’?
- Get a framework first. Read books that give you a brief overview of the whole bible. The one that helped me was 30 Days to Understanding the Bible. This book takes just about 15 minutes a day, is fill-in-the-blank, and helps you remember what you are learning. There are also books that give overviews of each individual book of the Bible. I like The Message of the Old Testament and The Message of the New Testament both by Mark Dever.
- Start reading the Bible, but… Most Christians don’t really read their Bible. They read to check off a list in their minds. ‘Oh, I read the Bible today. What a good boy am I!’ Howard Hendricks of Dallas Seminary suggests spending just as much time reading as reflecting on what you’ve read. Bottom line: don’t just read to read. Read for understanding and comprehension. Learn to ask good questions of the text like, “What is that ‘therefore’ there for?” If you are new to the Bible, a Bible reading program might be too much. Start with the book of John (not 1, 2, or 3 John… just John) or Philippians. Read them until you understand what they say. Then move on to a Bible Reading Plan if you wish. By the way, you can find all types of Bible reading plans at YouVersion.
- Learn to really study the Bible. The best book I know on this topic is How to Study the Bible by Richard Mayhue. Check out Basic Bible Interpretation by Roy Zuck as well. It will be helpful to you if you start by studying things that you wonder about or are struggling with. Want to know what the Bible says about angels? Start your study there.
- Read good books… toss unhelpful books to the side. One of my favorite teachers really freed me one day. He said, “If a book isn’t helping you, put it down.” Brilliant! Of course, that does not apply in seminary, but it does in real life. Also, when I say ‘read good books’, I mean it. Be discerning. Ecclesiastes says, ‘But beyond this, my son, be warned: the writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body.’ (12:12) There are great books to read out there… pick the good ones. As your pastor if you want a good book on a subject. Avoid prosperity gospel preachers, TV preachers, or anything of the sort.
- Be consistent in your reading and studying. Rome wasn’t built in a day. You won’t become a scholar of the Bible overnight.
- MOST IMPORTANTLY OF ALL, balance learning and doing. When you learn something in the Bible, put it into practice. Practice means practice. When you practice a sport, sometimes you do it right, and sometimes you do it wrong. The same is true of learning to live like Jesus. Set real, measurable goals for yourself, and practice. Stick in that passage of the Bible until you have some level of mastery. If I taught you to dismantle a bomb from a book, you might remember how to do it. If I taught you to dismantle a bomb and then took you out to dismantle bombs, I’ll bet your level of attention and interest might increase just a bit. Remember, the whole goal of reading the Bible is to learn about God and what He expects from you so you can DO it. 1 Timothy 4:7 is a good verse to memorize for this fact. Most Christians read and read and study and study, but never bother to practice. Therefore, they miss the whole point of learning the Bible in the first place, and that is sad.
Prayer is a discipline with which many believers struggle… and I do too. One of the things that has been most helpful to me as a pastor is to assemble a ‘prayer journal’. If you are the OCD type, and you want things nice and tidy, this may not be for you. Life is messy, and so you will drive yourself nuts trying to keep your prayer journal perfect.
Here’s what I do:
Get a one-inch three-ring binder. Purchase a pack of eight-tab dividers and put them in the binder. Label the tabs: Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and ‘DAILY’. Then, I put different things behind each tab. One day I pray for my family, one day for my church and leaders, one day for other ministries, another day prayers of confession, another day prayers of exaltation, you get the point. You can customize it to your personality. I have a day I pray through our church’s missionaries using a sheet that I made with their names and pictures. I can send you a copy if you like. I’ve made a copy of our church directory and divided it among the seven days, and I pray for DBC people everyday. Finally, for urgent prayer requests, I use the ‘DAILY’ tab. I simply write requests in there, and mark them out as those needs are met.
It sounds simple enough, right? You can do this. Get started on your custom prayer journal today. Also, here are some book recommendations on the topic of prayer.
‘Teach Them to Pray’ by Paul Tautges
‘Why Revival Tarries’ by Leonard Ravenwood
‘Principles and Practice of Prayer’ by Ivan French