Why We Need Prayerful Bible Study AND Bible Reading
Hi, friends! If you're here because you are already familiar with DWITW, then you'll know that our heart beat is encouraging women to grow in their love and knowledge of God through His Word. Right now, we're a few sessions into our summer study on the book of Daniel. Find resources to follow along with our study here.
I want to take this opportunity to share some of my thoughts on approaching the Bible. I believe it is the Holy Spirit, not a particular study method, who changes us as we read, and that there is not a one-size-fits-all formula for approaching the Word. I do, however, believe there are some general guidelines reflected in Scripture that inform the way we read it.
Approaching the Bible Prayerfully
I believe the most essential part of our time in the Word is our prayers. Why? Because without prayer, our reading and study is simply an academic pursuit. When we remove prayer, we are removing the Holy, active, Spirit of God -the one who does all the sanctifying, heart-changing, mind-sharpening work- from the equation. We're functionally saying that we can understand all the words without Him. We are quite mistaken if we believe that we can grow in wisdom or see lasting change in our lives without calling on the Lord! Proverbs 3:6 tells us to acknowledge Him in all our ways- that certainly includes our time in the Word.
Now, hear me on this- I am not saying that if you accidentally forget to pray during a bible reading session that you've got to do it all over again or that it was a waste of time- of course not! I am as guilty as anyone of not praying as I should. The Lord sees our imperfections, knows our deepest motivations, and loves us still! He is aware when we are opening the Word in humility and when we are relying on ourselves instead of Him. Let us not feel condemnation (Romans 8:1) in our prayer lives, but freedom to repent and start again. A regular habit of prayer before, during and after our time in the Word has great transforming power.
So, how do we pray? We speak honestly with God about the condition of our hearts. Before we read, we ask God to open our eyes and ears. We ask Him to reveal Himself. We ask him to prepare us. We confess when we are tired or apathetic or we don't want to open the pages. We ask Him to change us by His Spirit.
While we read, we ask Him questions. We tell Him when we need help. We thank Him for His promises. We ask what is to be learned and how we can apply it to our lives. We wonder with Him about how all the small stories fit into the Big Story. We ask Him to show us Jesus in the text. We pray the holy words of Scripture back to the Holy One who wrote them.
After we read, we thank Him for his perfect character, for his grand plan of redemption, for saving wayward sinners, for giving us the gift of His Word. We thank Him for anything and everything. We ask Him to help us use and apply and share what we've learned. We praise Him for wisdom gained, for especially touching insights, for loving us so well. We tell Him we can't wait to meet him face-to-face.
Of course, these are only a starting point. I personally love praying the words of Scripture back to God. Where my words fail, His never do.
Why We Need Bible Study AND Bible Reading
What's the difference between these terms, anyway? Bible reading is what it sounds like: reading the Bible simply, a few pages or chapters or a book at a time, as you are led. Bible study refers to bible reading alongside other resources. This includes reading from a study bible, using footnotes and cross references and consulting commentaries or other inductive study tools.
As a student and teacher of the Word, I have found that I need both of these approaches to the Bible in my life. Bible study, with all its resources, can help give us historical context, ground us in the larger story of God's redemption, reveal connections to other parts of the Bible, and answer questions we didn't know we had. There's greater opportunity to explore nuances and themes. But we can easily become lost in the many details and tools and voices of deeper study and miss out on the voice of God Himself.
Bible reading is where I find my wonder, awe and adoration of God grows most fully. When I take in Scripture this way, often reading a whole book in one sitting, I learn things that I miss when I am studying a few verses or chapters at a time. I see God's glory and experience His presence in a way that can get lost during times of deeper study.
Now, hear me again- I don't want you to leave this post thinking you have to add more things to your spiritual to do list. I want to encourage you that there is freedom in the ways we approach the Bible! Bible study is wonderful, but we don't have to study that way all the time. Bible reading is beautiful, be we can depart from it at times to go deeper. I believe these two approaches go hand-in-hand, and we can freely embrace both of them as balm for our weary souls.
One warning I would give is not to elevate study over reading, or reading over study. Both have their strengths and weaknesses. We see both study (Ezra 7:9-11, Ecclesiastes 12:9) and reading (typically aloud and in community, as seen in Nehemiah 8:8,9:3; or personally as with kings in Deuteronomy 17:18-20) modeled for us in Scripture. Whatever the method, we know without a doubt that we are called to love God's Word (Psalm 119).
What This Looks Like In My Life
Maybe you're wondering how this plays out practically. When I am actively teaching through a particular text, I lean fully into bible study and all its tools. I have a voracious appetite for all things relating to the book I'm teaching and I can't get enough! But even during these times, I desire less intense moments of refreshment, where I simply read the Word and let its truths wash over me and renew my spirit.
When I am not teaching, I typically do more simple bible reading, in longer sections. I may read a particular book a few times in a row, and then pursue lighter study on it if I have questions. If we are being led through a specific book of the Bible in our corporate church gatherings, I will usually spend extra time in that book as well.
When I am in a season that presents challenges to my bible reading (times of transition or grief; new babies, etc), I do my best to extend myself grace. I find creative ways to stay in the Word like listening to an audio bible, having someone read Scripture over me, calling memorized passages to mind, leaving my bible open on the table, or reading it one-handed on an app on my phone.
Our lives are constantly moving from season to season; some offering us more time in the Word, some offering less. I urge you not to feel defeated if many days have gone by since you last opened the Book. The Lord has gone before us in all our seasons and He will make a way for us to commune with Him. He can grow in us a passion for His Word that pushes us past the obstacles and helps us open those sacred pages, even on the hardest of days.
A Few Closing Thoughts
Oh, sisters. There is such freedom for us in our bible reading! For the hungry mind, there are endless study resources. For the weary soul, there is comfort knowing we can simply read and be changed. We can find strength, peace, joy and hope whenever we open the pages. And as our sweet friend Jillian is known to say, "Don't do it alone." The Word is meant to be heard and discussed and cherished in a community setting. If you're struggling in this area, ask God to show you someone in your life to come alongside you. And if you're in the Dayton, OH area, you have a ready and willing community of sisters in DWITW.
The Lord is with you. There is freedom. Enjoy the precious gift of God's living Word!
For More On This Topic (some foundational, some practical):
Three Tips for Better Bible Reading (includes a helpful infographic)