I have a busy/cluttered mind. It is very active and constantly bouncing from one thought to the next. As a result, regular and meaningful Bible study has been a challenge for me. I am overcoming my challenges with God’s help and I feel impressed to share what is working for me. Maybe some of these things will work for you. I believe the keys to meaningful study are dedication, focus and deliberation.
The first step in meaningful study is to make it a daily habit. Once you gain a daily habit of studying and spending time with God, I promise you will look forward to it and it will become a treasured part of your day. I speak from personal experience. The ONLY roadblock keeping you from daily study and time with our Father is you. Nobody is too busy! If you are really struggling with finding time, or if you find yourself avoiding study altogether like I was, I suggest you pray about it. God will show you openings in your day that He wants you to spend with Him in His word. I personally like to sit at the table after dinner while my daughter is doing her homework and do my study. If I wait much later than that, I start feeling too tired for my brain to be fully engaged.
Planning can be a challenge because our lives and schedules tend to be unpredictable. It doesn’t really matter where or when you study, what matters is making the time. The key isn’t to make a hard and fast rule (eg. “I will read at 8PM every day”) or you risk turning something meant to be enjoyable into a chore. Instead, make a personal commitment such as “I will read at least 10 minutes each day”. If it’s bedtime and you haven’t read your 10 minutes for the day, don’t beat yourself up but don’t let yourself off the hook either. Take 10 minutes before you get in bed to study. You will feel better and sleep better.
What if you’ve already made it a habit but you’re not getting much out of your study time? Have you ever felt like you’re reading the words but they’re not connecting with your spirit? Do you sometimes wonder if you have scriptural Attention Deficit Disorder? I know I have thought that often. I wondered how I could lose track of an hour deep in the Sephora website looking at makeup but couldn’t last more than a few minutes in my bible without being totally distracted. The answer is, I had no focus, no plan of attack for my study time. Whenever I start out surfing the Sephora site I have a plan; I’m looking for a moisturizer for sensitive eyes or a highly rated eyeliner, etc. Once I start my searches I tend to go from one link to the next, checking out the recommended products and finding more and more interesting things to look at, eventually losing complete track of time. Websites are actually designed to capture us in this manner, and they do a great job.
Bible study will capture you in the same way when you make it a daily habit. Once I paid attention to how I research a topic I’m interested in, I decided to approach my bible study in the same way. I start with a loose idea of what I’m looking for, and let God recommend different things and take me deeper into His word than I had expected to go. Pretty soon I realize I have become completely engrossed. I used to think that was impossible with the “crazy” brain I have. If that sounds familiar, stop accepting the lies of the adversary telling you that your brain can’t focus, because it can! Your brain isn’t crazy. I am overcoming this and so can you. God in His grace saw my little steps of faith and blessed me very quickly.
The most important thing I’ve found to help me focus is a notebook. Writing things down brings order to my busy mind. Here’s what I do:
- Write down the date at the top of the page. Simple step, but it will help you see what days you studied (or didn’t) and how your understanding progresses over the coming weeks and months.
- Write the chapter(s) you’re in and/or the topic you’re focusing on. If you haven’t been reading regularly and need help getting started, there are reading plans on www.biblehub.com. I highly recommend the fantastic app Read Scripture www.readscripture.org put out by Francis Chan and The Bible Project. It has given me a hunger for the scriptures that I never had before using it. I must note here that its important to be flexible. Don’t be totally stuck on chronological reading. I read chronologically sometimes and other times I feel like there’s a specific topic I want to study. Sometimes I have no impression at all and those are the best times because then God tells me what to study. Which brings me to the next step…
- Pray before you begin your study. A week ago, I was feeling so scattered and had no idea what to read. I had been in the Old Testament in the Read Scripture app but didn’t feel like that’s where I was supposed to study that day. I prayed a heartfelt prayer and asked God to calm my mind and show me what He wanted me to focus on. Almost instantly, he answered by putting five distinct topics in my mind. I wrote them in my notebook with blank lines underneath. I felt like each one of these topics deserved a dedicated study so each day this week I have spent searching for references containing these topics. Sometimes I do a simple word search inside one of the bible apps I use, other times I Google a phrase and find entire pages full of references dealing with that topic. I write down the ones that seem to stand out to me and once I have them all jotted down I read and ponder them. Sometimes, I’ll feel like one of the references deserves another day of dedicated study so I’ll write it down on a the next blank page in my notebook. By doing this God has already started to outline my future study sessions for me.
- Write down “random” thoughts, phrases and cross references you come across as you’re reading. They’re not random at all. Once you write it down you can keep going and not worry you’ll forget about it later. God will reveal many side topics that are related to the one you’re focused on. I find it important to follow a chapter or set of verses through or I would be constantly distracted by all the ideas coming in my mind. Once I started jotting thoughts down and moving along I have felt amazed that I never run out of topics to study. Here’s an example of some thoughts I had when skimming through Romans 12 that I plan to study in depth once I’m done finding scriptures related to the five topics God gave me. I felt impressed to write out the entire verse and as I did, I noticed a few key words that might be important to study so I underlined them. A few questions came to mind so I jotted them down. Normally I would’ve wanted to go research those questions right away which would’ve totally gotten me off track. There’s nothing wrong with being all over the place in the Bible, because the fact you’re reading is great, but having a game plan will help your study connect to your spirit and will improve your relationship with God. May sound simple for some of you but for someone with a busy mind, it is a game changer.
Deliberation is defined as “long and careful consideration”. I would add “prayerful”. The most important thing here is to be prayerful and to talk with God about what you’re studying, to listen to how He wants you to understand it and what meaning it has for your current situation. Without deliberation, we are only reading to be reading, not to gain understanding. Keep going back to what you write down and see what else God wants you to notice about what you’ve been studying. The five topics God gave me last week are very specific to me personally and to what’s been on my mind. A couple of them I recognized right away as answers to my prayer asking Him what I was lacking. He hasn’t revealed yet how the other topics relate but as I keep going deeper into them I am positive I will understand what He’s teaching me.
In so many ways, this deliberate study is growing my relationship with my Father. I am learning to hear Him better, I am learning to trust Him more as he shows me He is very aware of my specific needs, and I am finding greater joy in His word. These are all things I had prayed for numerous times. The answer to all of them was to spend more time in study and prayer.
“My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.” Proverbs 2:1-5