I love school supplies. Although by the time you're my age, they should probably be called "office supplies." But this lifelong student tries to find some excuse to buy at least a new binder or a pack of pens at the beginning of each semester. I only wish graduate school professors assigned more posters and artistic work so that I could justify a brand new pack of magic markers.
Bible study requires office supplies too. Sometimes we need a pen, a notebook, and maybe a highlighter. But unfortunately we can bring some other supplies to our study that may actually prohibit us from learning all that we can. What's worse, these extra supplies are all in our heads! Here are three office supplies that you'll want to leave behind when you sit down to study the Bible.
I've mentally taken a bottle of glue to my Bible on several occasions. Perhaps you've done it too. We find a section of the Bible that seems uninteresting or difficult, and we mentally glue the pages together so we can skip over them to get to the "good parts."
Not long ago, I found one section of my Bible that I'd mentally glued shut—the Minor Prophets. Maybe you've heard of them: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. They live in between the Major Prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel and the New Testament. I really never read them because I didn't understand them. To me they were short yet cryptic.
In never attempting to understand those books, I was missing out on major pieces and themes of the biblical story. I wasn't allowing those parts of God's Word to shape and form my life. After all, 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right." "All Scripture" includes the Minor Prophets and any other section of the Bible we've mentally glued together.
When we skip over difficult or seemingly uninteresting passages, it's as though we're studying for a test and only reviewing part of the notes. Instead of passing onto easier, more familiar passages, why not attempt to study those places we haven't ventured to go on our own before? Study Bibles have excellent summaries, notes, and guides for reading, and a book like How to Read the Bible Book by Book can help us understand the context of what we're studying.
What sections of the Bible have you mentally glued together? Why? Are you ready to tackle them with some help and uncover what God has for you in their pages?
I've also been guilty of using a pair of sharp mental scissors on the pages of my Bible.
When I was in high school and early in college, I was guilty of bringing scissors to my Bible study. I'd cut out and keep the verses that I liked. Some of my favorites were John 3:16, Romans 8:28, Philippians 4:13, and Jeremiah 29:11.
Cutting verses out of the Bible is just about as dangerous as running with scissors. When it comes to scissors and the Bible, the danger is twofold. First, we risk proof-texting. That means we read the verse apart from its context and potentially extract a meaning that's not really there. We build our theology, what we believe about God, based on a few verses instead of a larger story.
For example, Jeremiah 29:11 may be the perfect verse to cut out and paste on a graduation card: "'For I know the plans I have for you,' says the LORD. 'They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.'" It's so true; the Lord does have a plan for our lives, but we can miss out on the richness of this verse when we don't read it in its context. It's actually part of a letter from God to his people who were living in exile. He was telling them to get comfortable in Babylon because they'd be there a while, but he wanted them to have faith and trust that he had a plan for them and would eventually bring them back to their homeland. In its context, that verse has a new depth, and we learn more about the sovereign care of God in difficult times.
Second, we risk missing out on important parts of the Bible. If we quote John 3:16 all the time but never read the rest of the passage, we might not learn about Jesus' interaction with Nicodemus. Remember, all of Scripture is beneficial to us.
What verses have you cut out of the Bible? If you pulled them all together, would you see the entire biblical story or the full character of God?
Recently I discovered Hebrews 11:39-40: "All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us." If you're familiar with Hebrews 11, you know that the writer is talking about all of the people mentioned in the previous verses. Somehow, in the numerous times I've read Hebrews, I never really paid attention to those verses. It was like I'd taken a permanent marker and drawn right through them.
I guess I mentally wanted to jump right over to Hebrews 12:1 and the grand, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge cloud of witnesses …" that I never slowed down enough to consider every verse leading up to it. When I finally read and tried to understand those two verses at the end of Hebrews 11, my comprehension of Hebrews 12:1 went to a new level because those verses helped me see the communal aspect of our faith.
I think we line through certain verses because (1) we don't like them because the challenge us, (2) we don't understand them, and (3) we skip them because we read too quickly.
When we line through Scripture like that, we end up with an incomplete view of the biblical story. Each little verse and word can add to our understanding.
What verses do you cross out with the permanent marker? Why? Go back and read through a familiar passage. Do you read every single verse? Do you know what each verse means and how it connects to the one before and after it?
A Better Bible Study
When I catch myself using these mental office supplies, I'm motivated to do Bible study better. Sometimes that means I need to set aside time to read carefully through a particular passage. Other times, I need to pull out my study Bible or some other Bible reference tools to help me prepare to tackle a difficult book. Additionally, when I find a passage that I've skipped because it hit a sore spot—challenged or convicted me—I have to be courageous and let God confront me with his Word.
Whether it's a message of rebuke or encouragement, we need all of God's Word so that God can use it to "prepare and equip [us] to do every good work" (2 Timothy 3:17).
Meryl Herr is a graduate student and author who lives in Illinois.
Copyright © 2011 by the author or Christianity Today/Kyria.com.
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