By Jimmy Tuten
Very often we hear brethren saying, “No matter how hard I study the Bible, I cannot remember what I have learned. Though I try, I cannot grasp the Bible so as to be able to tell it to others.” This feeling of desperation in studying the one Book we need to know the most about is experienced by many in the church of the Lord. The sad part of this is that often a person does not know how to rectify the matter of inadequate Bible Study methods. So they settle for mediocrity.
What are your feelings about your study methods? Do you have to force yourself to study the Bible? Does your mind wander when you do study simply because the material is not exciting enough for you? Have you tried to get into Bible study but have been unable to follow through with your schedule? You can and must increase your understanding of the Bible. Growing in the knowledge of Jesus Christ is absolutely essential for the child of God (2 Pet. 3:18). We are commanded to study (2 Tim. 2:15). We are told to increase in the knowledge of God (Col. 1: 10). This is all brought about by a desire to learn, coupled with sincere efforts to increase one’s proficiency in study habits. A proper application of the mind to the subject at hand so as to get a clear comprehension of it means more in the long run than hours spent in improper study methods. One’s power to comprehend lesson material is not a matter of mere chance. It is the result of concentration and perseverance. All of us need to give more attention to our methods of study if we want to increase our knowledge.
Don’t misunderstand me. Bible study can be interesting and exciting. It can be the best part of any day of your life. But it is going to take effort and planning. There are certain basic rules and factors that one must follow and know. The knowledge of these will help make your study of the Bible a scintillating, profitable adventure as well as an interesting quest for knowledge. Bible study can be fun! It can be enjoyable.
The first thing one needs to understand is the danger of an unused mind. If the mind is not exercised regarding things that are spiritual, if it is not stirred up concerning things that pertain to the soul, it becomes stagnate. It even becomes warped and out of balance as pertains to knowledge of Bible principles. I once lived in a well built house in an excellent neighborhood that had one major problem. Two or three of the doors would not close because they were warped. In an effort to correct the matter I conferred with a carpenter. He said, “Doors that are not used and left open all the time will warp. Those doors have not been closed through the years and they have warped through disuse.” So it is with the mind: if it is not used so as to appreciate the thrills and the joys of Bible study it becomes spiritually handicapped. A closed mind never allows new understanding or thought to enter so as to illuminate and enliven what is already there. By the same token a mind that is left opened at both ends warps too. Some are so open-minded that facts go right through without leaving the slightest residuum of knowledge. We need to remind ourselves that true wisdom consists in maintaining balance. We need to have a mind that closes on certain thoughts and holds them there. At the same time open minds are essential to Bible study (Acts 17:11; 1 Thess. 5:2).
My dear friend and fellow-preacher, Bill Atkins of Mobile is a commercial fisherman. This expert on Bay of Mobile fishing has taught me many things, one of which is this: more fish go through the net than those that get caught. You have to trap more fish than you expect to catch, and the number that go through the net is greater by far than the number that are entrapped. It is quite a sight to see 1600 feet of net in the water quaking and quivering with several hundred pounds of fish. But it is disconcerting to a novice to see fish squeeze themselves through that same net to freedom. Bill’s nets never catch fish as long as they are piled up in the boat. So it is with the mind of man. At the very best the mind forgets more than it takes in and must be used to absorb anything. A man must study and put something into the mind, otherwise the mind would be a blank. Meditation and study is essential to the art of remembering what is learned.
How To Begin
Bible study builds upon four basic steps: observation, interpretation, application and correlation. In overlooking these factors much of our study is sporadic. Finding ourselves stimulated by a sermon or a Bible class, we jump at a study that had no workable plan, regular time or place for study. At best our endeavor is short-lived. When we add to this our inability to meditate because of distractions, the problem is compounded. We live in a day of instant coffee, rapid transportation, TV dinners and microwave ovens, all of which bombard us with instant this and instant that so that we want everything now! We have been programmed by our culture to expect results immediately. In the process we have forgotten how to meditate. Bible study cannot be obtained that way. We must motivate ourselves to study systematically and consistently.
