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Understanding the Bible

God's Word has a lot to say to you—are you listening?

It can be intimidating. You go to church every Sunday and your pastor delivers eloquent sermons on passages you didn't even know were in the Bible. Women boast of spending hours a day studying God's Word, yet you can barely get in 15 minutes with your busy schedule.

You want to understand the Bible for yourself, but the laws and stories seem so different from your life today; how can you possibly understand it and apply it? So you stick to the safe books: the Psalms, the stories about Jesus, and the occasional epistle. Rarely do you venture into the more daunting books of the Bible like Ezekiel, Daniel, or Numbers. Those are for the theologians and Bible scholars, maybe even your pastor. But not you. You don't have the tools necessary to dig deep or understand the more complex aspects of the Bible.

Or do you?

Countless women have shared this dilemma with me—everyday women, women who love and want to grow in their knowledge of him, but are intimidated by the less frequently preached (and read) books of the Bible. They have convinced themselves that since they have no formal training in biblical scholarship, they simply cannot understand what is going on in these more sizable or complex books.

If this describes you, I have good news. One simple reality ensures that you, like every other saint (educated or not) who has gone before you, have exactly what you need to study God's Word and glean from it. You have the Holy Spirit. You have been bought with Christ's blood, brought into his family, and been given the third person of the Trinity as your helper in this Christian walk. You have everything you need to understand and apply God's Word, but sometimes you need some tools to help you get started.

The Value of the Bible

Most of us know and believe that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God. But while you might believe this, do you also believe that it has tremendous value for your life?

Second Timothy 3:16-17 says:

"All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work."

This means that the Bible not only is given to us by God but contains everything we need to know about how to walk this Christian road. God's Word is the means of our equipping, encouragement, and edification as children of God. It is a living book that breathes life into the Christian's soul. And we have been given everything we need to understand it for ourselves.

In order to understand the Bible for yourself, you must first believe that it has a lot to say to you—that it is the very word of God to you. Once you grasp that truth, you are ready to begin diving in for deeper understanding.

Start Small

It's easy to get overwhelmed whenever you undertake a new task, especially reading and interpreting the Bible. Best advice I ever received for getting started: take it one day at a time. Baby steps will get you to the same destination that adult steps will—and there is no shame in baby steps. That's how growth begins. Learning to interpret the Bible on our own takes discipline, but over time you will see God work in your life because he has promised to do his work through his Word (Isaiah 55:11).

There are myriad Bible reading plans to help you tackle Scripture. Start small. Maybe baby steps for you means one chapter a day. That's okay. The point is that you are reading God's Word and finding it useful and encouraging. Once you choose where you're going to start, you're ready to dig.

Ask Some Questions

Sometimes Scripture passages are just plain hard to understand. Asking questions will help us get on the right road to interpreting the Bible and applying it to our own life. While these questions are not exhaustive, they are a start. If it helps you, buy a journal and write down these questions and answers each time you read. Sometimes these questions might lead to more questions and more thoughts, and that is the point. Great things can happen when, coupled with the work of the Holy Spirit, we stop and linger over God's Word. So here are the questions I ask myself when I want to understand a particular passage:

  1. What does this verse/passage say about God?
  2. What does this verse/passage say about me?

I start with God because he is the author of the book. He carries authorial intent. When he inspired the biblical writers to pen the pages of Scripture, he had a plan and purpose in mind. To understand God, his character, and his work in the Bible is to understand the message of the Bible. It's also important to start with God because only in light of who he is will we rightly see ourselves in the pages of Scripture. The Bible is a mirror, and while it also gives us a big view of our God, it also gives us an accurate view of ourselves.

After you take some notes and ponder what these verses are saying about God and you, you are now ready to apply it to your life. Interpretation is the key before application. It is impossible to apply the Bible to your own life if you miss what the Bible is saying about God.

Apply it to Your Life

So how do you apply the Bible to your life? Let's look at a relatively common Scripture passage.

Matthew 6:25-33 says:

"Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you."

After you have asked and answered the questions, namely that God is sovereign over all things including the seemingly mundane like feeding sparrows, you can now apply it to your life. How much more will God be invested in the more intricate details of your own life as his child? He has numbered the hairs on your head, he feeds the sparrows, and he will watch over you and provide for every need you have. Even more than that, this understanding of who God is should banish any notion of fear or anxiety, which we all struggle with. How comforting to know that God's Word speaks directly to those fears and provides an answer and a way of escape.

Watch God Work

Philippians 1:6 says that "he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus." If God saved you, he will do whatever it takes to conform you into his image. He will grow and change you. One of the primary ways he accomplishes this goal is through his Word. He wants you to know him. He wants you to treasure him and delight in him by drinking deeply from the truths of Scripture and having your eyes awakened to who he is.

This Bible has been feeding the souls of countless believers for thousands of years. People have given their lives for it. Others have sold their treasured possessions to obtain a copy of it. And the Holy Spirit promises to be a helper, enabling you to understand the very word of God. He who promised is faithful; he will surely do it.

Dig deep into God's Word with one of TCW's brand-new Bible studies at this link.

Courtney Reissig is a pastor's wife, freelance writer, blogger, and teacher. You can read more of her writing on CT's her.meneutics, or follow her on Twitter @courtneyreissig.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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