1. Lucky lotto: (eyes closed) – “Umm . . . I will read this verse”
You may be tempted to simply ask God a question, open up the Bible, fix your eyes on the first verse you see, and think that verse provides God’s answer to your question. There is an old story about a depressed man who did this. He opened up his Bible to Matthew 27:5, “He went out and hanged himself.” A bit confused, the man did it again. This time his eyes fell on John 13:27, “What you do, do quickly.” Now, that was not lucky at all.
What you have to understand is that, while inspired, the Bible is not a magic book. God does not speak through it out of context. There is a message that needs to be understood, a context to every passage. Be careful not to practice “lucky lotto” Bible studies.
2. Brussels Sprouts: “Do I have to?”
Many people hate to study the Bible like they hate to eat their vegetables. You must find a way to cultivate a love for sitting at the feet of God through Bible study. I know just as well as anyone that Bible study can be long and laborious, especially when you are in certain books that don’t seem to produce much fruit from their labor. But always remember that you have the opportunity to hear from the God of all eternity. Bible study is a privilege. When it becomes a burden, think through your life and commitment to God. I know that it is usually a burden to me on days that I am not quite so sold out to him. But when my life is on track, Bible study is often the best part of my day.
3. Channel Changer: “Let’s read something else”
It is easy to jump from place to place every time you study your Bible. But try to be disciplined to stick to one book at a time. Think about it in relation to the movies. We don’t watch little bits and pieces of dozens of different movies. We start a movie at the beginning and we don’t stop until it is over. This is the way I want you to approach the Bible. Work your way through entire books, becoming completely immersed in what they have to teach, then move on to the next. It is okay to be reading many books at a time, but make sure that you are not always jumping all around, never getting the whole story.
4. Concorde: “Watch how fast I can finish”
When I was a kid, I used to feel so guilty about not reading the Bible. My mother taught me about the importance of Bible study and I kept a Bible beside my bed wherever I went. But it was very hard for me to actually read my Bible. I don’t know why. However, when I did guilt myself into reading it, I would always pick the shortest chapter I could find (usually in the Psalms) and blow through it at lightning speed. I wonder what God thought of that. “Okay God, I am ready to listen. Just talk as fast as you can and let’s get this over with.” I seriously doubt he gifted me with much insight. The point is to put on the brakes. Read your Bible slowly. Read your Bible carefully. Pray before, during, and after you are done. Just talk to God while you are reading. Talk out loud if you have to. This will make you much more engaged and will produce much more fruit in you study.
5. Baseball card: “I’m very picky”
Some people like certain parts of the Bible more than others. If you were to look at my Bible, you would see the pages of the “Upper Room Discourse” in John 14-17 are more worn than any other section. This is because it is so comforting! I love Jesus’ “Do not let your hearts be troubled . . .” stuff. I also don’t like other books too much. For example, the Law can be archaic and boring. The prophets are hard to understand. However, I must discipline myself to be intimately acquainted with the entire Bible. Yes, some things will seem more relevant than others, but God wants us to know the whole story, not just the parts we like. I encourage you to try to go through the entire Bible every year. There are some great Bible reading plans that you can easily access. You can continue to read those passages you love over and over. But make sure you are getting the whole picture.
6. Clint Eastwood: “I don’t need anyone’s help”
We all need help. Bible study is wonderful, but it is tough. Make sure you lean on the many great teachers of today and from church history to aid you in your studies. Yes, you do have the Holy Spirit in you and you can understand much. But the Holy Spirit works primarily through the community called “the Body of Christ.” This is true in Bible study as well. There are many Bible study aids out there, but the best works you can have are called commentaries. These are books from people who have spent their entire lives studying the Bible. There are so many good commentaries available. Once you determine to read a book, find a good commentary to help you through the difficulties that are sure to arise.
7. Magical: “Abracadabra . . . It applies to my life”
Some people call the Bible “God’s Love Letter to You,” but we have to be careful with this. The Bible was not really written to you. The Bible was written to people who lived thousands of years ago, were in a completely different culture, and had very specific needs and problems. Rightly understood, the Bible will have many principles that apply to your life, but these principles must be gleaned by interpreting the Bible through the lens of time. This is why it is so important to understand the context of each and every passage and story. Sometimes it will have direct application to your life, but sometimes it is just God telling you about what happened with no encouragement to follow the examples.
8. Indiana Jones: “Let’s find the hidden meaning”
This is a very dangerous approach. The Indiana Jones approach to Bible study assumes that there is some hidden meaning that you are trying to find out. This assumes we need some sort of secret decoder ring to find the layers of truth hidden by God but discernible only to the Christian. We need to be very careful here. While the Bible was written by God, it was not done so with the intent to have secret truth shown only to a select few. It was written to reveal truth to all who will listen! There are no hidden messages in the Bible. Applying the proper study methods will guard you against this often divisive and very subjective approach.
I encourage you to read my post “How to Study the Bible in a Nutshell.” This will give you more detailed insight about what proper Bible study looks like.