In order to understand anything, it must be carefully studied. The more you learn about the basic facts of the subject, the different relationships between those facts, and how they work together in the subject, then the more you can bring that subject into your use and benefit. As we study any particular subject, its framework then forms our mind, and the deeper into the study of the subject we go, the more that framework influences the way we view reality. This is true of physics and chemistry just as much as it is true of literature and history.
In Richard J. Foster’s book, Celebration of Discipline, he writes the following:
“Study is a specific kind of experience in which through careful attention to reality the mind is able to move in a certain direction. Remember, the mind will always take on an order conforming to the order upon which it concentrates… When this is done with concentration, perception, and repetition, ingrained habits of thought are formed.”
In order for us to communicate effectively with God, to build that right relationship with Him, we must conform our minds to His framework of reality (which He made…wise, no?). While in meditation we are devoting and enveloping ourselves in reality, in study we are analyzing the reality so that we can devote ourselves to it. The study of the Word of God, then, becomes that core inward discipline that brings our mind into submission to reality, that is, into submission to God’s design. By reading His Words and grasping His truths we are able to develop the necessary processes of thought to understand when He is speaking to us in meditation, and how to respond in prayer and obedience.
Where Is Studying Made Important In The Bible?
The study of the Word of God is mentioned several times in the Bible. This, again, is why it is a discipline. It spans across the full spectrum of the Biblical collection. In Deut. 11:18-19,
“You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise…”
This passage implies what we call “study.” Having the Word in the heart and soul. The different devices, such as the sign on the hand and frontlet between the eyes, are symbols of study, of remembering and applying. In Joshua 1:8,
“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”
Of course Jesus speaks of the knowledge of the truth in John 8:32, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” It is not simply the awareness of the truth, but knowing it in your mind and heart to be so, that sets you free. It is not just the truth itself that sets you free, but its impact on your life and how you live it. Then, of course, is 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” The study of God’s Word is what delivers the truth to your mind and allows you to truly know it. However, having brought to light all of this, it is important to know what real study is.
What is Studying and How do I do It?
Ok, I know that is a silly subsection title, but there may be more to studying than you think. There are basically four different steps in the process of studying a subject in order to make it known in the heart and mind. These are repetition, concentration, comprehension, and reflection. Repetition is the first step for obvious reasons. If you are to come to understand something you must be able to at least retain the raw data and the information it produces in your mind. We can all attest to the experience of needing to read over a topic several times before finally achieving that “Ah Ha!” eureka moment. Repetition is what allows us to get to that point. However, repetition alone is not enough in study if we are to fully grasp what is being taught.
Once we have the basic data and information down the next step is concentration on what has been retained. Our world is full of distractions. That point was made well enough in the article on meditation, and meditation can aid us in improving our ability to concentrate. It is important to allow the mind to focus in on one particular subject at a time until full understanding of it has been achieved. Once this is done, we are able to move on to the next subject. Once we have each individual subject down, we can then concentrate on the whole picture and see how it all comes together.
This brings us to the third step of study which is comprehension. Comprehension is the natural result of the two previous steps. It is that eureka moment when we have achieved understanding of what is under study. This is the point where we come to “know the truth…[so that] the truth will set you free.” We are able then to now view reality through the right perspective in order to benefit from the knowledge we have retained and focused on. This then leads us into the final step of Reflection.
Reflection is where we internalize and apply to reality that which we now comprehend. This is where the significance and value of what we are studying comes to be discovered. Jesus makes the point that there are those who have ears but don’t hear and have eyes but do not see. When we reflect upon that which we have come to comprehend, we are getting our eyes to finally see it, and our ears are finally able to hear what is really going on. Reflection is where we consider what has been comprehended and what its effect is, what its value is, and thus its significance to our life.
At the end of this here is the most important thing that is necessary in order to be successful at study. That is humility. We can not hope to come to a full degree of comprehension and understanding if we are arrogant about that which we already know. When going into study, one has to clear the mind of any biases, and must seek to be a student to the subject. The subject must be that which teaches, thus allowing us to be “objective.” In order to be objective, or “open minded,” we must be willing to set the ultimate objective of coming to true knowledge of a subject above our own biases and perspectives. It is through humility that we are able to achieve this, allowing the subject to teach us what it has to offer, and then discerning its significance and evaluating our life in light of the new knowledge.
