When I was a newlywed, I was a disaster in the kitchen. Couldn’t boil an egg, couldn’t bake a cake, couldn’t whip up mashed potatoes kind of disaster. Growing up I lived with a wonderful grandmother who enjoyed cooking, but I was too foolish and preoccupied to learn. As a new wife, our growing stack of take out menus only served to feed my frustration about my lack of culinary skill. Ironically, my first job was in the editorial department of a cooking magazine. It was a perfect place to study cooking, to find resources, and to ask questions. I was determined to figure out this cooking thing. Slowly, I began to learn the basics. Once I gained some confidence, I moved on to learn more advanced techniques. I’m certainly no Rachel Ray, but I am continually learning the skills I need to make a pretty yummy meal—all on my own. And while making a home cooked meal takes more time and attention, the results are undeniably more satisfying.
When it comes to Bible Study, many of us have the same problem I had in the kitchen. We never learned the skills necessary to study the Bible on our own. We become content with grabbing something from the drive through or just ordering something off the take out menu. We get fed, yes, but we’re constantly dependent on someone else to do the preparing and cooking. We appreciate the end result, but since we didn’t help prepare the food, the satisfaction is superficial and fleeting, and it can be costly. As followers of Christ, we need to learn how to feast on the Word of God, not just eat from a table someone else has prepared. There are delicacies God created for you alone to enjoy; food that nourishes your soul in a way nothing else can.
So how do we learn how to feast of the Word of God?
If you’re brand new to Bible study, or you’ve spent far too long eating from someone else’s table, here are a few tips to help you inventory your spiritual “kitchen” as you learn to prepare your own feast.
Keep it simple.
Your first attempts in the kitchen shouldn’t involve a four course gourmet meal. It takes time and practice to gain confidence as a cook. It’s the same with Bible study, but getting started isn’t as intimidating as it seems. In fact, Bible study is often best if you start simply.
First, pray. Ask the Lord to lead your mind, your heart, your spirit.
Second, listen to the leading of the Holy Spirit as you study.
Your first attempts may seem overwhelming or unproductive (just like my first attempt at roasting a chicken), but be diligent. Over time you’ll become more comfortable starting out with just the Word and the Spirit.
Be Sure You Have the Necessities.
Just like it’s important to have your pantry stocked with the necessities, it’s vital you have the essentials for studying the Word. Unlike the pantry, the essentials for Bible study are few—just two things really–a Bible and a journal (and your favorite pen, of course). If you’re overwhelmed with the choices available, here are some helps for choosing a Bible that is the most beneficial for you.
Pick a translation: There are many translations of the Bible available—which can be a bit intimidating and overwhelming. If you were to rank them on a scale of closest to the original Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic texts, the King James Version would be closest, with paraphrases of the Biblical text, like The Message, on the other end of the spectrum. Since the language of the King James version is antiquated, an easier-to-understand, but closer to original translation text like the English Standard Version (ESV) or the New International Version (NIV) is a great choice for Bible Study.
Study Bible or no Study Bible? Study Bibles typically have additional text that includes commentary on scripture. While these Bibles are good resources, it keeps you in the habit of depending on someone else’s interpretation of a passage of scripture. It’s a comfort and help to have instant access to delving deeper in a passage, but the goal is to learn how to discover truth on your own. Study Bibles are useful, but for your main study, use a commentary-free Bible.
Why keep a journal? There will be some days God reveals an amazing insight. There will be days you discover a new connection or revelation. There will be days you wonder why a verse or chapter is even included in the scripture text. No matter what you learn or what you’re pondering, write it down. Recording your thoughts and what you’re learning may lead you to a new discovery down the road, or it may provide some much-needed encouragement and exhortation as you continue to learn and grow.
Don’t Be Afraid to Use New Tools.
Every cook knows having good tools makes preparing a meal much easier, but sometimes the tools can be a bit intimidating. It’s the same with Bible Study. Though using them well may take time and practice, having the right tools turns Bible Study into a great adventure in discovery.
Concordance. A concordance can help in understanding the nuances of language in the Bible. You can take any verse and look up the original translation in Hebrew or Greek. The translation gives more specific and precise definitions to the words used in the English text. This can help tremendously in gaining deeper understanding of a verse or passage. You can also use a concordance to discover where a specific word is used in other places in scripture, which helps in finding connections and giving a richer understanding.
Commentary. An excellent commentary is an essential Bible study tool. But it should only be used after you have spent ample time wading through a passage. Be cautious in choosing a Bible commentary. There are great overall commentaries by a variety of authors, like Moody Bible Commentary, or commentaries by specific authors, like Matthew Henry or Warren Wiersbe, available. Ask your pastor or a Bible study teacher who they use most often.
Bible Dictionary. A Bible dictionary will help give more insight on some of the practical details of the Bible. Say you’re unsure about the preparation of the drink offering or looking for some historical insight on Herod the Great. A Bible dictionary will offer needed details to put the pieces of the puzzle together.
Bible Atlas. So much of what happens in the Bible has to do with place. When I discovered the Garden of Gethsemane was in the shadow of Herod’s temple, the anguish of Christ in the garden before his trial and execution was even more powerful. And when I discovered how close the Israelites were to the Promised Land as they wandered in the desert those 40 years, I took away a much deeper spiritual principle from the text.
Be Sure to Share
One of the best things about cooking is finding a new recipe and sharing it with friends. It’s the same with Bible Study. Whether it’s a formal Bible study or simply getting together with a group of friends, it is essential to have a place to pour out your heart. Growing with a group provides accountability and iron sharpening, and you learn much more as you listen to what God is teaching others. We were made for relationship and studying God’s Word together is a beautiful way to grow in knowledge and understanding of the Word, and a wonderful place to practice the truths you’re learning.
One of my favorite Bible study teachers Jen Wilkins says, “The heart can’t love what the mind doesn’t know.” In our relationship with God, it is so important that we get to know Him. That we develop our own deep, abiding communion with Him. The Bible is His gift to us. It is His love letter to us. It is His invitation to taste and see that the Lord is good. Too long I depended on what other’s learned about God. I sat at their table and ate of their delights. And it never satisfied my soul. When I learned to step in the kitchen and prepare my own table with the Lord, I found the morsels God gives are sweet and filling. Pulling up a seat and feasting on the Word of God truly does satisfy the soul like nothing else.
“How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights. For with you is the fountain of life, in your light do we see light.” Psalm 36:7-9