How I Study Scripture: 9 Steps to Closeness with God

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There aren’t many things I particularly like to brag about. I’m not a terribly competitive person and I like to think I keep a healthy sense of chill about myself. There is one thing, however, that I often need to take a slice of humble pie about, and that is my extensive knowledge of the NBC hit show, The Office.

I don't know many people; in fact I can name one, maybe two people who rival me in knowledge of this widely popular show. For context, I have been watching it for 10+ years. I remember seeing commercials before it aired in 2005, but then I found a clip of an episode on YouTube, and I was hooked. I introduced it to my family and we would binge watch it together. When I got to college, The Office got me through some of my toughest times, including all of my breakups. Needless to say, the sentimental value I've attached to this show is quite significant. 

In my time watching my favorite show, I have developed a keen breadth of knowledge of scene details, character history and development, plot lines, and most importantly, memorable quotes. I’ve watched the episodes so many times, the lines come like second nature to me. 

About a year and a half ago, I started feeling convicted about the fact that I knew every line from The Office, but could only quote maybe a handful of scriptures from the Bible (hello, hard left turn!) But it was around that same time that my life was being completely changed from one where I was in control, to one where I let God be in control. Everything about my life was changing, and for a time I stopped watching Netflix all together. I knew it was what my soul needed after years of filling it constantly with my own desires instead of yielding to the Holy Spirit’s voice.

And so, from that point on I set off on a quest to dive in to scripture unlike ever before, to truly study and know God’s word, and to experience more of Him in my everyday life.

Since then I have developed a Bible reading “quiet time” structure that has helped me dig into the expanse of scripture. With this post I humbly offer the practical tools and resources I've used that have helped the Bible come alive to me, and the Holy Spirit become real in me.

1. Scripture

The first thing you’ll need is to know what to read! I use this Bible reading plan, but there are also several great plans that can be found on the free Youversion Bible app. If you’re new to studying scripture or if you just don’t know what to read, I recommend starting in the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) and in the book of Psalms.

2. Prayer

 As I approach my quiet time, I always start out with a prayer to get my heart and mind focused in and set on what I’m about to do. There is a reverence required to reading and studying the Bible, and setting the tone with prayer is the best way to get yourself prepared to dive in. It’s a simple prayer, usually along the lines of:

“Lord, thank you for your Word, which is a lamp unto my feet in this life. Thank you for revealing yourself to me as I read. Thank you Holy Spirit for going before me, to show me things I couldn’t otherwise see. Open the eyes of my understanding to hear and know you more today. In Jesus’ name, amen.”

3. Context

If I’m reading a portion of scripture where I am unfamiliar with the historical and cultural context, I pop on over to The Bible Project on YouTube. There you will find beautiful, descriptive, incredibly helpful videos that go into great detail to explain every book of the Bible, as well as certain main themes, words, and ideas throughout scripture. Watching the videos gives me a really solid idea of key aspects of the text that are important to know before they can be applied.

4. Reading

Once the historical and cultural context has been established, I read the passage. I try to read it slowly and carefully, taking in every word, making sure I understand what is being said. If something stands out to me, I’ll underline it and maybe copy it over into my notebook. If I have a thought or question, I write it down. Oftentimes I’ll read the passage in several different translations (NKJV, ESV, NLT, TPT, etc.) to see if words or phrases take on a different meaning, or to see how certain words have been translated. If ever I see something or have a thought about what I’ve read, I write it down.

5. Meditation

It’s at this point that I’m tempted to open up the Blue Letter Bible app and see what David Guzik or Matthew Henry have to say about the passage in their respective commentaries. However, I’ve been challenged to not do this just yet, and instead to read the passage again, and again, and again. This is what we call meditation: allowing scripture to mull over, marinate, and sit on your mind and heart for a while. I believe if we let him, this is where the Holy Spirit does his best work of revealing himself to us. But it’s hard! We are fast-food people and taking time to let something download and sink in is not in our nature. As I read it over and over, I’ll pray a prayer along these lines:

“Lord, thank you for being with me as I read your Word. I ask that you show me something I cannot see, that I might know you more through this scripture. Amen.”

6. Reflection

As I pray and meditate, I write down what the Holy Spirit shows me. And you know what? I don’t always get something. I also don’t always make time for this step. I don’t beat myself up if I don’t get some big revelation or if I’m unable to meditate like I want to. But Women of the Word author and The Gospel Coalition speaker Jen Wilkin said, “your quiet time should change you.” I believe this step is the most instrumental to getting everything out of my quiet time as possible; meditating on the Word and giving the Holy Spirit room to speak is what changes us from the inside out. 

7. Commentary

Once I’ve taken some time to really meditate and reflect, I will then read David Guzik or Matthew Henry’s commentary on the Blue Letter Bible app (there are dozens of useful commentaries to choose from online as well) to see what they said. These are usually very helpful to seeing the passage from a new perspective, gaining even more insight, and understanding the passage as a whole.

8. Questions

There are also certain questions I ask myself that I got from reading Timothy Keller’s book Prayer. Here are just a few to help focus the heart and engage the mind in the reading:

- Am I living in light of this? Am I taking this seriously?

- What difference does this make?

- What does this teach me about God and his character, his nature, his posture?

- What does this show me about my sin that I should confess and repent of?

9. Prayer

Finally, I close my study in an extended time of prayer. It is at this point that I bring certain requests before God, or focus in on something I’ve been bothered about, or simply spend time in worship.

There are so many tried and true ways to studying scripture (like the SOAP Bible study, among others) that are just as good, if not better than my method. This is just the routine that I have personally developed, but it’s honestly ever-changing. I don’t always stick to it exactly; there are days where all I can get in is a quick verse and a superficial prayer. I don’t live in condemnation about that because it’s still God’s word, and “all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” 2 Timothy 3:16.

However, I believe that truly knowing God requires sacrificial time spent in His word. Charles Spurgeon said, “if you wish to know God, you must know His Word.” Spending considerable time reading, studying, and memorizing scripture is not an option in this Christian life. And not just scanning it over so we can check it off the to-do list, but serious, purposed, intentional studying of the scriptures is absolutely required if we wish to live a successful life.

Hebrews 11:6 says, “he who comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him.” Matthew 7:7-8 says, “ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”

Do you want to know God more? Do you want to grow in your love for him and in your desire to know him? Purpose and decide to be a well-seasoned, well-watered student of his Word. Seek him diligently, and watch how sweetly you will find him.

 

"We will not believe more than we know, and we will not live higher than our beliefs."

—Albert Mohler