There are three rules which govern the process of study when it comes to literature in particular. The first is to understand what is being written so that one come to comprehend what is being conveyed. The next is to interpret the book, which is to identify what the author means by what he or she is “saying” in the book. Then the third is evaluating the work to decide if the author is right or wrong in his or her meaning. These three intrinsic rules are supported by the extrinsic aids that allows us to follow these rules. The first is experience. When we come to read a tragedy we will understand it more having gone through tragedy ourselves. Experience gives veracity to our knowledge and allows us to internalize what we read more clearly. In addition to this, the reading of other books will allow us to receive more data and information on the subject to compare and contrast in light of our experience as well. Then the last is lively and open discussion with others about the book. This allows us to receive additional insight into a work that we may not have otherwise come to see.
In Bible study, the use of commentaries is very beneficial. This brings in the knowledge and wisdom of generations worth of Biblical Scholars who dedicated their lives to the formal study of scripture. They do not always agree, but it is where they do agree that you can come to have a foundation to better deduce sound conclusions for yourself about those areas that they do not agree. Concordances are excellent tools as well as dictionaries and Bible atlases. These allow you to firmly grasp what the authors were attempting to convey in their writings. These tools help aid us in understanding those parts that are uniquely unfamiliar to us because of cultural differences, the language gap, historical gap, and other such gaps. An excellent text to aid in interpreting the Bible is written by William W. Klein, Craig L. Blomberg, and Robert L. Hubbard Jr. titled Introduction to Biblical Interpretation. It is a beefy text, but it teaches extremely well the practice of “hermeneutics,” or Biblical Interpretation. As always, do not read just one author on the subject. Do not hesitate to read more than one writer, especially in commentaries.
A Few Other Points To Remember
There are two approaches to the study of scripture that are important for this Discipline. The first is the analytical study of scripture. This is where we are trying to identify what the Bible means and is attempting to convey to the reader. Then there is the devotional study of scripture. The analytical study is to find out what the Bible means, while the devotional study is to find out what it means specifically to you. The application of what is being conveyed is what devotional study is all about. This is just as important and beneficial as the analytical understanding of the text itself. However, to do either one in isolation is not the path to life. One must understand what it means before he or she can understand what its significance is for them!
Setting aside time for Bible study is just as important. I make a regular habit of reading at least 4 pages of scripture every morning before leaving for work. Sometimes I can only get two pages. However, I set aside my Saturdays as a Sabbath day for more dedicated time to study the scripture. The most difficult thing is not setting aside the time for it, but getting yourself to understand the importance of Bible Study. If we are to be obedient to God, if that is our true and honest objective in life, then Bible Study, combined with the other Spiritual Disciplines is what sets the foundation of our regular schedules. We do not set these disciplines around our worldy schedules. Instead, we must set our worldly schedules around the foundation of our schedule for the Spiritual Disciplines. That is what you must do if you are to achieve the gift of truth that God has set for each of us to receive.
Journaling is an important practice as a part of Bible Study and the combination of these inward disciplines. Writing down what the Lord speaks to you and the collection of thoughts, questions, ideas, and other things allows you to better retain in the long term what is studied. It also allows you to organize your thought and to meditate on what you are studying. It allows you to write out the process of thoughts that lead you to a conclusion and it gives you something to use to cross reference and compare in light of other things you have written. It aids in memory and being able to read your own words on what you have studied aids in reflection and devotion to your study.
Meditation allows for us to quiet the world, the body, and the mind, so that we can seek to be on the same wavelength of God. Prayer tunes us in, and allows us to communicate with Him directly, both building our healthy relationship with God. Fasting allows us to bring our spirit out front, submitting our body and mind to it so that the Lord can work within us. Bible Study allows us to hear more clearly the Truth that God desires to give to us if only we would strive to receive it. All together, the inward disciplines are about our internal, spiritual transformation. You study of the Bible should result in an inward transformation of your being. It takes time, but the more you dedicate to it, the more it will begin to change your life. Be ready to set aside a at least three days a week where your mind is focused on the goal of performing the spiritual disciplines. One of these days may still be filled with your regularly scheduled programming. But on that day, you drive and focus is on God through out your days work. Seek after the Lord with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul, and all your strength so that you can better Love your neighbor as you will come to love yourself through these discipliens.