Tag Archives: bible

My Top 15 Elements for a Successful Bible Study

It’s taken years, but I have finally gotten into a nice rhythm in terms of studying the bible.  As we grow in our walk with Christ, knowing God’s word (and seeking it with zeal) is one of the most important things we can do.  After all, he’s revealed himself to us in two primary ways: Through his Holy Spirit, which we received as a gift when we became Christians, and in his Word.  My morning prayer almost always ends with David’s plea from Psalm 119: “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”

In this series, I’ve examined my personal “Top 15″ things leading to successful bible study.  I want to be clear that this may not be your top 15.  In fact, this list might not be applicable to another person on earth.  But I’ve observed that over the last several months, all of these things play an important role in my spiritual journey.  Maybe a few of them will be valuable for you, too.  As you work through this list (and its corresponding posts), I’d love to hear from you: What have I missed?  What are the most important elements for you?  What would you like to see more of?

Source Materials: You can’t have a bible study without a bible.
1 The Message.  In my opinion, the most readable and understandable version of the Good News.

2 A study bible.  It’s incredibly helpful to have a bible that contains detailed notes and cross-references.

3 Youversion mobile bible.  For smartphone users, this free bible app with its dozens of translations is a must-have.

4 BibleGateway.com.  The very easiest way to access the bible online, including robust searching and browsing functions, as well as the ability to easily link and embed text.

Going Deeper: Tools to take your study and its application into your life.

5 Baker’s Commentary on the Bible. The ultimate resource for explaining the bible, chapter and verse.

6 Wayne Grudem’s Bible Doctrine.  Why do you believe what you believe?  And what does your church have to say about it?  It’s important for any believer to know.

7 Gregory Boyd and Paul Eddy’s Across the Spectrum.  An easily readable presentation of multiple doctrinally sound interpretations of scriptural meaning.  Key for refining your own belief set – and understanding others.

8 The Blue Letter Bible.  An amazing set of online resources to dig deep into the bible, its history, its original languages, and detailed teaching and commentary.

Making it Happen: When your bible study becomes a part of your daily “lifeflow.”

9 A Study Plan: The bible makes more sense (and is easier to share) when you’re following a plan.

10 A place: Where do you do your bible study?  Do you have a place where you can easily store all of your materials?

11 A Time: Many people (myself included) need a routine.  What part of your day do you set aside for study?

Reflection: Reading the bible isn’t the same thing as studying it (though both are valuable).  What are the things you can do to reflect on your reading, and prepare to apply it to your life?

12 A journal – Where do you log your thoughts and questions?  For me, it’s right here on Finding Approval.

13 Valley of Vision.  I always close (and open) my study in prayer, and never fail to draw inspiration from this beautiful book of puritan prayers.

Sharing it: Study shouldn’t be solely an individual pursuit … the added ingredient of other people can exponentially increase the wisdom and insights you derive from your study – and who knows, you might be able to help them out as well!

14 A small study group. A small group of trusted friends can add so much to your study.

15 A Teaching Pastor.  The right pastor is going to teach you, inspire you, and challenge you.  When was the last time your pastor surprised you with a new perspective on scripture?  Made you mad?  Drove you straight to the bible to find out more?  If it isn’t happening frequently, you may not have chosen the right church.

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My Top 15 Elements for Successful Bible Study – A Teaching Pastor

As we grow in our walk with Christ, knowing God’s word (and seeking it with zeal) is one of the most important things we can do.  After all, he’s revealed himself to us in two primary ways: Through his Holy Spirit, which we received as a gift when we became Christians, and in his Word.

This post is the last of 15.  In each post, I’ll be examining my personal “Top 15″ things leading to successful bible study.  This series of posts can be filed under “Sharing It.”

Click the link to view yesterday’s post on Small Groups.
Sharing It – A Teaching Pastor.

 The last element that makes my bible study particularly rich is my participation in a weekly worship service.  There are a number of reasons to worship God as a part of a church … but I am only going to focus on how it can enhance a bible study program.  We’ll save the other benefits for another series!
I have been particularly blessed over the last 10 years to be a member of churches that have unbelievable teaching pastors: Erwin Lutzer at Chicago’s Moody Church; Dave Stone and Kyle Idleman at Southeast Christian Church; and Matt Carter and Jeff Mangum at Austin Stone Community Church.  No matter how much I study on my own, it’ll be hard for me, as a lay person, to ever match up with men who have gone through years of education and training in theology – and then live it out as their careers.  Additionally, I have sought out teaching pastors who I believe will not shy away from preaching the scripture as God intended it – and not soft-shoeing (or skipping altogether) the tough parts.  There is no question that there are entire sections of scripture that I have huge problems understanding (and sometimes accepting!).  But that doesn’t mean I can just conveniently ignore the hard parts … which is what I think  a lot of churches do.  The best pastors will challenge your beliefs, present perspectives on scripture that you’ve never thought of (weekly), make you hungry to learn more, and (sometimes) make you mad.  No matter how much I study the bible, I find that there is ALWAYS another layer of depth … which is not surprising, given that it was inspired by the Creator of the universe!  Finding a church that teaches directly from scripture, regardless of “cultural acceptability” or political correctness, is critical for real growth as a Christian.

