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Spiritual Discipline: Bible Study

Posted on February 22, 2018 at 5:00 AM

Photo by congerdesign on Pixabay.

Note: This post was originally on I have edited and expanded it.

I forgot to share with you, before I started this series, what Spiritual Disciplines are. When I was in Bible school and seminary classes, the Spiritual Formation class taught spiritual disciplines as an important part of the curriculum. Spiritual disciplines are not a way to salvation or a means to keep our salvation. Rather, it is posturing, that is, placing one’s self before God to be molded more into His image as a result of spending intimate time with God. In John 15:5 NIV, it says, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me will bear much fruit, for without me, you can do nothing.” Abiding: living, dwelling, to make one’s home with God.

I think of the hymn “In the Garden” written by C. Austin Mills that illustrates an intimate meeting with the Lord. “I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses. And the voice I hear, falling on my ear the Son of God discloses, and He walks with me and He talks with me and tells me I am His own. And the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.” Go purposely to meet with the Lord, alone to enjoy an intimate relationship with Him. Place yourself, intentionally, to meet with Him to listen, to talk with Him, to be changed by Him. That is what spiritual disciplines are about. It is not earning one’s salvation nor is it doing something to keep one’s salvation. To do so is to be like the Pharisees whom Jesus called “whitewashed tombs full of dead men’s bones” (Matthew 23:27-28 ). It is simply growing closer and closer to Jesus so that we might reflect more of Him in our lives.


Bible study is different than Lectio Divina. Lectio Divina is like reading a love letter and reflecting upon it prayerfully. Bible study would be looking deeper into the letter to learn more about where the writer was when it was written, the historical and social context of the letter, the language used, all to bring more depth to what is actually being said. Lectio Divina takes the letter more at face value, while Bible study brings greater dimension to the content of the letter and what it means to you, the reader.

Digging In

At one of the churches my first husband served as pastor, I was invited to present some workshops for Sunday School teachers and Bible study leaders. I set up a sandbox with plastic gems scattered on the surface and hid some within the layers of sand. The Sunday School teachers and Bible study leaders were invited to see what they could find. Some who were disgusted thought I was treating them like children. They would hastily snag a couple from the top with an aire of "This is ridiculous!". But the ones who really wanted to learn began to work through toward the bottom, pulling out more and more of these plastic gems. On the deeply buried gems were written some of the things we gain from real Bible study. The truth is that many teachers and leaders don't even want to do the prep time it necessary to truly lead a Bible study!

The spiritual discipline of Bible Study is often misunderstood by many Christians. I’ve been part of some so-called Bible studies that were coffee chats (no depth, but lots of chat) and the infamous "I thinks &I  feels" (lots of opinion regardless of what Scripture said). You can easily see how some Christians you know are so confused about the Bible! Devotionals are fine, but are focused only one one point that meets a felt need. It’s no wonder Christians struggle with daily challenges. If reading devotions is like picking up sea shells on the shore at the beach, then Bible study is excavating down deep for the treasure trove of gems and gold nuggets God has hidden for us to discover. Devotions are nice because they are short and sweet. They conclude with an action point. Unfortunately, these don't carry the substance that Bible study does.

Putting It Into Practice


When I was a Bible Basics teacher leading a class through how to study the Bible, I put materials on the tables of the classroom one week for participants to work as a team.  Their task at each table was to build a bridge during our discussion of a Bible chapter. The next week, each person could choose from some matchbox cars I brought. They were instructed to drive their cars across their bridges to test the bridges’ sturdiness. Interestingly, those who paid attention to what was taught while they worked, their bridges stood well while the others collapsed. The bridge represented the "Timeless Truth" of the passage. The "I think & feels" are flimsy like the bridges that collapsed. They aren't necessarily well supported by Scripture. The ones that stood well were those who gleaned the "message in a sentence", that is, the Timeless Truth from Scripture. Seriously, there is nothing that speaks volumes like tangible illustrations to bring across the point! Again, the ones who thought I was treating them like kids gained very little from the lesson. Those who really wanted to learn, got it! YES! Nothing makes me jump for joy more than when someone gets that "Ah-hah!" look when they finally get the lesson.

With all of that being said, lets go! There are three basic methods of Bible study as far as this post is concerned: book by book, topical, and situational/dilemma. The books I found very helpful to teach how to do Bible study are Know Your Bible  and How to Study the Bible by Paul Kent and How to Study the Bible for Yourself by Tim LaHaye. One that was used at Winebrenner Seminary for the Spiritual Formation class when I was there was "Formative Reflection" by Professors Joyce Thornton and Constance Cherry published by Global Classroom. This book is not out where for purchase, at least I couldn't find it. This one was helpful for the situational/dilemma type of Bible study. Other great books can be found about Bible study which I will give you at the end of this post.

Tools you need for authentic Bible study:

1. A TRANSLATION of the Bible (not a paraphrase like the Message)

2. topical index,

3. concordance, 

4. information about the places, times and cultures of the people in the passages, and

5. highlighters for Bible (optional).

There are wonderful, easy Bible reference books you can find at your local Christian book store,, or you can find online references at BibleGateway. I pay a small fee to use the more updated resources at Bible Gateway. But to begin, you need a TRANSLATION of the Bible, not a paraphrase. Paraphrases like the Message are simply Bible passages from an existing translation put into someone else's own words( They are better for devotional reading. A translation is more accurate because the Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic texts have been carefully translated into English. No, you don't need to know those languages! Bible study tools can give you a better understanding of what the human writer inspired by God meant.You will gain a better view of what you are studying. Once you are ready, you will be amazed at the wonderful gems you will find.

