On Thursdays, we have been examining Christian disciplines, those practices that help us be available to God and grow in his grace. The disciplines are not the transformative power in our lives; Jesus is. But disciplines help us open up to hearing and obeying God so that we are transformed by His power into the likeness of Jesus. This week let’s look at the discipline of Bible study.
In David Mathis’ book, Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines, Mathis makes a distinction between reading the Bible and studying the Bible. Obviously, you have to read the Bible to study it, but you can read the Bible without studying it. Mathis says reading the Bible creates a breadth of understanding the Bible. I find that true as I read multiple chapters each day in a plan designed to help me read through the Bible in one year. But Mathis also says that Bible study creates a depth of understanding of the Bible. You might think of the pair of disciplines in this way:
Adele Ahlberg Calhoun reminds us that Bible study is about knowing what the Bible says and how it intersections our lives. She says, “Bible study involves engaging the mind and focusing attention on Scripture in an attempt to understand and apply the truth to every area of my life (Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, p. 184).”
We need both disciplines in our lives. Bible reading gives us the big picture on the Bible while Bible study forces us to stop and dig a bit. Bible reading need not include any other resources: all you need is a Bible. But Bible study will likely include some other resources that you will need: a Bible dictionary, a Bible atlas, a Bible commentary, a study Bible, to name a few. These basics help us find meaning in the purposes of the Bible book writer, understand Bible backgrounds, understand ancient languages, and help us see how the passage sits in the context of the Bible.
Effective Bible study will require you to use some method of study. Most commonly, people use an inductive method where the student asks three basic questions:
- What does the passage say? (Observation)
- What does the passage mean? (Interpretation)
- How does the passage apply to me today? (Application)
Lots of great methods use these questions. I have written about some in the past. Recently, I listened to a podcast with Nathan Foster and Andrew Rannuci from www.Renovare.org. You can link to it here and I highly recommend it. Rannuci only speaks about this Bible study method briefly, but it is notable. In his church in Australia, he teaches his people to use the SOAP method. I am a sucker for catchy, memorable ideas and this one caught me. SOAP stands for:
So I began to experiment with this method. (Often the spiritual disciplines are really experiments anyway!) In my journal, I record the date. Then I write point #1 “Scripture” and include the references I am reading about on that day. I just list the references there. Point #2 is “Observation.” I try to summarize the passage or passages I am reading. I usually only write about one solid paragraph. I might list any questions about the passage I want to pursue. Point #3 is “Application.” I ask myself, “What does God want me to do with this passage?” I reflect some and think about my day, my tasks, my spiritual growth, my work, my family, etc., and then I write how God might want me to practice or live out this passage. Finally, point #4 is “Prayer.” Here I write out a brief prayer about intersection of the passage and my life. Again, this is usually brief. I realized that this method helps me bring together Bible reading, Bible study, meditation, and prayer. I like it. It has taken on a lot of meaning for me in only a few weeks of practice. Even if I am not writing anything down, using SOAP is a simple guide to dig into the passage and work out its application for my life.
Since this blog is about small groups, this post has immediate application for anyone leading a small Bible study group. Using a method like SOAP helps you model good Bible study technique. This is such a simple approach a leader can quickly teach it to a group for their personal study and re-enforce it in the group study. Dig into the discipline of Bible study and explore the SOAP approach.
Scripture: Read and study Psalm 111 with the SOAP method.
Dig Deeper: Read David Mathis’ book, Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines.
Now It’s Your Turn: What is your reliable approach to Bible study? Please share your ideas so we can all grow together.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”