For the past few years, I’ve been dissatisfied with my personal study of the Bible, and I’m trying to hash out why. My goal is to reclaim joy in my studies of God’s Word.
Here are some things I’m thinking through as I try to discover an approach to God’s Word that rightly honors Him as the truth-teller and life-giver (and the primary place He gives His Word), while also dealing truthfully with my own heart, motivations, and thirst (or lack thereof) as I approach (or ignore) His Word.
MY EXAMPLES & EXPERIENCES WITH PERSONAL BIBLE STUDY:
I grew up in a Christian home, attending (primarily) independent Baptist churches.
- I saw my dad and grandpa read their Bibles for study. They knew heaps and heaps of information about the Bible and how to study it. I learned so much– basics, eschatology, how to interpret various parts of Scripture, and more– from them both.
- In weekly Sunday school and sermons, I heard God’s Word taught primarily for two reasons: (1) salvation… or (2) for growth in knowledge.
- Because of that, I opened my Bible in church, but otherwise treated it like a textbook: generally avoided, unless one needed a particular piece of data.
- The only times I remember really reading my Bible during this period were of the open-to-a-random-page-and-read variety.
In high school, because my parents sensed a need for change (in large part due to my rebellion and sin), we switched to a doctrinally-sound church that taught more about personal spiritual growth and pursuit of relationship with God.
- There, I interacted with teens, our pastor, and youth group teachers who did two new-to-me things: (1) read God’s Word for pleasure, and desire, rather than just duty/information, and (2) held themselves accountable with others to do so regularly.
- I began studying God’s Word this way, and growing. God taught me a lot through this season, and I was challenged by His Word.
In college, I went through a variety of methods/approaches, but one is crystalized in my mind. My thought process went like this:
- God wants us to tithe money.
- But I don’t have any/much money.
- But I have time.
- So why not tithe my time?
I set a goal of working up to a 2.4 hour quiet time each day (yes, I really meant 2.4. I remember calculating out exactly how many minutes that would be. Ugh, what a robotic thing to do!). I started out at 30 minutes, and increased it by 10 minutes each day. At first it was beneficial. How could it not be? I was in God’s Word more than I ever had been. I would rise early, take my guitar, journal, and duct-tape-covered Bible to some remote part of campus, and sing songs and read and write and pray and confess. It was genuine…
But then one morning, when I was nearing two-hours-a-day, I fell asleep in the middle of it. Of course, right? I mean come on. I was exhausted. College hours are exhausting. But I was also, unwittingly, exhausted from trying to be so doggone regimented about something that is meant to give life and communicate the Father’s love.
As a young married woman, I bounced back and forth between regular and irregular Bible study.
- Sometimes I joined up with a group study in church.
- Sometimes I’d do a “Read-Through-the-Bible-in-a-Year” plan. (I did complete that a few times over, so there was some consistent, ongoing regularity in these years.)
- Sometimes I led women’s Bible studies.
Then we moved overseas, where I was (for all intents and purposes) alone in my pursuit of God through His Word. In the overseas years, I tried different things:
- Intensive study of one book a month. I did this for two and a half years and– honestly– loved it. It gave me a chance to get to know the books of the Bible so much better than the sprint-through and skip-around approaches had done.
- Studying with other women (sometimes we did books of the Bible, sometimes books on Christian living)
- Studying the Bible in Turkish with a local believer
- AudioBible playing throughout the day while I went about daily things
- Intensive study on my own… studying for understanding, for growth, for deeper insight into God’s character and His claims on me.
But since I’ve been back in America, well, just being perfectly honest, my Bible study has been dry and rare.
I’m just being straight with y’all. My personal devotions have been inconsistent, lackluster, and like driftwood– just going along with whatever else is going on in life.
- Ladies class studying Romans? OK, I’m in.
- Care group going through a Piper book? Great, let’s do it.
- When I wrote a novel about the life of Jacob’s wife, Zilpah, I spent skads of time in Genesis.
- Sunday school working through a book of the Bible? All right.
- Home fellowship in Ecclesiastes? Let’s go.
I’ve been in it… involved in the discussion, doing the reading, etc. But I’m not IN it, if you know what I mean. It’s been done out of duty, rather than in joy.
See, I’m a spontaneous, zesty-living sort of gal. I like to find something, jump all in, and do it wholeheartedly.
- In DC, I lived-ate-breathed politics, with art and museums on the side.
- When we lived in China, I was all about learning Mandarin, using kuaizi (chopsticks), and eating jiaozi (DELICIOUS little dumplings I couldn’t get enough of!).
- That time we ended up with a house that had a pool? I became our side-scrubbing, chemical-balancing pool girl (and got good at it)
- When we got a beautiful flock of chickens, well, I designed and built a coop.
- Now that we have moved to the PNW, we’re learning about camping 🙂
So while I’ve been going ALONG with the Bible studies in my life, which currently looks like:
- our family Bible study — going through Exodus
- ladies’ Sunday school — going through 2 Corinthians
- weekly home fellowship — in Ecclesiastes
I’m… honestly… not into it. 🙁 I haven’t been zesty in diving in to these things. Something about group study does not force me to “own it,” and I end up just going through the motions or giving up. Doing studies with pre-designed questions used to feel helpful, but right now, for me, it feels like looking up answers to someone else’s questions.
And that’s no one else’s fault. It’s mine. Maybe it’s the season of life I’m in… maybe the season of spiritual life I’m in… maybe just laziness. But I’m realizing that I’ve got to name it and sort out what’s happening and why.
SO I’m currently sorting out with God:
In what ways can I pursue YOU in my Bible study– not just knowledge… not just lists for better understanding… not just doctrine (not that those things are bad)… but YOU?! “Christ in us– the hope of glory!”
In what ways can I JOYFULLY go about my personal study of the Bible?
How can I push through this plateau of complacency and lack of zestiness in my personal Bible study?
Last week, that looked like flipping open to Psalm 32, and reading it aloud, then copying it word for word.
I don’t just want to glean information. I’m tired of answering questions that aren’t the ones my heart is asking. I don’t simply want to know more about God, I want to be joyful in my pursuit OF Him through His Word.
I want Him to change me and make not just my HEAD (with its knowledge), or my body (with its choices and behaviors)– but also my HEART– to look like it ought to look as His disciple.
Right now, I’m honing in on two basic ideas I’d like to incorporate into daily life so that I can reclaim both regularity AND joy in this:
- The book-a-month approach — one reason I loved this was because it allowed me to “park” in a particular part of God’s Word long enough to really meditate and dig in, but kept me moving along at a good-enough clip that I didn’t feel like I was interminably stuck in any one part of it (I especially can feel bogged-down if I spend too long in OT history and the minor prophets). So this may be my basic method.
- This read-aloud-then-copy-it approach — I’ve done that several times now over the last week, and it helps me to savor the words and focus in on their meaning in a way that is different from mentally reading the print on the page.
This is the thing I’m currently pondering, and the way I’m currently seeking growth.
Any comments or feedback? Have you been through seasons like this in your personal Bible study? I welcome your thoughts.