Profitable Bible Study – Some Practical Tips
The more time you spend contemplating what you have read in your Bible, the more beneficial it will be to your soul.
Bishop JC Ryle of Liverpool said: “next to praying, there is nothing so important in practical religion as Bible-reading.” He went on to say “the man who has the Bible, and the Holy Spirit in his heart, has everything which is absolutely needful to make him spiritually wise.” If you are thinking, “I don’t know where to begin”, well, here are some practical tips on how to study the Bible profitably.
We must remember that the Bible is no ordinary book. It “is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). It is food for the soul and we are commanded to “desire the sincere milk of the word” (1 Peter 2:2). We are to use it as a lamp unto our feet, and a light unto our path. (Psalm 119:105). It has the power to sanctify us, empower us to forsake sin, and to make us holy (Psalm 119:9).
And the Bible is our absolute authority. Our lives are to be brought under its rule. It governs how we live, worship and serve the Lord. Therefore we should approach it with the utmost reverence.
Before we open our Bible, we should ask God to speak to us through His Word. Pray that you will learn more about God, gain a greater understanding of His will, be instructed, comforted, and if needed, rebuked though Scripture. Pray that God would make you holy and that the word will remain in your heart and not be forgotten.
Eli taught Samuel to pray: “speak, LORD; for thy servant heareth”
(1 Samuel 3:9). The result of this prayer is seen in verse sixteen; “and Samuel grew, and the LORD was with him, and did let none of his words fall to the ground.” We must make this our prayer. We need the Lord to speak to us. Seeking the help of God’s Holy Spirit is therefore essential.
It is impossible to properly study the Bible if the TV is playing in the background or if your mobile phone is beeping every minute. Turn them off and get into a quiet room alone with God. Be disciplined; have a set time every day. Be consistent; don’t miss a meeting with your Bible. As you would not miss a meal for your body, endeavour not to miss a meal for your soul. Lack of Bible study will bring stagnation in your spiritual life.
It is always best to have a reading plan to cover the whole of the Bible. Robert Murray McCheyne devised a popular plan to read the whole Bible in a year. If you are a new believer or young reader, why not begin by reading a chapter of the Old Testament in the morning, and one from the New Testament in the evening. Start a plan that works for you and stick with it.
Some come to the Bible looking for a quick answer to a problem. They open the Bible randomly and search for a verse to apply to their situation. This is not how to study the Bible! We must read and understand Scripture in its proper context.
The whole of scripture points us to one person – the Lord Jesus Christ. Look to see Him on every page. Bad theology has led many away from reading the Old Testament, claiming it is not relevant for the church today. However, Christ is as present in the Old Testament as He is in the New, many just fail to see Him! David Murray, in his helpful book, ‘Jesus On Every Page’ exhorts us “to find and enjoy Jesus in the Old Testament. That alone makes Old Testament study profitable and enjoyable.” Throughout the Bible there is one dominant theme that we should be aware of. One old preacher called it ‘the scarlet thread of redemption’. From Genesis to Revelation, we see God’s gracious plan of salvation.
As you come to study your Bible, ask questions of the passage you are reading: Who is writing this book? Why is he writing it? What is the author seeking to show regarding the LORD, His salvation, and His will for men?
In 1 Chronicles nine chapters of genealogies may seem to have little relevance today, but Ezra is writing to encourage God’s people. While they are returning to a land where God’s presence is not very visible and God’s promise of a Davidic king seems lost, those genealogies show God’s presence has always been with His people – even in the darkest of times – and that God’s promise is as real and as alive as ever. The genealogies turn into nine chapters of encouragement: God is with His people in the darkest of times and God’s promises never fail no matter how bleak the outlook! Such gems are always there, we just need to take time to discover them.
A much neglected tool of Bible study is memorisation. Take a verse each day or week and commit it to memory. I used to visit a man who had committed scripture to memory from childhood. At 87 he quoted entire chapters without missing a word! When his eyesight failed and he could no longer read, he had a reserve already prepared.
There is an abundance of good resources available to help us study. There are various Study Bibles and innumerable commentaries to help us understand God’s Word.
Many of us enjoy reading diaries and journals of believers from past days. Why not start your own journal? Write down verses that bless and challenge you. If you find a promise to pray, add it to your prayer list.
Sometimes we come across difficult passages. Don’t ignore them, seek to understand them. Look up a commentary, ask your minister, or download a sermon on the passage from ‘Sermon audio’ and pray for understanding.
Reading the Bible is an encounter with the living God, so we must meditate upon what we read. Paul encourages us to ‘think on these things” (Philippians 4:8). The puritan Thomas Manton said: “Truths are ripened by meditation”. The more time you spend contemplating what you have read in your Bible, the more beneficial it will be to your soul. But for the Word to be truly effectual, we must put it into practice. Why not try summarising what you read and then seek to put it into practice throughout your day, praying over it? Keep the commands and ordinances it teaches you, flee from the sin it warns you of, and fill your heart with knowledge of Christ’s grace that flows from it.
Martin Luther said “the Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold of me.” May this be your experience as you study God’s Word!
Rev. Craig Dennison.