I do not have a "set" means of studying Scripture, or of interacting with the Spirit in general. It's neither perfect nor exhaustive, but it is what it is. So, if anyone's just in want of some ideas:
I used to try to read straight through in canon order. Sometimes, I just randomly flip and read a book. Sometimes, I pick a short one and read it in one setting (do not try this with something like Isaiah unless you have all day). But, after awhile, you can start feeling like you're running in circles. So, here's a few options:
- Read by author.
- Read in Hebrew Scripture order.
- Read chronologically. Several Bibles I suggest are: Thomas Nelson's Chronological Study Bible (the notes are also available separate now), The Daily Chronological Bible, and the One Year Bible.
- Read by genre. (For those new to this, the books are arranged mostly by subject: Law (Gen-Deut), History (Judges-Esther, Acts), Wisdom (Job-Song of Solomon), the Major Prophets (the long prophetic books), the Minor Prophets (the short ones), The Gospels, the Epistles, and Revelation. )
- Pick one book you're unfamiliar with and read it, repeatedly, until you're familiar with it.
- Pick a theme or topic of Scripture and study every passage related to it. I suggest a little caution because you cannot simply look at the one verse. Context is important.
- Cross-reference translations. Bible Gateway and YouVersion are great sources for this.
- I know a pastor who reads the same four chapters for a month at a time and goes straight through that way (for the NT; his OT method may differ). I have not tried it because I'm still going by author. But it's another option.
- Pick one of the many reading plans out there and stick to it.
Aside on the Old Testament: Exodus 20-Deuteronomy has a lot of legalese with some harrowing narrative in between. A few suggestions:
- Write down anything that smites of foreshadowing. It probably is.
- Flip ahead a little and decide how to break up the sections in ways that won't bog you down too much. Remember, there's narrative interspersed and if you break it down right you won't be in too many challenging chapters for too long. It's a little easier to break this up if you're using a chronological Bible. The Daily Chronological condenses the Law chapters together so that there's no repetition, if you're really overwhelmed. I find that helpful.
- Do a little research on the Jewish feasts. There's plenty of internet material by Jews and Christians alike; it won't take long.
- Remember that Jesus and the scribes agreed that "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength" (Deuteronomy 6) and "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18) sum up the entire law. Take your time and note down how the moral and legal sections expand on "the royal law."
- Cross-reference places in the New Testament where either/or Jesus and the apostles expanded on what fasts, vows, Sabbath, and the Law in general were for. Yes, this takes some time.
- Consider and take notes on *why* God commanded things.
- Regarding the lists of names and numbers: Consider the significance of what's going on, with regards to numbers (which tribe was the biggest; look at the extravagance of their gifts to the tabernacle; look at the amount of detail God went into); and consider the importance of the people in the lists (mark any names you recognize and where they're from; an example would be Lot's children). I don't do that every time, but it does provide some interesting results.
I lovingly refer to any Bible study book, guide, or workbook that isn't the actual text of Scripture as spiritual junk food. It's very easy to rely on these instead of studying Scripture themselves, but they can often expand on something or point out something you missed. They are supplemental.
A few ideas:
- Use a dictionary. Even if it's just a Merriam-Webster, you'll suddenly see a more full meaning behind a word like "hallowed" or "glorify."
- Look up the era people lived in, the culture they lived in, and the significance of certain people groups. These people lived in a specific time and place. Look up Assyria and Babylon, for instance. Read up on Xerxes and realize who Esther was married to.
MethodologyI had a friend teach that you should do your Bible reading and any study or workbook you're going through separately. That isn't always possible, I don't think, but I value the wisdom in its practice. If I'm splitting it up, it's usually because I'm doing my own thing plus a group study. As I said, I have no strict way of doing things. Different strategies I've incorporated are:
- Doing a workbook study that follows one book of the Bible
- Doing a topical
- Reading a Christian book (say, Francis Chan or something) chapter, listening to worship music, or catching up on a teaching podcast before beginning my Bible reading
- going on a walk or sitting/standing/lying down, possibly listening to an audio Bible or music, for prayer or meditation
- praying in the dark
- reading Scripture aloud in a reader's theater fashion
- dancing (badly) to music
- sitting in silence
- drawing (badly)
- reading Psalms or several passages (keep a go-to list) that reflect where I feel at the moment until my mind focuses enough to pray
- Paraphrase a section of Scripture
- Write a passage as if you were praying it (if you're not sure, start with something easy like a place where Paul writes his prayer or Jesus prays for the disciples); an example might be rewriting the section of the Sermon on the Mount about anxiety if you're feeling anxious
I'm adding this because my friend and I did a Bible study together last year and one question was "Name three ways you can give a hurting person to stay connected to God." I made a list of things I'd either myself done or suggested to someone who was discouraged to do. They were:
- Pray uninhibited. Seriously. God created the cosmos with a single thought and sustains the world with his own power. He can handle the tantrums and irreverent thoughts. And the plus side of being friends with the All-sovereign, All-knowing is that he both already knows and can actually do something about it.
- Keep a list of encouraging passages. Have that list of five to ten sections of Scripture that never fail to stir your soul and keep them handy.
- Make a playlist of songs that reflect your emotional state. Either sing with it or sit quietly and take them to heart, and let those become your prayer.
- Use your form of art or personal outlet to convey what's going on inside your heart. Get it out. Get it all out and throw it at the throne of grace.
- Read and listen to Scripture aloud. The internet has left no excuse.
- Run away and pray. Get alone and turn your hiding place into the throne room.
- Talk to someone you trust and who will remind you of the truth.
- Don't be afraid of any part of Scripture. Most people get stuck in Leviticus; I get stuck in the Wisdom literature because it's poetry. If there's a place you struggle with, then don't be afraid to grab a study guide or have a friend go through it with you. But don't skip it because you're afraid of it, and don't let anyone scare you.
- Don't feel bound to any one means of doing something, nor feel like you "must" do your workbook even though you really feel pressed to read John 17, or worry because your workbook took you to Isaiah 64 and you wound up, somehow, in II Samuel. Believe me, the enemy is not telling you to read your Bible. Sometimes the Spirit alters the curriculum.
- Strategize. Figure out how much time you have when, and work with what you've got. During my teenage years I read my Bible at night before bed. Period. In college, that changed to "whenever I have a nice block of time to do it." After college, it's mostly mornings. For awhile, I had broken down three times a day for different focuses and usually got to two of them (mostly, workbook in the morning, some short devotional reading midday, and Bible reading either after school or at night before bed. Lately I'm a morning girl. Set a timer if you have time constrictions.
- Remember to ask the Spirit to unveil Scripture for you. This tends to be the obvious and I'm not always the best at remembering to do this one first myself, but it's the most important. He is our teacher.