Prayer, Creativity & Faith

11 Bad Ways to Study Your Bible

I struggled with this piece, because really, I could write it in one sentence: The only bad way to study your Bible is to NOT DO IT.

See? Easy and simple. Done.

But nothing in life is ever that simple, is it? And studying the Bible is a complex and often intimidating endeavor.

Just like with any practice of our faith, and no matter how good our intentions, we will fall short. I don’t say that to discourage you, but to assure you that it’s normal and that no one (including God) expects perfection. If I can be real for a minute, I’ll confess that I have approached reading the Bible with a bunch of attitudes that have prevented me from getting the most out of it. Somehow, probably because God is more generous than I can fathom and because there’s such depth to the word of God, I’ve walked away, nearly every time, with a nugget of wisdom or a deeper sense of peace. I bet you have, too.

Read on and see if any of these thoughts have passed through your mind, and then let’s pray together for help overcoming and understanding.

“I’ll take this… and this… but not that.” (Picking and choosing individual verses)

You can find a verse to support nearly any opinion you want to express. But the truth is, this only works if you take the verses out of context—if you neglect to look at who the author of that passage was, who he was speaking to, and how the verse fits into the scope of the whole gospel story. There’s nothing wrong with focusing on one verse or finding related passages as you study a topic. But there is danger in pulling it all out of context, because that’s when we can accidentally assign meaning that wasn’t originally intended. Our search for God is a search for truth-with-a-capital-T, and deceiving ourselves by not looking at the whole story won’t get us there.

“What she said.”(Relying only on other people’s teachings and interpretations)

I love a good Bible study—workbook pages with blanks just waiting to be filled in. Busy-work of copying verses, videos that set the stage, lay out the story, and lead you to the desired conclusion. There’s value in that—but will you remember it in six months or six years? When we learn something on our own, it stays with us longer. The Bible is one of the ways that God speaks to us today, and we have to interact with it personally in order to hear God’s voice and direction. Trust your instincts and look for meaning on your own. I promise you, it is there.

“I’m smarter than that; what does he know?” (Ignoring other people’s teachings and interpretations)

On the other hand, it’s arrogant to believe that we have a deeper understanding of these complex stories than men and women who made it their life’s work to study what God said about those gold-edged pages. When you want to go deeper, or when you’re struggling to make sense of it, turn to other sources to enrich what you’ve found on your own.

“Abracadabra…” (Randomly opening to a page for a “message”)

Don’t get me wrong: at times, I think that God leads me to a certain verse for a particular time. But we cannot expect that whenever we ask God a question, the first verse we see will be a direct answer, tailored to our situation, from the God of all eternity. God’s Word has unfathomable power, but it’s not magic and it’s not a lottery. We can’t treat the Bible as a buffet—picking and choosing whatever sounds good, leaving behind what doesn’t. God’s answers aren’t always easy, and sometimes the hardest thing to digest is exactly what we need.

“I’ve got this.” (Reading the Bible without benefit of prayer)

The Holy Spirit—the Helper—gives us understanding. The Bible’s pages only have meaning when viewed through the lens of prayer. We cannot come to an accurate interpretation or their meaning in our life until we allow God to lead us there, and when we forget to bathe the whole experience in prayer, we’re missing the most valuable thing: God’s presence and guidance. Faith is not a solo experience—we cannot have it without inviting God to be part of it. To get the most out of your study time, pray before, during, and after.

“Ain’t got time for that.” (Reading it just to be done with it)

Those year-long Bible reading plans don’t work for me, because I find myself treating it like homework—hurrying through so that I can say I’m done. When we rush, we’re cheating God, because in effect we’re saying, “Hurry up, God, I don’t have time for you.” Slow down. Ponder what you read, and listen for God to reveal meaning.

“God had better bless me for doing this.” (Reading the Bible resentfully)

Reading the Bible can be incredibly fulfilling—or a dry, laborious task. It all depends on your attitude. If you’re only doing it because someone said you had to, you’re not going to get much out of it. Reading the Bible does not earn our salvation, but it’s important because it strengthens our faith and encourages us to stand firm.

“I don’t think this part matters.” (Forgetting that God inspired every bit of the Bible)

Whether you take it all literally or figuratively, and whatever version of the Bible you read, it’s all important. We’re tempted to skip over the “boring” stuff—the genealogies, for example. But did you know that the meanings of the names, even in those long, dry lists, often tell a deeper story? Expect there to be more than initially meets the eye, because there usually is.

“I’ll show them.” (Reading to get “ammunition” against someone)

Ask anyone who’s ever been “beaten over the head” with Scripture—some people use God’s word as a weapon, wielding these holy words to prove you wrong, to back up their prejudices, or defend their sins, or (somehow) to make themselves appear more holy. God’s word should be used to guide our lives, strengthen our faith, and to teach us to live as Jesus did, not to allow us to say “gotcha!”

“That’s old news – irrelevant.” (Ignoring the Old Testament)

We now live under grace, right? The Old Testament no longer applies—or so many people think. The truth is that the New Testament is all about Jesus and the sacrifice he made for us to give us eternal and abundant life, but that doesn’t negate all that came before. The gospel story is rich in its heritage and history. The Old Testament is filled with references to the Messiah, situations in which Jesus is foreshadowed, and revealing the problems for which the only answer is Christ. Getting a grasp on the whole story can deepen our faith and enrich our understanding, revealing even more to us about the Messiah.

“Been there, done that.” (Assuming you already know everything there is to know about a passage)

I’ve read that the most-skipped parts of any book or article are Bible verses, because if we spend much time in church or study, we’ve heard so many of them before. Our gut response is to skip a familiar section, but even the most-studied passages can often yield an unexpected, insightful nuance if we approach them with an open mind. Slow down and you may be surprised what you discover.

A Prayer to Start Your Bible Study

Dear Lord, You are the author of this book, the author of our fates, the author of our lives. Give us a passion for hearing from You through the Bible, and open our understanding. Let us approach the Bible with belief that it is true, You are real, and Your Word will add meaning to our lives. Thank You for this gift and opportunity to get to know You better. Amen.


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