My Top 15 Elements for Successful Bible Study – A Small Study Group

As we grow in our walk with Christ, knowing God’s word (and seeking it with zeal) is one of the most important things we can do.  After all, he’s revealed himself to us in two primary ways: Through his Holy Spirit, which we received as a gift when we became Christians, and in his Word.

This post is the 14th of 15.  In each post, I’ll be examining my personal “Top 15″ things leading to successful bible study.  This series of posts can be filed under “Sharing It.”

Click the link to view my last post on Valley of Vision.
Sharing It – A Small Group.  So far, just about every aspect of this blog series has been specifically tuned to individual bible study.  There are a couple of reasons for that.  First, it’s been of primary importance in this stage of my life.  In the last year, I have a new job, new city, new church, I’ve had several new “homes.”  The only group of people I could count on being around from one week to the next was my immediate family.  Yet, as important as that individual study is (and will always be), we weren’t meant to experience God”s word exclusively in isolation from one another.  In his sermon from May 23 at the Austin Stone Community Church, Jeff Magnum preached on “Becoming Like all of Christ.”  And what he meant by that was that while Christ spent significant time in isolation, communing with His Father, most of his life was spent in the midst of community – teaching, healing, discipling and loving.  If we’re truly to live like Jesus, spending time in community is critical.
I’ve mentioned my Discipleship Curriculum course several times in this series.  That 21-month leadership program was so powerful partially because of the coursework that Eric Schansberg and Kurt Sauder developed.  But it was mostly because of the dozen men who made up my class.  We studied the same scripture, but each of us brought something different to the table based on our own experience – and on our own revelation.  It made the experience infinitely richer then it would have been had we simply studied alone.  And currently, Amy and I are a part of an amazing missional community in our neighborhood.  I’ve never met a group of people who were so committed from taking Jesus’ teaching into action in terms of serving in our community.  There’s no question in my mind that having a group of trusted friends with whom to share your studies is critical to successfully engaging with scripture. For more on the impact of small bible study groups, check out the recent series on Missional Community from the Austin Stone Community Church.

My Top 15 Elements for Successful Bible Study – Valley of Vision

As we grow in our walk with Christ, knowing God’s word (and seeking it with zeal) is one of the most important things we can do.  After all, he’s revealed himself to us in two primary ways: Through his Holy Spirit, which we received as a gift when we became Christians, and in his Word.

This post is the 13th of 15.  In each post, I’ll be examining my personal “Top 15″ things leading to successful bible study.  This series of posts can be filed under “Reflection.”

Click the link to view yesterday’s post on keeping a journal.
Reflection – Valley of Vision.   I mentioned in an earlier post (Puritan Prayer – the Valley of Vision) on the special time I carve out for my bible study that I ususally conclude with a reading from Valley of Vision … a book of Puritan Prayers that Austin Stone worship leader Aaron Ivey uses from time to time during our services.  I also wrote about it specifically here.  The reason I’ve included it again here is that I view my devotional time with valley of Vision to be an important part of my reflection time.
As simple as it sounds, learning how to pray is, I think, a lifetime goal.  Jesus was a great example of this … he would seclude himself and pray for hours on end – a habit he never forsook.  The puritan prayers in this book are prayers the way I often wish I could pray.  They’re so clear, lucid and beautiful … and are 100% grounded in scripture.  They add immeasurably to the value of my daily study.

My Top 15 Elements for Successful Bible Study – A Journal

As we grow in our walk with Christ, knowing God’s word (and seeking it with zeal) is one of the most important things we can do.  After all, he’s revealed himself to us in two primary ways: Through his Holy Spirit, which we received as a gift when we became Christians, and in his Word.

This post is the 12th of 15.  In each post, I’ll be examining my personal “Top 15″ things leading to successful bible study.  This series of posts can be filed under “Reflection.”

