On Your Own

How to 
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the Bible


Learn to engage the Bible with all you’ve got.

Our Thirsty Questions provide you three unique study questions for each reading, joyfully offered to help you meet God in his Word with greater perceptivity, understanding, and power.
Are You Thirsty?

If you’ve read a novel, you already know how to read the Bible! But a few tips might help . . .

  • Pick a translation that is easy to read like the New International Version (NIV) or the English Standard Version (ESV).
  • Select one book to start. If you’re new to the Bible, it’s best to start with one of the Gospels like Mark or John. These books are eyewitness descriptions of Jesus of Nazareth and the climax of the Bible. You might also enjoy Genesis or Acts to learn about the beginning of the world or the beginning of the church.
  • Read several chapters of the book at a time. (Don’t worry; Bible chapters aren’t as long as most novels!) If you only read one page of a novel per day, the story wouldn’t make much sense or be very fun. Same with the Bible.
  • Pay attention to the plot and characters. If there are things you don’t understand, set them aside for now and keep reading. Be on the lookout for humor.
  • Notice how what you’re reading makes you feel and the questions it raises. What do you learn about God and how he relates to humanity? How might God be speaking to you and your life?
  • Consider using our Thirsty Questions. They're a great way to learn how to explore the Bible.

The following method is designed to help you discover the core message of a passage and experience Jesus in his Word. Whether you are new to the Bible or have read it a lot, this approach will open up the text in amazing ways. If you’re just reading through the Bible, looking at several chapters at once is best. But if you really want to study the text, we suggest working your way through one book just a chapter or half-chapter at a time. You may even want to linger in a passage, taking a few days to study it deeply.

Get Honest with God

Take time to think through what the last few days have been like for you. Share honestly with God what and how you are feeling as you approach your time with him. Share your struggles and joys. Ask him to speak to issues in your life from the passage you are about to study. Ask him to open your heart and mind to understand his Word. Then be ready to listen.

Enter the Text
  1. Read the passage carefully, and then write down or circle specific details that you notice, such as who is there, what is happening, when events are happening, where it’s all taking place, and how it’s happening.
  2. Circle or write down words, phrases, or ideas that are connected by repetition, contrast, or similarities; that go from the general to the particular; and/or that state a cause that leads to an effect.
  3. Put yourself into the passage. What do you see, smell, taste, and feel? Choose one of the characters and imagine yourself in their shoes. If you’re studying a letter or a section that lays out God’s laws for his people, imagine what it might have felt like to get the letter or hear the law read. If it is poetry, let the power of the poem and its images sweep over you.
  4. What questions does the passage raise in your mind? What words, phrases, or concepts don’t you understand? Does the passage turn in any unexpected ways? What intrigues you? Write these questions down.
Find Answers to Your Questions

Most questions about a passage can be answered by looking closely and repeatedly at the text itself. Think about how the passage would have sounded to the original audience. Look hard in the passage for insights into your questions. Also look at the context of the passage. What comes before it and after it? If you are studying a Gospel or another passage from the New Testament, is there any passage from the Old Testament that might relate to your passage and shed light on your questions?

One of the best ways to move toward answering your questions is to look for connections among the paragraphs. Is there a word, phrase, or idea that repeats? Is there a contrast? Is there a cause in one paragraph and the effect in another, or a string of similar words, phrases, or ideas that runs through a few paragraphs? Draw lines between the connected words or phrases to mark them. What is significant about these connections? What light do they shed on possible answers to your questions?

Summarize

Look at the connections, paragraph titles, questions, and answers you have discovered. Step back and ask yourself: What is the core message of this passage? What is the author trying to say? Why is this passage or story here? Try to write this in one sentence.

Hear from God and Act Boldly

In what way is God speaking to your life from the passage? Is there a promise to trust, a command to obey, or an example to follow or avoid? Is there a deeper insight into God or your experience with God? What specific action are you going to take in response to what God is saying to you? Who will you share this with for accountability and encouragement?

Resource: Using a "Manuscript"

Throughout church history, believers have prayed the Scriptures. There are a number of reasons why the Bible can be a particularly helpful resource for our prayers.

Scripture leads us into prayer.

Prayer is first and foremost a dialogue with God. He initiates the conversation, most frequently with his Word. And he often responds to our prayers by speaking to us through the Scriptures.

Scripture feeds our spirit.

As we draw near to God in prayer, he uses the Scriptures to nourish our souls. His Word revives us, makes us wise, gives us joy, and enlightens our eyes (Psalm 19:7-8). He communicates his love and care for us through passages such as Psalm 23 and Psalm 139.

Scripture evokes praise.

The Psalms (and other Scriptures) awaken us to God and stimulate our praises. The psalmist knew this, so when he felt oppressed by the enemy and downcast in spirit, he cried out to God:

O send out your light and your truth;
       let them lead me;

let them bring me to your holy hill
       and to your dwelling.

Then I will go to the altar of God,
       to God my exceeding joy;

and I will praise you with the harp,
       O God, my God. (Psalm 43:3-4 NRSV)

Scripture provides a framework for prayer.

Using prayers recorded in the Bible as our own lets God set the agenda in our praying. For example, praying the Psalms teaches us how to come to God in difficulty, grief, victory, or confusion. The prayers of Jesus (e.g., Matthew 6:9-13; Luke 23:34; John 17), Paul (e.g., Philippians 1:3-6, 9; Ephesians 1:15-21), Mary (e.g., Luke 1:46-55), Hannah (e.g., 1 Samuel 2:1-10), Abraham (e.g., Genesis 18:22-33), and Moses (e.g., Exodus 32:11-14) train us to bring a wide variety of needs and concerns to God.

Scripture reminds us of God’s promises.

As we seek God in his Word, he guides our intercession, gives us promises, and answers our prayers. Jesus says to us: If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Fathers glory, that you bear much fruit” (John 15:7-8). Examples of those who prayed God’s Word and believed his promises as they interceded with heart­felt prayers and fasting include Nehemiah (e.g., Nehemiah 1:4-10/Deuteronomy 30:1-10) and the early church (e.g., Acts 4:24-31/Psalm 2:1-2).

Scripture is a weapon in fighting temptation and spiritual warfare.

When Jesus, led of the Spirit, went into the desert for 40 days to be tempted by the enemy, he defeated each temptation by quoting appropriate scriptures verbatim (e.g., see Luke 4:1-13 with Deuteronomy 8:3, 6:13, and 6:16). The apostle Paul urges us to “take . . . the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests” (Ephesians 6:17-18).

Get Started

Here are some exercises you can try to begin praying using the Bible.

  1. As you come to prayer, ask the Holy Spirit to lead you and give you a Scripture passage for the particular concern for which you will be praying. After listening and waiting on God, pray through the passage on behalf of that situation or concern.
  2. Have someone share a prayer need with you. Then wait on God and ask him to bring a scripture to mind to pray for that person. When he does, pray through that scripture for the person in light of the need they shared.
  3. Slowly pray through a psalm, such as Psalm 139, substituting your own name for the pronouns me and I.
  4. Intercede for a person or community you care about using one of Paul’s prayers (e.g., Philippians 1:3-6, 9; Ephesians 1:15-21; Colossians 1:9-14; 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24).

Resource: Lectio Divina