It’s quiet in my house right now. It’s never this quiet. When everyone is silent, when everyone is sleeping. It’s extremely rare to be the only one awake in the early morning hours. And I feel at peace.
Sitting here in the quiet, I reach for my Bible to spend some time in the Word before the chaos that will become my day. And I’m thankful because I rarely get this time, first thing in the morning. It’s always mid afternoon, when my body is already aching and I’m worn and weary. And I find myself wishing for more moments like this.
I used to not care. If I woke up in the early morning, I would just roll over and go back to sleep. But something changed in me. Slowly my heart started to change and I wanted to spend more time in the Word. To learn more, to experience more. But I didn’t know where to start. So I decided to check out different things on Pinterest, but I didn’t like what I found. It wasn’t that they were bad or wrong, it’s just that I wanted more than topical studies.
The thing I don’t like about topical studies is that often verses are taken out of context to support the theme. Context is super important. The Bible is one big story that flows from one little story to the next, and to the next. And if we just pluck verses out to make out here and there to make us feel better, we are losing something much bigger and even more meaningful. Reading out of context allows us to miss, twist and mix up Biblical truths.
Take Jeremiah 29:11. Everyone knows this verse. You’ve seen it all over the place. You might even have it on a coffee mug or a wall hanging in your home. “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” It’s a feel good verse. It’s the kind of verse that brings you comfort when you feel like your life is spiralling out of control. But if you look at the context around the verse, you see so much more.
The Israelites have been banished from Jerusalem and are living as slaves in Babylon. Feeling miserable, they take hope in a prophet named Hananiah who tells them it won’t take too long to be back to their home, just a short two years. But Hananiah wasn’t sent by God to deliver this message, and he was passing it off as of it was straight from the Lord. Because of this, he died and Jeremiah came in with another message, this one from the Lord himself. And it wasn’t what the people of Isreal wanted to hear. From the city of Jerusalem itself, Jeremiah wrote a letter to the exiled Isrealites telling them to get comfortable. “Build homes in plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! and work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.” (v. 4-7) Jeremiah then warned the Israelites about listening to false prophets and the dangers of being tricked by people who proclaim that they’re speaking for the Lord. And then, just before the comforting verse we can find on any mug or banner, the Isrealites received news that probably broke their hearts. “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: you will be in Babylon for 70 years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again.” (v. 10).
The Israelites were ready to leave. They didn’t want to live a life of captivity. But because God had better plans for them, they had to stay. They weren’t living for the Lord, and God was punishing them for their sins. But because He deeply loved them, He needed them to stay in a so their hearts could be realigned with His. Only there would they look for Him wholeheartedly (v. 12).
When you’re sipping coffee out of a Jeremiah 29:11 mug, you’re probably not thinking of sin and captivity. But that’s the story. Instead, when we look at this verse, we should rest in knowing God’s plans are always better than ours, but in His plans, not everything will be easy for us.
Since context is so important and often missed, I decided to combine a bunch of study methods and create my own. Here’s what I like to do when I want to dig a little deeper.
First, I think it is important to always start with prayer. It gives you a chance to talk to God before you study His word, to get transition from whatever you were just doing to a time of worship, and to open your mind and heart to what you are about to learn.
And then after that, find your text and ask ALL of these questions:
WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, WHY, AND, HOW?
It is always important to look at who wrote the book that you are reading. The Bible is of course God-breathed, which means it was inspired and ultimately written by God. However He chose to use human hands to write it out for Him. It is filled with numerous different authors with different writing styles. It’s important to know who wrote each book because it gives us a clearer picture of why it was written (more on that in a minute). So, the first question of study is WHO IS THE AUTHOR?
There are several different types of books in the Bible. When I think about all the different books, I like to think of myself walking through a library. If you and I were at a library, we would see it is organized by different genres, making it easier for us to find what we are looking for. The Bible is also organized by different genres. There are books about law, books about history, books of poetry, books of prophecy, the gospels and the epistles. Knowing what we are reading helps us to understand how to read it best to glean the most out of what we are reading. Just like you wouldn’t expect to read a murder mystery in the same way you’d read a biography, we should not read the book of Exodus the same way that we would read the book of John. So the second question of study is WHAT KIND OF BOOK IS IT?
The Bible is not written in chronological order, but is actually divided up by the types of texts I just mentioned. When you look at the Bible reading plans in chronological order, you might be surprised to see Job in the first month of reading. Even more surprising is that Job was likely written before we read about the life of Abraham!
Knowing when the book was written will help us with understanding the history of the book, who it was written for, and why. The third question of study is WHEN WAS IT WRITTEN?
