Studying the Bible, Part 3

Let’s get this straight right off the bat: there is no right way to study the Bible. If you are opening the Bible, reading it, thinking (meditating) about it and trying to apply it all day, and then gaining some insight from a Bible teacher, study notes, etc., then you are on the right track.

Studying the Bible is about getting it into your mind, letting it sink into your heart, and allowing it to flow out of you. If you want to use books by others to help you until you feel a little more confident, then I encourage you to do so. However, I also encourage you to set aside all the study helps and delve into the Bible by yourself and let the Holy Spirit speak to you directly through the scriptures.

Howard Hendricks once said, “There is no jewel more precious than that which you have mined yourself.” 

As you mature in your faith, you will need more in-depth study of the Bible to explore concepts, ideas, and even words. The inductive approach is ideal for such times, and let’s face it, books are expensive.

The S.O.A.P. method of studying your Bible works well with the inductive approach because it prompts observation and application. (If you are looking for other ways of studying inductively, I recommend Kay Arthur’s How to Study Your Bible. It’s an oldie but a goodie.)

a concordance or your Bible’s chain reference
writing utensil (you can use highlighters if you’re feeling fancy)

  1. Topical/Subject/Concept Study:
    A concept study give you a well-rounded understanding of what the the Word of God has to say concerning a specific subject, topic, or concept.

    For example, your pastor asks the congregation to participate in a corporate fast. This piques your interest, and you begin a concept study.  Using your concordance or your Bible’s subject index, find the first mention of fasting in the Bible. Read the entire chapter in which it is found to gain context and then start writing.

    Scripture:      Write down the scripture that jump out at you.
    Observation: Using the who, what, when, where, how approach, jot down what the Holy Spirit shows you in those scriptures.
    Who was fasting?
    For what were they fasting?
    When were they fasting (for how long)?
    Where was the fast taking place?
    How long were the people (or person) fasting?
    Application:  Make notes about how this passage answers your questions about fasting. How can you apply the new insights to your current fast?  How does this information fit with what you already know? How do you need to adjust what you think or believe about fasting?

    Because you will not be able to read every portion of scripture pertaining to fasting in one sitting, meditate during the day on what you have learn. The next day, read the next place fasting appears in the Bible and apply the same S.O.A.P. method, synthesizing what you discover with your pre-knowledge and what you learned the previous day. Keep this up until you have worked your way through every instance of fasting found in the Bible.

  2. Character StudyCharacter studies, a close reading of a person in the Bible, are useful in gaining insight into the relational side of God.

    For example, during your daily reading in Numbers 25, you come across Phinehas the priest and are surprised to find it isn’t the same Phinehas the priest in 1 Samuel 2.  You are intrigued by Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, because he is quite different than Phinehas, the son of Eli, and want to know more about him.  You begin with the concordance or your Bible’s subject index, taking note of all the scriptures, chapters, and books where the character is mentioned in the Old and New Testaments. You begin your study with the first reference (Exodus 6), reading the entire chapter for context.

    Scripture: As you read, write down the scriptures references containing notable character traits of Phinehas the zealous priest. Who was in his lineage? How did he become a priest? Why was he considered zealous? What individual character traits did he show?
    Observation: Discuss in writing why these character traits are worthy of being noted. Why is it important for Phinehas to have such character traits? How did he develop these traits (make sure to back up your claims with evidence from the passage. Always be careful not to insert your ideas into the scripture)?
    Application: Note how the character traits of Phinehas gives you insight into your relationship with Jesus. What do you need to do in response to this new information?  How can you apply what you learned about this character to your life today?
    Prayer: Thank the Holy Spirit for showing you the new information, and ask Him to bring it back to your memory throughout the day when you need it most.

    You will not be able to read through all chapters in which Phinehas is mentioned, meditate throughout the day on the insight to the relational side of God you gained from this particular character. The next day, read the next chapter in which Phinehas appears, apply the SOAP method, and synthesize with what you learned the previous day, always finding ways to implement the insight into your relationship with God.

The key to studying the Bible is setting aside the time and making it a priority. Determine in your heart that you will never give it up that time for anything else. Studying your Bible isn’t easy, but it is rewarding. Jesus will meet you there each and every time. Guaranteed.

Questions and comments are always welcomed. I’d love to hear how this series has helped you.




Studying the Bible, Part 2

I mentioned in my last post the most common question I get from new believers is how to study the Bible (find it here). I usually advise new believers to write down the scriptures their pastor uses in his or her sermon and then read the entire chapter throughout the week to gain context and insight into the sermon.

Eventually, a new believer will no longer be “new” and will need (and hopefully want) to expand his or her reach into the Bible.

That’s when I recommend the S.O.A.P. method. I started using S.O.A.P. after I was given New Hope’s Life Journal , a journal-based study tool that stresses applying the Word of God to our lives, by a friend. The S.O.A.P. method helped me dig deep into understanding the Bible and apply what I was reading to my life which, as you know, makes all the difference. There is no one but the studier and the Holy Spirit.

Notebook or journal
pen or pencil
Bible (preferably one that you understand with little to no help; Part One of this series)

How to use S.O.A.P.

