How can I improve my Bible study?
I hear this question, or others like it, fairly often and while there are many ways to improve your Bible study, I want to focus on a technique that is very simple, yet incredibly important.
Reading the Bible in a Me-Centric Culture
A great problem I see in studying Scripture begins with our humanity. We are sinful by nature, and we are selfish by nature. No one has to teach the toddler to scream “Mine!” when someone takes her toy. It comes naturally. No one had to teach me to seek after my own desires, even at the expense of others. It came naturally. I once heard the natural selfishness of people described like this (Unfortunately, I can’t remember where the original illustration came from): Imagine you take part in a group picture, maybe with your family at a holiday. When you see the picture, how do you determine whether it’s “good?” You look for yourself. If you look good, the appearance of everyone else in the picture is irrelevant. It’s a good picture. If everyone in the picture looks perfect, but you’re making a face, it’s a bad picture and you ask that it not be posted on social media. Our current culture only fuels the “me-centric” nature that already lives inside each of us.
Unfortunately, this selfish nature tends to bleed over into our study of Scripture. In our effort to find ourselves in the Bible, we try to make Scripture about us, or at least about what we should do. We read stories about David, Daniel, Joseph, or Paul and then treat the Bible, consciously or unconsciously, as though it’s just an instruction manual teaching us how to emulate the qualities of these characters. We begin to tie our walk with Christ to our performance and to reduce righteousness to a checklist.
“I just need to have courage like David to slay my giants.”
“If I just have the moral fortitude of Daniel, God will look on me favorably.”
“Joseph had such patient endurance in all his trials. I need to be more like that.”
Again, making faith into a holy to-do list is rarely a conscious decision. Instead, our self-centeredness is so natural to us that we often don’t even notice ourselves doing it. The danger, however, is the same. This selfish reading of Scripture will, over time, lead to things like frustration (I just can’t live the way God wants me to! What’s the point of trying?), self-righteousness (“God, I thank you that I’m not like that tax collector…”), false teaching (God will never give you more than you can handle.), or misuse of Scripture for personal gain (The Bible says you can’t judge me!). It’s a slow drift, but it is one that often begins with a wrong approach to Scripture.
The Bible is the Story of God
Make no mistake: the qualities demonstrated by the great heroes of the faith are great qualities that we should all hope to reflect. We should be courageous, morally sound, full of patient endurance, humble, and kind. The problem is that, in looking at these heroes, we miss the Hero that they all relied upon.In trying to be more like David, or Peter, or Moses, we actually fail to follow their example. This is where the simple, yet important, Bible study tool comes in. We must learn to put God in His proper place and ourselves in our proper place when studying Scripture. I must read Scripture with the knowledge that God is the Hero of the story and I am not.
The Bible is the story of God. There are many acts in that story – creation, the fall, redemption, and more – but the story is always, forever, ultimately about God. So when I read Scripture, just as I do with any other book, I am reading to learn more about the subject of the story. My primary purpose for studying is not to learn about myself, but to learn about God – His nature, His character, and His works. Along the way, I learn about myself as well, but to even do that accurately, I have to keep God in place as the Hero of His story. Abraham, David, Paul, these heroes of the faith, are not the heroes of their stories. God is.
We don’t learn from Abraham that if we muster up enough faith, God will reward us. We learn that God is faithful in spite of our faithlessness and that His purposes will not fail.
We don’t learn from David that we can face our giants and conquer our sin. We learn that God fights on behalf of His people and that we must rest in Him for deliverance.
We don’t learn from Paul that we can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and turn our own lives around. We learn that God extends grace to even “the chief of sinners” and that He is merciful and powerful enough to redeem any of us from the curse of sin.
As you put this into practice, a right view of God will begin to take shape. You will begin to see Him not as the pocket genie who helps us accomplish our goals, but as the incomparable, glorious, all-powerful Creator and King who redeems His people. You will see Christ not as a good teacher, but as the Lion of Judah, the Lamb who was slain and yet stands victoriously. And this right view of God will begin to impact your worship, your prayer, your Bible study, and your life. Instead of frustration, you’ll find power to live righteously through the Spirit in you. Instead of self-righteousness, you’ll find humility before the God who redeemed you in spite of your sin. In short, instead of trying to be the hero, you’ll find yourself running toward the Hero. Your right view of God will lead you closer and closer to Him.
Three Easy Steps
To summarize, here are three things to remember:
1) Scripture is the story of God.
2) Because Scripture is the story of God, God is the Hero of Scripture.
3) Because God is the hero of Scripture, I should always study, primarily, in order to learn more about God’s nature, character, and works.
Memorize these things, write them in your Bible, or save them in your phone. Always ask as you study, “What does this teach me about God?” And get into the practice of viewing God as the Hero of the Bible.