Click the link to view my last post on dedicating time for study.
Reflection – A Journal. One of the things I’ve learned about myself over the years is that I love inputs of all kinds.  I soak up ideas like a sponge – even if they aren’t immediately relevant to my life.  In fact, if you’ve ever used Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton’s “StrengthFinder” tool, “Input” is one of my top five traits. [In case you’re wondering, the others are Innovative, Strategic, Connected and … I can’t remember the last one.]
All the stuff that I “input” into my brain tends to rattle around up there – combining with other ideas – until a new insight emerges.  But that happens best when I have a time and a place to reflect on the things I’ve just read.  A lot of people will keep a journal of one kind or anohter to store their ideas, insights and learnings.  In fact, my old boss, Jack Lord (the founder of Humana’s Innovation Center) used to think that kind of journaling was so important that he mandated that every leader in his team write a daily update reflecting on:
  • What they’d accomplished;
  • What they’d learned; and
  • To whom they were thankful.  
I may have been the only person (other than Jack himself) who didn’t hate daily updates!  As I study the bible, I wanted to make sure that I had a place to store my reflections and ideas.  And since I’m a social media geek, and wanted to get better with WordPress anyway, I started this blog as my reflection place.  Even though this blog is only a few monhts old, I can already look back at my archives and remember what it felt like when I wrote my older posts … and it makes me really glad that I have a place to capture them all.  And if anyone else gets any value from it – so much the better!  Do you keep a journal of your bible studies?  How does it work for you?

My Top 15 Elements for Successful Bible Study – A Time

As we grow in our walk with Christ, knowing God’s word (and seeking it with zeal) is one of the most important things we can do.  After all, he’s revealed himself to us in two primary ways: Through his Holy Spirit, which we received as a gift when we became Christians, and in his Word.

This post is the 1th of 15.  In each post, I’ll be examining my personal “Top 15″ things leading to successful bible study.  This series of posts can be filed under “Making it Happen.”

Click the link to view yesterday’s post on having a dedicated place for bible study.

Making it Happen: My time of day:  As I noted in yesterday’s post, the routine of a bible study is incredibly important.  And yesterday I only covered half of the issue: the place.  The other (and perhaps more important) piece of a successful study routine is a TIME.  In today’s world, time is the thing we’re most short of.  There are more demands on our time that we will ever be able to fulfill.
I’ve found that the only time I can really commit to anything – including bible study – is the early morning hours.  Otherwise, life just tends to get in the way, and the competing priorities can be overwhelming.  Additionally, if you really want to reflect Jesus all day, every day … it makes sense to start the day in prayer and in the study of God’s word. [Side Note: Jeff Mangum from the Austin Stone preached a wonderful message on Sunday about the importance of Christians reflecting ALL of Jesus … including his exemplary practice of secluding himself in prayer, study and contemplation.  You can find that sermon, Becoming Like All of Christ, on itTunes.]
My weekday looks like this:
5:30     Wake up (4:30 or 5:00 if there’s work to be done before 8AM)
5:32     Start Coffee and Pray – in that order 😉
5:40     Pour coffee and begin study (REAP passages from NLT and The Message; Doctrinal study of same in Baker’s Commentary and Grudem’s Bible Doctrine; Devotional from Valley of Vision*)
6:20     Conclude study; wake up wife with a cup of coffee
When I can stick to that schedule (and I usually can), there is no better way to start the day.
* Stay tuned for more on Valley of Vision – a collection of puritan prayers


My Top 15 Elements for Successful Bible Study – A Place

As we grow in our walk with Christ, knowing God’s word (and seeking it with zeal) is one of the most important things we can do.  After all, he’s revealed himself to us in two primary ways: Through his Holy Spirit, which we received as a gift when we became Christians, and in his Word.

This post is the 10th of 15.  In each post, I’ll be examining my personal “Top 15″ things leading to successful bible study.  This series of posts can be filed under “Making it Happen.”

Click the link to view yesterday’s post on having a Study Plan.

Making it Happen: My corner of the house: Like anything else in life that we do more than once, bible study is something that works best as a part of a routine.  If I had to roam around and collect all the elements for my study every day, find a comfortable place to sit and organize everything, I’d be a lot less likely to do it every day.  Luckily, my wife and I have found a spot that works for both of us to do our daily study … and to have all of the materials we need close at hand.
I’ve got all my books stacked (more or less) neatly there.  I’ve got a comfortable chair with a floor lamp behind it.  All I have to do is bring a cup of coffee and my iPhone (which, per yesterday’s post on Study Plans has my reading plan embedded in the Austin Stone iPhone app) and I am ready for a great morning of study.  If you can spare the space, I highly recommend a dedicated place for study that can double as a place to store all of your study aids.

My Top 15 Elements for Successful Bible Study – A Study Plan

As we grow in our walk with Christ, knowing God’s word (and seeking it with zeal) is one of the most important things we can do.  After all, he’s revealed himself to us in two primary ways: Through his Holy Spirit, which we received as a gift when we became Christians, and in his Word.

This post is the 9th of 15.  In each post, I’ll be examining my personal “Top 15″ things leading to successful bible study.  This series of posts can be filed under “Making it Happen.”

