Back To Basics: Bible Study
I just went through a time where I was hungering to hear from God. I felt like there was a rift in my faith where I was sending prayers up and there was just nothing: nothing that was being revealed in my life that I needed to change, nothing that was leading me to start or stop doing something, nothing producing fruit (in my eyes). This was incredibly frustrating, and I believe it is partially a result of our culture with immediate gratification. The concept of patiently waiting is no longer a reality - we have access to immediate access to knowledge via the internet. If we need to hear from a family member, we call, and if they don't answer, we text. This makes wanting to hear from God really difficult, because it breaks our social and cultural norms of immediacy. Yes - we have immediate and constant access to God through Jesus (Ephesians 2:18), but hearing his voice is different.
The bible is full of these stories: God speaking miraculously and often unexpectedly into people's lives. Moses and the burning bush, Samuel and his divine calling, Job and the storm, literally all of the prophets, Saul/Paul and his blinding revelation, Zechariah and news of his son, and Mary hearing the news of her future son, Jesus. Sometimes we even hear about these miraculous events happening in today's world - my good friend told me a story about how her pastor was called into the ministry, and he says God told him to pull over on the side of the road, get out and pray, and he told him that he will quit his job as a doctor, sell his (expensive) cars, and go into ministry. WOW! It is so amazing to hear stories like this, and I am overjoyed that God still speaks so vividly and clearly to his children, but..why not me? I pondered over these stories in this time of not being able to hear God, I prayed and wished for this awesome revelation, expecting this loud voice to suddenly enter into my brain saying "Erin! Here's the thing I want you to do!" and lay out the plan for my life with a roadmap and milestones along the way.
Turns out God doesn't always give us answers the way we think they should happen (probably not news to you, but sometimes it's nice to be reminded). I started reading articles on how to connect with God, bought about 5 books on spiritual formation and hearing from God, tore through them, and still at the end wasn't hearing from God. This was in a time in my life where I had a really consistent prayer life too - so I knew it wasn't as simple as "pray more" - I am an avid prayer journaler, and have my prayers from just about every day for the past year in moleskine journals on my bookshelf (I hope to write a post on that at a later date!). I wanted these books to reveal some missing piece of communicating with God, what I can do to hear his voice and changes I can make to hear more clearly and frequently.
Spoiler alert: none of it worked. I was feeling really discouraged and I was letting God know. I was trying to have quiet time where I didn't pray, didn't write, didn't do anything but try and listen. It didn't work either. I felt so frustrated and like I was just flailing around and God was watching me being like "hm she hasn't figured out the right combination of things to do yet to have me speak into her life". So I gave up looking for ways to hear from God and just continued on in my normal flow of coffee -> prayer -> devotional -> work -> tea -> dinner -> devotional -> bed. It seemed like the perfect amount of "things" I was doing to hear from God (not to mention it was set to the backdrop of a worship playlist the whole day).
So, in my pinterest-hopping one day I found a blog on christian podcasts, because why not have another form of input that might reveal to me what God is speaking to me since I hadn't heard it yet? One of the items really stuck out to me - John Piper's Desiring God podcast "If my words abide in you". The blog mentioned scripture memory specifically and I was like "hm, I definitely am not actively memorizing scripture, maybe that will help".
God had bigger plans for my band-aid behavior searching for the thing that would open the floodgates of his words in my life. That sermon changed the season I was in completely. I didn't automatically go from not hearing God to not being able to get him out of my head, but my perspective changed. Scripture is God's word. It might not be a divine or miraculous revelation, but I have a whole book (multiple copies at that) of God's words that were written as a love letter for me (Heb 1:3). I realized I had all these devotions I was doing that looked at a verse or chapter and then had commentary and a prayer to say, but I was not getting into the word of God. I sat back and took a long, hard look at my quiet time habits to find where I had fallen off of the bible study bandwagon.
