This is part three of a multi-part series for women on how to study the Bible on your own. You don’t need a book, a Bible study, or someone else’s opinion: you need a Bible and the Holy Spirit.
I am not here to make you feel guilty. It is very popular today, especially among women’s ministries, to tell women that they must wake up extra early, spend 30-60 minutes in concentrated study, blah blah blah, and then God will bless them. That is not what this is about. I want you to know God more; the more you read God’s Word, the more you will want to study, because the more you get to know Him, the more time you will want to spend with Him. But if you “only” have five minutes today, start there. But start well, with the right tools, and by studying the actual Word of God, and not what someone else says about it or Him.
You have chosen your Bible, you have your notebook and pens, and you’ve decided what you want to study. Now it’s time to dive into studying God’s Word! Are you excited? I hope so! What a privilege it is that we can study the Word of our Creator, that He empowers us to know Him!
For purposes of an example, I am going to use Matthew 6:5-15 as our example for the remainder of this series. My goal is to simply give you an idea to follow.
Pray. The very first thing you should do before you begin to study God’s Word on your own is pray. Jesus tells us in John 14:26, “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” One of the jobs of the Holy Spirit is to teach us all things and remind us of everything Jesus said.
Let me pause here very quickly and remind you that Jesus and God are one, so everything that Jesus said is what God said, and everything that God said is what Jesus said. In other words, when Jesus says this in John 14:26, He is telling us that the Holy Spirit will teach us all things about Scripture and remind us of all God has said (via His Word).
So always begin your study time with prayer. Ask God and the Holy Spirit to guide you as you study, to give you focus, to help you see what you need to see. Pray that God will teach you.
Read your passage. Yay! I know you thought I would never get here, but now is time! Read your passage. And just read it. Don’t look for anything special, or hidden, or applicable. Just read it. And read it three or four times. For us, for our example, it’s Matthew 6:5-15. Here is what it says (this is the New American Standard Version):
5 “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 6 But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.
7 “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. 8 So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.
9 “Pray, then, in this way:
‘Our Father who is in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
10 ‘Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
11 ‘Give us this day our daily bread.
12 ‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 ‘And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’]
14 For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.
Now that you have read your passage three or four times, you have a few choices.
Choice A: let’s be honest, ladies. If the baby is crying, or you need to make a meal, or your household is falling apart, or this is day one, maybe this is it. You’ve prayed, you’ve read your passage a few times…pray again, ask God to help bring the passage to your mind throughout the day, and go about your business. It won’t be enough every day, but some days it’s a start :). God can bless you where you are.
Choice B: ask the following questions about the passage, and make notes in your notebook, or in your Bible. Who, what, where, when, and why? Who is in the passage and to whom was it written? What is this passage about? Where did this passage take place? When? Why is this passage being written? Answer these questions, and you will be well on your way to deepening your understanding of Scripture. Let’s look at our passage:
Who: Jesus is speaking in our passage. How do I know? It’s red in my Bible (ha ha ha), but also, if I look back to the title of the section it’s called “Jesus Teaches about Prayer,” and chapter five begins with, “Jesus began to teach.” Jesus is speaking to his disciples and the crowd who have gathered to hear Him speak. Alternately, if you have a study Bible, you could look up Matthew and see that this book was written by the disciple Matthew to the Jewish Christians.
What: this passage is about how to pray. Jesus says, “When you pray…”. That is how I know what this is about. When you begin to ask these questions, don’t go searching for deep, crazy, applicable things. Look for the easy “Sunday school” answers. This section of Scripture is teaching us how to pray. Period. The end.
Where: this passage takes place as part of what is called the Sermon on the Mount. I have to look back to the beginning of chapter five to find that out, but that’s simple to do. If I wanted to search some more, I could look up where in Israel they were, and at what point in Jesus’ ministry this takes place.
Why: this is the kicker. This is why a lot of people don’t study Scripture on their own: the why. Let me let you in on a little secret: why verses are included in Scripture can usually be found in the verse itself or in the verses right around it. So why is this passage in here? So people know how to pray to their Heavenly Father, and so we know the importance of forgiveness.
I am pretty sure you didn’t even need me to tell you that! But the why is why people are afraid to dive into Scripture on their own. Don’t be! You can do this! If the verse itself doesn’t tell you why it’s in the Scriptures (like I Chronicles 26:3, for example), a verse near it will (I Chronicles 26:19). And while all Scripture is inspired, some of it is just to teach us about the history – there isn’t always some deep spiritual meaning in every single word. Don’t put that kind of pressure on yourself.
Next step would be to go even deeper, and that is where we will pick up next week! If you want to start doing exegetical study, pulling out the historical meaning and such, that would be where we go next.
Otherwise, pray again. Thank God for showing Himself through His Word, and ask Him to bring the passage to your mind throughout the day. You’ll be amazed at God’s faithfulness!