When I was young, I fell in love with the Bible so much that I used to read it for hours together. Most of the time I'd doze off as I read and realize the next morning I had cuddled the Bible all night long. In my quest to learn the Bible, over time, I realized that I was all over the place and really not learning anything, instead, just browsing it for hours together. In short, "I was in touch with the Bible but not in sync". There is a world of difference in that. We leaders ought to be strategic in our approach to everything around us and so, I decided to explore methods to make my learning practice more productive.
I discovered three ways people commonly approach learning the Bible, which I will explain in detail and also recommend the most effective one.
1: Reading the Bible
The word "Reading" is generally associated with things like a newspaper, magazine, storybook, Facebook, Instagram feed, etc. Nobody says, "I am reading Mathematics". That does not sound quite right, doesn't it? That's because "Reading" is like "glancing through". The intention is not to comprehend or perceive a deeper meaning. When scrolling through an Instagram feed, your brain instantly forgets what you saw two or three scrolls prior. When you are done reading a magazine, if someone asks you, what's the title of the article printed on page 5, you'd be like, "how would I know?", even if you had just finished reading the entire magazine.
Generally speaking, reading is a form of entertainment, not a serious pursuit. The brain records certain bits that are of specific interest, without intricate details, and simply deletes the rest. Most of us refer to our daily devotion as "Bible Reading", hmmm does that make you guilty now? I am sorry for that! Unfortunately, almost 98% (which is my arbitrary assumption) - 98% of the people of the world, just read the Bible. Its because we have made learning the Bible more of a tradition than actual devotion. We have created an illusion that NOT reading the Bible daily might result in bad luck, so we quickly resort to reading, just to satisfy our conscience. According to me, "Reading" the Bible for the sake of reading, is a waste of time and doesn't help you in any way. You might as well do something productive during that time instead.
Jesus in his own words quoted a passage from Isaiah 6:9. I found this verse in "GOD'S WORD® Translation" which sums up the meaning precisely. It says, "No matter how closely you listen, you'll never understand. No matter how closely you look, you'll never see". In the parable of the sower, a few seeds fell on the rocky ground and Jesus' explanation was spot on.
Matthew 13:20 & 21 - The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time - much like reading!
Leaders, it becomes all the more significant for us to make sure we do not merely read the Bible. So I would leave this thought with you to answer - what is your current method of learning the Bible? Is it mere reading that fulfills a tradition and something that lasts only a short time?
2:Studying the Bible
I guess the statement, "I am studying Mathematics", makes a lot more sense now, doesn't it? Because studying is a lot deeper than reading. Studying is usually associated with academics and it involves understanding the concepts and making sense of it. Studying usually results in some material gain like earning a degree or so. The span of the studied material is not long-lived and is retained in the brain for a year or a semester until we earn the credits or the diploma or degree. If the studied material is not put to use in practical life, like in a job where it is used regularly, the brain simply pushes it to the backseat until one day it is deleted. We all learned Algebra, Trigonometry, Calculus, remember, but unless you work on them, they are no longer retained in our memory.
"Studying" the word of God can also become Pharisaical, meaning, there is a strong emphasis on knowledge but little on the value and practical implications. Remember, John 8 - When the Pharisees brought the woman caught in adultery to Jesus, they were banking upon the bookish knowledge they studied all their life, that is to stone the lady to death, as it is written. In contrast to going by the book, Jesus emphasized more on love and forgiveness than punishment.
Also in Matthew 23, Jesus mentions that many preach but do not practice what they preach. That is probably the peril of knowing much - there is so much to tell but less to practice. Studying does not have any value unless it is put to use.
Matthew 23:23 - “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.
According to my arbitrary assumption, around 1% of the people, study the Bible. This is usually in the seminaries, or even as a local Bible study group where there is a requirement to delve deeper into the details and learn the Bible. Though studying is more comprehensive than reading, it is usually a material goal-oriented activity and also temporal. The study may or may not have a permanent practical implication. I am certainly not discouraging "Studying" but would like to introduce a more valuable method, which is...
3: Meditating on the word
The act of meditation is the process of contemplating what has been fed to the brain. This process opens the door to a plethora of revelations and introspection. The result of meditation is a concrete understanding of what was absorbed with a clear intention to practically use it for the benefit of others.
James 1:22 - Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.
Matthew 7:24-25 - Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.
In the old testament, when God gave the leadership baton to Joshua, his commandment was loud and clear.
Joshua 1:8 - This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.
The secret to successful learning is summed up in this one verse - MEDITATE on the word of God, DO according to what is written and then you will taste SUCCESS.
Here are some suggestions to have a planned meditation strategy that could help you. Disclaimer: This is how I approach it and it certainly works for me, but I would recommend you to follow whatever suits you best though.
Focus on a theme, not a book or chapter - This is a common mistake that everyone does - that is to take up a chapter for the day and read it. A chapter or a book may or may not contain all the information whereas a theme would enable you to research more, outside the bounds of a particular book or chapter. My last year's theme was "Biblical Leadership" and I read the Bible to focus on what the Bible says about this particular theme. Themes are usually larger components and would require months of meditation. So prayerfully decide what your theme is going to be and make sure you have a schedule to explore it.
Work on topics than verses - Once you have your theme, divide your theme into various topics. The sum of your topics should justify your theme wholistically. In my study on "Biblical Leadership", I came up with a lot of topics like Accountability, Leadership and words, leading from the front, etc. Each topic required a lot of study and meditation. A little tip - Every time you work on a topic, assume you are asked to preach on that topic and prepare accordingly. That could give you more encouragement and commitment to learning more.
Meditate on your theme and topics - Once you are done with your research and exploration, this is the time when you close your eyes and simply refresh your mind about what you learned. You will be surprised to witness so many new revelations and interpretations that you have not thought about yet.
Focus on practicality - This is my mantra. If you learn the Bible without a focus on practical implementation, it is just another storybook. The Bible is given to us not to read or increase our knowledge rather to do as it commands us to, for the upliftment of others. Therefore, please make sure your study and meditation finally culminate in a practical benefit for you and others. Let me remind you again - Joshua 1:8 - This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.
Have a disciplined approach to your schedule on themes and topics. Seek the help of mentors, leaders if there is a need. Refer a ton of books and commentaries. And most importantly, it's ok to take a break once a while if you feel overwhelmed. Believe me, skipping your schedule would certainly not bring you any bad luck. We serve a loving God, not a tyrant!
Studying the Bible like this is extremely productive, fun, and beneficial. I hope you find some inspiration to spice up your Bible learning. I would like to end with this beautiful verse -
2 Timothy 3:16-17 - All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.
Leaders, learn and meditate the scripture and be competent, equipped for the good work of being the stupendous leader you are. God bless you!