Bible study is both a sense of duty and a gracious privilege. If one enters into a study of the Bible because he feels that he has to, he can’t expect to learn much. On the other hand if the study is viewed strictly as a privilege it will tend to be flippant. Instead of racing to get through a certain number of chapters or verses a day, we need to develop the art of reading slowly and thoughtfully. We have allowed denominationalism, secularism and other destructive matters to enter into our lives simply because we won’t take time to read and think. Much of what ails us is due to the fact that men will not “sit quietly in a room.”
What makes the Word of God a living force is what we as individuals do with it. “The Bible is a letter God has sent to us” (Matthew Henry). Our personal use of it, therefore, is like the opening and reading of that letter. And it must be coupled with determination to do what He says do.
Set Definite Goals
“Where there is no vision the people perish” (cf. Guardian of Truth, Vol. 25, p. 729). It is hard to get excited about a trip if there is no destination in mind. Bible study is no different. You need definite purposes and objectives to stir up your interest if you expect to get somewhere. “I’ve got to get in thirty minutes of Bible study every day, come what may,” or “I’m going to read the Bible through once a year,” ate such empty, common goals. They do little to motivate or spark your desire. You may accomplish the particular objective and possibly even gain some measure of self-discipline, but seldom any more.
This writer likes to get up for study each day while frost hangs heavy in the air. I’m fresher and the mind is clearer. Whatever is the best time for you to study, set it aside and stick to it. Don’t wait until Saturday night to prepare for Sunday morning. Do not wait till 5 p.m. Wednesday afternoon to do your studies for Wednesday night class. Forethought will make you better prepared, better organized and fill you with better concentration. So organize yourself. Plan ahead and do not let anything interfere. A well-planned, designated schedule will prepare you to handle those intrusions that you cannot control, and those pressures that keep you awake at night when you ought to be resting. Failure at this point results in a loss of interest in increasing Bible knowledge. Goals need to be challenging and satisfying, and they should stimulate personal growth. So, make them practical. This writer suggests the following:
(1) Organize your goals and objectives into related subjects and set up priorities, placing the most important subjects first. Do not study the Bible at random.
(2) Organize your time by setting aside a specific period every day to allow yourself the opportunity to accomplish the goals you have established. You will need to be flexible so that you can adjust yourself if you find yourself pinched for time. Do not just skip it.
(3) Take notes on whatever study material you are going over, remembering that what is not soon written down will be quickly forgotten. Whether you are using the helps in the back of the Bible, giving attention to outlined notes, studying commentaries, or simply reading religious periodicals, your notes should be kept up to date. You may want to keep a card rile and file your materials by subjects for quick and easy reference. But remember, the mechanics of note taking is of little value if one does not give concentrated reflective thought to your topic. To increase your grasp and memory of the Bible, to add meaning and life to your Bible Study, you are going to have to recognize the importance of meditation.
I have never forgotten a line from Rudyard Kipling’s The Just-So Stories that goes like this: “I keep six honest men (they taught me all I knew); Their names are What and Why and When and How and Where and Who.” Instead of rushing through a study take the time to learn the following from your material: The nature (what), the purpose (why), the time (when), the means (how), the place (where) and the people involved (who). What we do with Bible study is the difference in whether or not it is a living force in our lives. Your attitude toward the study of the Bible must be self-corrective.
Besides two or three good Bible translations one will need other resource tools. Get a good Bible concordance, good Bible dictionaries, a good Bible atlas, good Bible commentaries and good sermon outline books. Do not overlook special studies that are on tapes. Get good tapes, listen to them (even in your auto while traveling) and exchange them with others. Tapes of special subjects are like good books, they last and last! The study of the Bible is much, much more than another academic pursuit; it is a vital part of our daily lives.
Paul told Timothy to “study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). Why study the Bible? Because “the holy scriptures . . . are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by the inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3:15-17).
The Bible provides the foundation for understanding all knowledge. It gives the keys to solving all problems. Everything essential to our well-being is in the Bible: knowledge of creation, the purpose of human life, God’s spiritual laws, and it is these basics that engender a right understanding of the past, the present and the future. They serve as the foundation for all other branches of knowledge.
Guardian of Truth XXVII: 16, pp. 490-492
August 18, 1983