Bible Study- Practical Steps for Those Tough Parts of Scripture

Like most toddlers, my 4-year-old loves asking questions. One day, during a 15 minute drive, I counted 25 questions he asked. I don’t always have answers for some of his questions, though, which causes him great frustration. He wants an answer, and he wants it now. We adults like answers too, don’t we? In fact, I think this dislike of not having all the answers is one reason we shy away from Bible study. We only read the books we’re familiar with, because we don’t want more questions than answers. Or, we stick to the 5-minute devotional that only gives a tiny bit of God’s Word. Actual Bible study seems like hard work. We aren’t willing to invest our time nor are we willing to sit in the tension of unknowns. When all we want from the Bible are easy answers, fill in the blanks, and step by step instructions, we miss the point. The point is to know God, and he’s indescribable. His character can’t fit in a simple blank. The Bible is a rich treasure, and God is worth knowing. There are grave dangers when we don’t study God’s Word. How do we know God without studying it? How can we know how we’re to live? Also, how can we spot false teachings if we don’t know the real thing? 

I remember the first time I studied Colossians using cross-references. Quickly, I grew tired of the flipping and was ready to give up when the Lord convicted me. If I can joyfully work hard at perfecting my homemade cookie recipe, then I should work hard with even MORE joy at studying his Word! After all, Bible study reaps eternal benefits, while homemade cookies are just an investment in my sugar intake. More recently, I experienced this tension of the unknown when I studied Haggai. A particular section (Haggai 2:10-19) really confused me. I wasn’t sure what the text said or meant. In these moments, I’m tempted to do one of two things. First, I just keep going. I think, “I don’t need to know that right now” (and there will be times when we wrestle and still don’t have answers; that’s okay!). Second, I immediately reference study Bible notes (these are wonderful, and I still use them, but I try to after some personal prayer and wrestling). Friends, while it seems easier to gloss over these tough sections, don’t! There’s beauty in these difficult passages, so instead of running, here are some things we can do:

PRAY. This is obvious, but we easily forget this. We have full access to the Author of the Bible. It’s crazy to think we can rightly study it without seeking him. We pray before study, asking God to illuminate his Word to us. We pray during our study. Some days, I pray for focus (like, “Lord, help me stop thinking about laundry!”). Other days, I pray for those tricky passages, asking for help to rightly understand. Of course, we also need to pray after we study. This is another area I struggle with focus, so I started using the Scripture I studied to guide my prayers. It helps me focus, but more importantly, it more closely aligns my prayers with God’s Word. Sometimes, these prayers are praises for who God is. Other times, it’s confession as my sin is revealed. Usually, the Spirit prompts me to pray for lost people, things going on in my family’s life, or other needs around me. 

Read, read, and read some more. There’s much to glean from reading the same passage repeatedly for multiple days. With that particular passage in Haggai, I read it for about a week before I finally started piecing together its meaning. Re-reading helps the passage become familiar. Scripture about the Law that seemed foreign on Monday won’t seem so foreign by the time we read it again on Friday. It also helps us see new things. Usually, something clicks on the fifth time that didn’t click the first time. For auditory people, listening multiple times could be helpful as well.

Focus on themes/keywords. Repeated reading helps us notice these. In Haggai, the Scripture I struggled with talked about holy vs. unholy. I made a chart organizing what the passage said. This visual was really helpful. If there are several themes/keywords, then, by all means, take several days jotting down what the Scripture says about each of them. Bible study isn’t about how fast we can get from point A to point B. Sometimes, the study is slow, and that’s okay.

Use cross-references. Scripture interprets Scripture. Basically, we can use the Bible to determine what another part of the Bible means. In Haggai, this confirmed that what I thought about the passage was correct. Other times, this helps us shift our thoughts to be rightly in line with Scripture.

Use a commentary/study Bible notes. Studying God’s Word rightly is so important. What the Bible meant originally is what it still means today. After we do our own wrestling, these resources are excellent to enhance our study. Personally, I love my ESV Study Bible.

After spending a week or so struggling with that Haggai passage, it clicked! The joy God gave me as he guided me from wrestling to understanding is indescribable. I believe the Lord wants to walk through these difficult passages with us. As parents, we don’t want our kids to shy away from hard things, do we? When our boys learned to ride their bikes, it was hard. However, they didn’t give up just because of that. My husband stood by them as they wrestled with learning to pedal and balance. Our walk with the Lord is like this. Our Father wants to walk with us as we wrestle with the questions and unknowns. Dear friends, God’s Word is worth our effort and time. We’ll never have all the answers, but that’s one of the beauties of it. There’s absolutely no benefit from not studying, but there are boundless, eternal benefits when we do study it. By becoming students of the Word, we have everything to gain and nothing to lose! May we be faithful students of God’s Word, daily uncovering the treasure that it is!

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