For context - I love scripture. I took as many religion classes in college as I could, have 4 different bibles I use for studying depending on the purpose, and an unlimited subscription to She Reads Truth. I think it is this amazing book that has changed lives for thousands of years. Because of this, the realization that I wasn't treating God's word with the respect and magnificence it deserves was really hard to swallow.
I started doing research on bible studies. I have read from Genesis to Deuteronomy a few times before I gave up in my "Bible in a year" plans. I have tried so many different ways to get through the whole thing in its totality, but by the time I have read Genesis 1, Psalms 1, and Matthew 1 6 times I get sick of those plans. The dedication it takes to get through one of those plans is, in all honesty, more than I knew I could handle. Call me a heathen, but I would never make it to the minor prophets if I had to go piece by piece starting at the beginning. I also didn't want to do a study that involved any other voices - I didn't want to read a passage then the commentary on the passage or someone else telling me what it means. I wanted God's voice plain and simple, no frills.
I am now doing Dr. Horner's 10 Lists Bible Reading Plan. It is really fantastic in terms of getting through the bible in a way that is varied and consistent. The gist is, there are 10 lists that you read 1 chapter from each list per day.
Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) 89 days
Pentatuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy) 187 days
Pauline Epistles (Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Hebrews) 78 days
Other Epistles (1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1, 2 & 3 John, Jude, Revelation) 65 days
Job, Ecclesiastes, & Song of Solomon, 62 days
Psalms, 150 days
Proverbs, 31 days
Historical Books (Joshua Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther) 249 days
Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi) 250 days
Acts, 28 days
When you finish one list (like Acts and Proverbs which both have ~30 chapters), you just start the list over. This is enabling really long term familiarity with these books that have a shorter lifespan. Also - my favorite part, is that once you start, you will never read the same combination of chapters ever again. I have made some slight adjustments to the plan: he recommends powering through the reading without stopping and picking apart the scripture. I just cannot do this, it is so against my nature to not stop and explore if I have questions. I use this lexicon & transliteration tool to look at the translation and what the words mean in the original Greek or Hebrew. Also, if there is a passage that is particularly hard to understand I will look up commentaries on it and read what professional theologians have to say about passages and what they mean in context of the full history of the bible.
So, what I've found that works for me might not work for you. What I will recommend is to do the following things no matter how you like to study the bible and commune with God.
Find a consistent time
I am not of the school of thought that in order to be a "good christian" you have to do your quiet time in the morning before anything else. That is when I do mine, but that's just what works for me. What does matter is to schedule the time to spend time with God. Think about if you are planning to hang out with your friend, and you never actually set a time. You will never do it, you will never hang out. If you want to see the people in your life, you have to schedule it, and spending time with God is no different.
Open with prayer
The bible, although it is God's word, is hard to understand. No matter how many different bible studies you do, you will always need the Holy Spirit to guide you through your reading. God will reveal to you different things each time, and it's so important to be guided by the spirit to give you fresh sight on the passages.
Read the word - plain & simple
Find something that works for you. For me in this season I needed just the words from God without anything else. Maybe you need something more structured, like She Reads Truth (which is an awesome resource for devotional material and community). Do some research, find what works for you right now, and read.
Let the words soak in, meditate on them and what they mean, and leave room for God to speak miraculously.
Close with prayer
I don't know how to tell you to finish your time with God, I don't even think I consistently follow a pattern in my closing prayers. Sometimes, I pray for the people on my heart. Other times I pray with overflowing gratitude for the words spoken to me that day, and others is a plain and simple "Thank you God".
I still don't hear the miraculous voice of God coming from a burning bush, so if you're looking for that, nobody on earth can give that to you no matter how many books, podcasts, or worship songs you listen to. The beauty of God's word is that it is a constant voice and reminder of God's love and will for our lives. Dwell in that truth today.
I would love to know your favorite bible studies and why - comment below or drop me a line if you love what you do in your bible study!