By Rachel Baker, Crosswalk.com
During my three years of ministry in Utah, I was introduced to a whole group of people who had a deep misunderstanding and mistrust for the Bible. In their experience, the Bible had been used as a tool to manipulate, control and confuse. As a small group and women’s ministry leader I met so many women who had a deep desire to grow in their relationship with Jesus and yet struggled to understand or trust the Word of God.
This tension led me to ponder the question, “How can you grow in your faith if you mistrust or misunderstand the Bible and consequently do not spend time studying it?” I think this question is one that applies to most Christ-followers, whether brand new to the faith or decades in and possibly finding yourself stagnant.
Growing in faith and time in the Word are synonymous; and yet why is it that we often find ourselves doing anything and everything but diving into our Bibles?
Perhaps it’s for the exact same reason that we sometimes lean into our own human ability to control rather than allowing the Spirit to lead and guide us. How guilty am I of wanting to control outcomes and even the day-in and day-out of my life? How many times have I actually said, “I’ve done everything I can do, now I’ll just pray.” What if I started with prayer and then did whatever needed to be done? What if I started with the Word and followed with action?
In doing life and engaging with people who openly struggled with opening their Bibles and yet had a heart for God, I discovered the intrinsic need for all people to be able to approach their Bibles with confidence and capability. Gaining confidence in reading the Bible is something that often needs to be learned. This learning takes time and patience, but is so worthwhile.
A couple summers ago a friend of mine approached me and suggested that we create a Bible study that would help build women’s confidence in reading their Bibles. Our desire was that they could open their Bibles to any book and begin evaluating and critically understanding what they were reading. Out of that desire we wrote and developed a curriculum to accompany the book of Esther.
As we embarked on the hefty task of writing the content for our study I became overwhelmed and uneasy. Who on earth was I to think that I could carry out such a sacred task? My sweet husband, who is a Pastor and had just finished his master’s degree in Systematic and Philosophical Theology—say that three times fast—tried to help me get started. He gave me one of his theology books setting it onto my desk with a heavy thud.
I cried, “I’m not a theologian!” I was completely overwhelmed by the sheer mass of the book he gave me; it was 4-inches thick.
Understanding that the Word of God is for all people has helped me simplify the way that I study the Word and create Bible study curriculum. If you want to refresh the way that you engage with the Word, here are four of my favorite strategies to dig in a little deeper and approach our own Bible study time with fresh eyes and hunger to understand the context of what we are reading.
1. Release Preconceived Notions and Relinquish the Past
There have been so many times that I’ve approached my Bible with anxiety or anticipation. I haven’t wanted to pick it up, afraid of what it might say, afraid that I would be condemned by its words, or simply afraid that I wouldn’t really understand the context of what I was reading.
I’m learning now, that I need to approach the Word of God with open hands every day. Each day that I pick it up and dive into that text I need to remember who God is, and who He says I am. I used to wear a label of lies, calling myself nasty names like: “sinner, reject, failure…” Maybe you’ve done this before too and you’ve avoided your Bible because of those fears.
What if, instead, we bought into God’s truth, and we called ourselves what He calls us: “daughter, redeemed, saved, whole.” It is then, that we can pick up our Bibles and know that we are about to engage with the Word of God. The God who loves us, who gave up His only son for us. I can’t think of a bigger love than that. So, let’s bask in that love, and approach our Bibles from that vantage point.
2. Realize the Big Meaning and Avoid Proof Texting
Have you ever opened your Bible, or searched for a scripture to justify a point that you’re trying to make? Me too. Here’s something that I’ve come to learn: When taking scripture out of context we can manipulate the Bible to say so many things, we can condemn with scripture, justify our own behaviors or minimize others.
Additionally, when we proof text we can often apply scripture to seasons or circumstances in our lives that it was never meant to be applied to. Understanding the bigger picture and larger themes of the text that we are reading can help us to understand the whole of scripture rather than picking verses and applying them out of context.
One of my favorite tools for looking at larger biblical themes is The Story Bible. This version of the Bible helps us to understand the bigger story of God and how we fit into it. Perhaps add this bible to your collection and pair it with whichever version of the bible you enjoy reading the most.
3. Speed Read and Then Slow it Down
Select a section of scripture and read it as fast as you can three times. (If you’re not sure what book to start with maybe check out Mark chapter 1.) Just read, as if you were reading for leisure, don’t stop to make notes or highlight the text. I recommend reading three times.
Once you’ve sped read through a whole chunk of scripture, return to what you’ve read and slow it down. Take your time and savor the words. Here are five basic tools to help you understand the text that you are reading.
- Highlight (pick the same color every time) every word that you don’t understand. Write these words down in your journal and then go look them up!
- Circle Repeated Phrases: Check out Colossians 2:6-15. Notice how many times “in Him” / “with Him” appear. What is Paul trying to get across to the Colossians?
- Pay Attention to Key Transitions: As my favorite English teacher would say, “What is the Therefore there for?”
- Identify the Main Characters, highlight their names and write their names in your journal.
- Identify the Main Idea: Write what the big idea is either in your journal or across the top of the page you’re reading.
4. Discover the Location
As a bit of a geography nerd, I enjoy identifying specific locations in which specific Biblical stories take place and areas from which the epistles were written. Currently, our women’s ministry is studying the book of Jonah. The themes in Jonah are incredibly impactful on their own, but when you actually map out of the physical locations in which the story takes place it begins to take on its own life.
Understanding that our Bibles are comprised of more than just “stories” but also with letters, commentaries and histories of specific people in specific locations during a specific time in history can help us to better understand the context of our scriptures. Next time you delve into Bible study, perhaps take on the added layer of determining where exactly what you are reading takes place. This practice can provide an additional richness to our Bible study time.
Reading our Bibles shouldn’t be a chore or something that we check off of our spiritual “to-do” lists. Instead, we have an opportunity to approach our Bibles with a sense of awe and wonder and determination to explore God’s story.
We need not overcomplicate our time in the Word, we can keep it simple and fresh all at the same time. Ultimately we get to allow the words that we read to impact how we live, the way we see God, and how we love ourselves and others. Gaining trust and a deeper understanding of the Bible doesn’t require a seminary degree or a 4-inch-thick book on theology.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Yacobchuk
Rachel Baker is the author of Deconstructed, a bible study guide for anyone who feels overwhelmed or ill-equipped to study the word of God. She is a pastor’s wife and director of women’s ministries, who believes in leading through vulnerability and authenticity. She is a cheerleader, encourager, and sometimes drill-sergeant. She serves the local church alongside her husband, Kile, in Northern Nevada. They have two amazing kiddos and three dogs. Rachel is fueled by coffee, tacos and copious amounts of cheese. For more on her and her resources to build your marriage, see her website: www.rachelcheriebaker.com or connect with her on Instagram at @hellorachelbaker.