God’s Word is sharp and powerful and can do surgery on us and thus change us. There are many methods of Bible study, but the one that works for me is presented in Howard Hendricks’s Living by the Book. He teaches a three step process to studying the Bible: 1) Observation, 2) Interpretation, and 3) Application.
First, jot down observations about the verses. This is the step that I’ve added to my study after reading Howard Hendrick’s book. I used to jump straight to reference books: commentaries, dictionaries, etc. Perhaps you’re wondering what you should observe. Here are some suggestions:
- Start by flipping open your Bible and jotting down the context – what is talked about before and after the verses.
- Underline or circle important or repeated words in the text.
- Take a good look at important little words like and, but, and if/then.
- Look at names of people and places. Ask who they are or where it is. Look for main verbs in sentences and note what tense they’re written in.
- Write down questions about things you don’t understand.
- Make connections between your life, the world, and other texts.
- Look up unknown words.
- Connect pronouns with antecedents—like He with God.
The more observations you make, the more invested you will be in the Bible study and the more interactive it will be. In educational circles we call this “awakening prior knowledge” and it gets our brains thinking in the direction in which we want to learn.
The second step in the process is Interpretation. Interpretation, at its simplest, is finding meaning in and explaining the Bible. “If we’re to have any hope of interpreting God’s Word accurately, we’ve got to start with a fundamental premise: ‘Meaning’ is not our subjective thoughts read into the text but God’s objective truth read out of the text.” (Hendricks, 201) During this step we use many resources – Bible commentaries, dictionaries, etc.- that can help us gain a deeper understanding.
After studying a verse, it’s important to make a plan to apply the verse to your life. If we skip this step we have gained knowledge, but not allowed the Word of God to penetrate us and change us. Allow yourself some think time before you move on. Ask yourself the question, “Is there some area in my life in which this truth is needed? Is there an area that needs this truth that I don’t even see?” If so, perhaps you could write out a prayer asking God to change that area of your life, or choose an applicable verse to memorize and internalize. We might need to take concrete steps as we apply. We may need to memorize a verse so that it pops into our minds when needed. Allow the Holy Spirit to guide your application. Ask Him how you should respond.