Bible Study Methods


Read a passage in context. This type of study looks at each book of the Bible, which is a library of books. Don't over-analyze each little word and phrase because it can change the actual message. That is like staying in magnification mode on your mirror plucking your eyebrows, never taking a look at how you really look You can imagine what can happen. Eye brow pencil, please!!! Sometimes, you will need to examine certain verses a bit more deeper, then zoom out to see the broader picture of what the human author wanted the readers to know. Begin by reading a chapter in it's entirety. Then go back paragraph by paragraph. You want to "correctly handles the word of truth." (2 Timothy 2:15).

Ask yourself these questions: Who, What, When, Where and How. Understand who the human author is and who the original audience was, then who are the characters (if available). What is happening or has happened in the passage? What is going on in history? For example, if you were studying the book of Daniel, you would need to understand that Israel was in exile since the Babylonians took them captive. Daniel and his friends were taken into a training program set up by the King Nebuchandnezzar. You would need to understand customs that aren't normal to us today. You would also need to understand the government of the time and what happened that caused Israel to be a divided kingdom.When did this take place? How were they captured and held? This could take you days, weeks and months to finish the book. It is like having a monster jigsaw puzzle on the table that you put pieces together a bit at a time.

Use a Bible dictionary to look up words and their meanings. This is important because it clarifies the intention of an author centuries ago in a foreign land who wrote in a language we don't speak today. You can even look across 3 or 4 translations at passages you want to examine. Write down the key words used which are the same and different that stand out to you.

Prayerfully ask, What message am I picking up in this passage? What Timeless Truth is bridging the time of the Bible passage to you today? Write it down in one sentence. Prayerfully elaborate on your findings. Write down any questions that remain, then move on to the next chapter.

 Apply what you learn. Prayerfully consider what God would have you do in response to that Timeless Truth you just uncovered in your dig. Then put it into practice.


Turn your search into a question. Topical studies look for what God has to say about various topics of interest like marriage, family, church, etc. You will want a topical index to help you and the willingness to let go of any preconceived notions you may hold. Its important to see in God's Word what He has to say, not what we want Him to say. 

Pick your topic and look up what passages refer to that topic. Write down the ones significant to your search and begin reading each one. Jot down notes for each passage as you go. Look for a theme and variations from that theme. Use any Bible references that help you to understand these passages.  Prayerfully consider the impression you get from what you have read. This would be your Timeless Truth. What does it mean to you now? What is God saying in response to your question? This could take some time as well.

4-D Living

This is the term I use when I teach this method of seeing what God would say and have us do in light of a particular situation or dilemma. In many ways, it is asking God to solve a problem for you. This method I was taught at Winebrenner Seminary in 1998-1999, but not titled the way I have it. Outlined below are the 4 steps:

What's the Deal? Describe your situation or dilemma in great detail. Do not spare your words. It is important to know what is truly on your heart so you can look at God's Word thoroughly.

Dig In Use 3-4 sources dealing with your issue along with a good Bible translation. They should be considered reputable sources. Speak with a Godly person such as your pastor to see what he or she would say about it is also very helpful. Don't be afraid to look at a source that opposes your personal viewpoint. It can help you to look more objectively at your issue, but you can still disagree with the opposing view. Write down impressions from your sources.

Decisions, Decisions Prayerfully consider your Dig In section in light of the issue you described. Note what you are see and understand as a result. Write down any questions that may have formed. Is there something God wants you to do as a result of your study?

Do It! Come up with a conclusion and an action plan for what God has said to you. If He wants you to change your attitude, write down how you would begin in simple steps. If He wants you to do something particular, write down steps to accomplish it. They should be reasonable, do-able steps that show progress as you go. Then make yourself accountable to a good Christian friend and set some deadlines for your steps to be accomplished. Willingly make adjustments as you go. If you fail to accomplish something, don't beat yourself up. Just re-write your action plan so you can continue to move forward. Your time table is not necessarily God's time table. If you must wait, then wait with anticipation and prayer.

Feel free to email me at if you have any questions about these Bible study methods or some insights you gained from this post. May the Lord bless you as you seek His wisdom and knowledge in His Word!

Helpful resources for you:

There are several great Study Bibles with all the tools in them. The ones I like are the New Open Bible and the NIV Study Bible.


These can be found on

How to Study the Bible by Kay Arthur

How to Study the Bible by Robert West

Who's Who in the Bible by Zondervan

All the Men and All the Women of the Bible by Zondervan

All the Miracles of the Bible by Zondervan

All the Prophecies of the Bible by Zondervan Publishing

New International Version Bible Commentary by Zondervan Publishing

Special note: Bible commentaries are available for your Bible translation.


The Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.

Know Your Bible by Paul Kent. Copyright 2008 by Paul Kent. Published by Barbour Publishing, Inc. Uhrichsville, Ohio.

How to Study the Bible by Paul Kent. Copyright 2007 by Paul Kent. Published by Barbour Publishing, Inc.Uhrichsville, Ohio.

How to Study the Bible for Yourself by Tim LaHaye. Copyright 2006 by Tim LaHaye. Published by Harvest House Publishers. Eugene, Oregon.

How to  Study the Bible: The Lasting Rewards of Inductive Bible Study by Kay Arthur. Copyright 1993 by Precept Ministries. Published by Harvest House Publishers. Eugene, Oregon.

Formative Reflection by Drs. Constance Cherry and Joyce Thornton. Published by Global Classroom.

Categories: Bible Studies, faith, devotions

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