We can’t just take something out of the Scriptures and apply it to our lives at random. For example, not all of the promises that God gave to Isreal were intended for us! This is where studying in context is essential. It is important to look at where the book was written, who received it and for what purpose. Thinking specifically of the books of 1st and 2nd Corinthians, we can see it was written by Paul to the people of Corinth who were struggling with issues in the church, especially with a few specific people. Paul wrote these letters, and then sent them out where they needed to go. The fourth question of study is WHERE DID THE BOOK GO?
All of the Bible was written for a reason. This is certainly the easiest question to ask yourself when you are studying the Bible, which is filled with several different purposes. One night when we were just coming home from an event and it was past the kids bedtime, my youngest son was asked for us to read him a Bible story. My husband told him no because of how late it was, and our son said “But Daddy, the Bible is instructions from God!” Of course he got his Bible story that night – how could we argue with that?
While the Bible is filled with instructions it is also filled with admonition, inspiration, warnings, encouragement and more. One thing I have found helpful is to look at whether it is a descriptive or prescriptive text. Descriptive texts are when the scriptures are describing what took place, often with a lesson involved. There are descriptive texts all throughout the Bible, but we can find them prominently throughout the Old Testament. Prescriptive texts are when the scriptures are providing instructions on how to live, a “prescription” if you will – which can be found in much of the New Testament. The fifth question of study is WHY WAS IT WRITTEN?
The sixth and final question of study is HOW DO I APPLY THIS TO MY LIFE? This is a question that will be personal to you and your daily life, but if you are following through with the 5 W’s then you might have some good instructions on application.
I would also suggest writing out scriptures, memorizing scripture and journaling your thoughts as all of these things can be quite helpful to you as you learn how to apply God’s word to your life. Some questions you can ask yourself if you want to do some journaling would be:
1. How do I identity God in the text? Look for what attributes of God are revealed, what God said or did, and how He is mentioned – what names of God or character traits were used.
2. Find examples of faith in the scripture – how do the Biblical characters respond to their circumstances? Do they have good discipline that we can model? How does God show His love and grace to them?
3. Is this descriptive or prescriptive?
Applying God’s word to our lives is a heart response. How I apply a scripture to my life is very different than how you would to yours. We might respond differently to a sermon or lecture based on what we are going through. But the important part is that we do respond. Some questions we can ask ourselves to help us respond would be:
1. Based on what I have learned, how can I praise God?
2. What sins are identified that I need to confess and and turn away from?
3. How can I demonstrate faith like these Biblical characters in my own life?
4. What are ways that I can bring what I’ve learned to God in prayer? How can I pray for others based on what I’ve studied?
Journaling is important, and it’s so good to dig deeper into God’s word. I often get asked what I do to be consistent with Bible reading, and I usually recommend a Bible reading plan. Note that when doing a Bible reading plan, the goal is often to finish reading the Bible in a year. I’ve found that when I do this, I don’t have time to really dig deep into what I’m reading. If you’re like me, and you want more, follow a Bible reading plan, but don’t get caught up in the deadlines. Read and study, and you’ll find so much more.
If you’re looking for a Bible reading plan, I recommend these:
The Bible Project – this is hands down the best Bible reading plan I have ever done. In fact, until I discovered this resource, I’d tried and failed to read the Bible cover to cover so many times. Each book of the Bible you read through is accompanied by a short video lesson that walks you through the book and explains what it is about. http://www.thebibleproject.com
Back to The Bible – these one year reading plans offer much variety. You can read the Bible chronologically, historically, from the beginning to the end as it appears in the Bible, the Old and New Testament together, or everything all blended together. http://www.backtothebible.org/one-year-reading-plans
Five Days from Bible Class Material – While it is a great goal to read the Bible every single day, sometimes we fail. Often people who work different schedules, or who are on shift work find it difficult to have consistent time reading their Bible. A few people who I have talked to who are shift workers, appreciate this Bible reading plan because you only commit to reading 5 days a week and are able to still complete reading the Bible in a year. With only a 5-day a week commitment, it makes it far easier to catch up if you fall behind. http://www.bibleclassmaterial.com/Catalog/Mark%20Roberts/BibleReadingSchedule.htm
There is a lot of Information here. You can choose whatever reading schedule and study plan that works for you. But the message I wanted to convey is to start simply. The more we commit to studying the Word, the more we learn. When we consistently are learning more, we are prompted to align our hearts with His.
As we end the year and start into a new one, I encourage you to find something that works well for you. Be consistent. Dig deep. This time next year, I can guarantee your life won’t be the same. You’ll be a better version of yourself, and that’s such a beautiful thing. ❤️