Click the link to view yesterday’s post on the Blue Letter Bible.
Making it Happen: A Study Plan: The Bible can be a pretty overwhelming thing.  And that shouldn’t be terribly surprising, given that it is the inspired Word of the Creator of the universe!  The Bible is also unique from any other book in that it comes with the spirit of its creator to guide the reader to learning and understanding that’s personally tailored to them.  But that’s the subject for another post entirely.
Because of this special nature of the Bible, you could probably just get away with reading it straight through, or reading it randomly.  Whatever you do, something good will come of it.  But to truly STUDY the bible, it helps to have a plan.  And it doesn’t have to be a complicated one.  I’ve already mentioned my 21-month Discipleship Curriculum study; that was a pretty complex one.  I’ve also gone to the extreme simple end of the spectrum: One of my old study leaders, Chip Crush (can you tell that he had an impact on my life?) told me about a pastor whose study plan included a weekly reading of the Gospels.  All four of them.  So there was a time when I was just reading steadily through Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in rotation – and getting something new from them each time.
My current study plan is somewhere in the middle.  The plan is called REAP (which stands for Read, Examine, Apply, Pray).  It’s really simple; I read four passages of scripture every day (from Psalms & Wisdom; History of God’s People; Chronicles and Prophets; and Gospels and Epistles).  I can then build my study, reflection, application and prayer around the texts.  The super-nice thing is that my church, the Austin Stone Community Church, has an iPhone App that includes not only the daily REAP schedule, but the passages themselves.  That means that when I’m on then road (a not-infrequent occurrence) I can do my full bible study bringing nothing but my iPhone.  Pretty sweet.

My Top 15 Elements for Successful Bible Study – Blue Letter Bible

As we grow in our walk with Christ, knowing God’s word (and seeking it with zeal) is one of the most important things we can do.  After all, he’s revealed himself to us in two primary ways: Through his Holy Spirit, which we received as a gift when we became Christians, and in his Word.

This post is the 8th of 15.  In each post, I’ll be examining my personal “Top 15″ things leading to successful bible study.  This series of posts can be filed under “Going Deeper.”  The next series, beginning on Monday, will be all about “Making It Happen.”

Click the link to view yesterday’s post on Across the Spectrum.

Going Deeper – The Blue Letter Bible.  If you’re doing a deeper bible study (as I did with Southeast Christian Church‘s Discipleship Curriculum – a 21-month lay leader’s traning program) the Blue Letter Bible can be invaluable.  I was referred to it (as with so many other useful materials) by one of my DC leaders, Chip Crush (by the way, Chip blogs at Biblical Glasses, which is a great read).  The BLB is a ridiculously feature-heavy site, but there are a few particularly notable features:
  • In-depth commentary resources on every passage from literally dozens of sources; audio, video and text.
  • Word studies taking you back to original definitions from Greek and Hebrew; with links to all the other places that word form has been used.  Incredibly useful in interpreting the author’s original context and meaning.
  • Fantastic thematic and topical links between different passages of scripture

Because the UI is complex and relatively challenging, I don’t use the BLB for simple lookups (Bible Gateway is much better for that), but when you’re going deep, the BLB is unparallelled.  If I was every researching a sermon, lesson plan or a book, it would absolutely be my starting point.

My Top 15 Elements for Successful Bible Study – Across the Spectrum

As we grow in our walk with Christ, knowing God’s word (and seeking it with zeal) is one of the most important things we can do.  After all, he’s revealed himself to us in two primary ways: Through his Holy Spirit, which we received as a gift when we became Christians, and in his Word.

This post is the seventh of 15.  In each post, I’ll be examining my personal “Top 15″ things leading to successful bible study.  This series of posts can be filed under “Going Deeper.”

Click the link to view Tuesday’s post on Bible Doctrine.
Boyd and eddy take the exploration of doctrine to a new level … And do so in a way that I really appreciated, because they are not taking or advocating one position over another.  As mentioned in yesterday’s post, there are many issues that are really open for debate, and worthy of exploration.  In “Across the Spectrum,” Boyd and Eddy present at least two (but often three or four) different sides of the thorny issue.
Here are some examples of issues that they tackle, with examples of the multiple positions involved:
The Foreknowledge Debate:
– God foreknows all that will come to pass
– God knows all that shall be and all that may be
The Charismatic Gifts Debate:
– The gifts are for today
– “Tongues shall cease”
The Women in Ministry Debate:
– Created equal, with complementary roles
– The Irrelevance of Gender for Spiritual Authority
The nice part is that of all the viewpoints they represent, there really aren’t any wrong answers … In other words, they are legitimately up for debate.  And the authors remain so objective that they really don’t lead you in one direction over another.
The not-so-good part is that, while I am much more effective at articulating all sides of an issue, I almost always found myself in a complete quandary about which position *I* believe.  Which is a good reminder not to get hung up on doctrine, and remember Jesus’ “greatest commandments” – to love God with all of our heart, soul and strength and to love others (ALL others!) as ourselves.