Just like your physical body needs soap to stay clean, you need to use S.O.A.P. to keep your spiritual body clean. To stay free of funky smells, you have to scrub places intentionally. The same goes for your spiritual being; you know the places that need a good scrubbing because your life stinks in those areas.

It is important to have a open and willing mind when using the S.O.A.P. method. Allow the Holy Spirit to speak to you through the scriptures and be brutally honest with yourself with what He is telling you. No excuses. Just honesty.

S – Scripture
1. Pray over your time in the word, asking the Holy Spirit to show you what you need to know. I usually say the same prayer over my Bible reading time as I do my meals: “Father I thank you for this (spiritual) food and bless it to my (spiritual) body. In Jesus name Amen.”

2. Using a reading plan of your choice (one is provided in the New Hope’s Life Journal; otherwise, your Bible may have one or you can find one online by searching “yearly Bible reading plan“), begin reading the portion of scripture, making a note of what jumps out at you.
What makes you stop and say “hmmmm, that’s interesting”?
What did the writer mean by that?
Wow! I never saw that before!
Ouch! That portion of scripture kind hurt.

3. Write it in your journal.

O – Observation
Describe why that particular part of scripture grabbed your attention. What is the Holy Spirit trying to tell you through this scripture? You may want to paraphrase (put into your own words) the scripture.

A – Application
This is where you get down and dirty. You have to be honest with yourself and tell yourself the truth about how you will apply what you learned.

P – Prayer
This is the time where you and the Lord have a conversation concerning what He just revealed to you through Scripture. It can be as simple as asking the Spirit to help you apply the truth to your life today, or as involved as repentance and restoration. One thing that it should always be, according to Pastor Wayne Cordeiro of New Hope Church, is a two-way conversation. Get used to giving time for the Lord to respond to you.

Now you are ready to take your new found knowledge for a test drive. Discover how this faith thing works! You can read about how to play basketball ’til the cows come home. Until you pick up a ball and start bouncing it, you will never truly know how to play basketball. Now get out there and live like a Christian!

The 5-5-5 devotional plan dovetails nicely with the S.O.A.P. 5-5-5 is simply 5 minutes of praise and worship with music, 5 minutes of Bible reading/devotion, and 5 minutes of prayer. Don’t be surprised when this method quickly turns into 10-10-10 and then 20-20-20.

I myself have experienced growth in my knowledge of the Word and my experience with Jesus using the S.O.A.P. method. It is a simple method that is easily tailored to an individual’s needs. It can be used to enhance topical studies as well as word studies.

Try the S.O.A.P. method out and see what you think. I’d love to hear how it has helped you.


Studying the Bible, Part 1


The most common question new Christians ask: what is the best way to study the Bible?

My answer is usually the same: whatever is the best way for you to understand it.

Helpful, huh?

Since there are many different ways to study the Bible, I usually start new students off with the most important thing –  a version of the Bible that is easy for them to understand. The next step is just as easy – just read it.

Here are a couple of suggestions:

  1. Bibles are expensive, so try out different versions of the Bible through a Bible app (YouVersion Bible App) or website (YouVersion Bible AppBible Gateway) before purchasing one. You don’t want to sink a lot of money into one that is hard to understand. Let’s face it. The King James Bible is just not for everyone. Bible apps and websites have practically every version of the Bible in a thousand different languages. You don’t have to read the King James Bible. Not everyone can understand 16th Century English. It’s difficult. I get it. Begin with the NIV (New International Version), the NLT (New Living Translation), or, for you word junkies, the AMP (Amplified).EPSON DSC picture
  2. Bibles are also deeply personal. The Word of God is alive and active. When you read it, it will speak to you. It has this mind-blowing way of giving you what you need at the right moment whether that be conviction, encouragement, enlightenment, comfort, or praise. Therefore, it should fit you like a favorite pair of gloves. It should sit just right in your hands. Your eyes should move across the page easily. Maybe you need room in the margins to jot down notes. A pastor friend of mine won’t buy a Bible unless it lays flat when opened.  Find one that is comfortable for you and meets all of your needs. Maybe you just can’t afford a paper and print Bible. That’s okay, too! Just use the app!
  3. Start by reading the Book of James or the passages your pastor used in church. James covers the Christian lifestyle, so it is a good place for new Christians to start (and a good refresher for those who have been around the faith for awhile). Start with James 1:1 and read until something jumps out at you, catch it, and think about it all day. Do the same thing the next day, starting where you left off. Repeat, repeat, repeat.Writing down the scriptures your pastor uses in his or her sermon is also a good place to start. Each week day, read a portion of the chapter of the book which was used in the sermon. For example, if your pastor quoted 1 Peter 5:10 (NLT) – “In His kindness God called you to share in His eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, He will restore, support, and strengthen you, and He will place you on a firm foundation” – in his sermon about relying on God for strength in hard times. Beginning on Monday, read 1 Peter 5:1-3 and think about how it connects to your pastor’s sermon. Then on Tuesday read 1 Peter 5:4-6, Wednesday: 1 Peter 5:6-9, Thursday: 1 Peter 5:10-12, and Friday: 1 Peter 5:13-14. Each day thinking about how the scriptures fit together and build on what your pastor said.

That’s it. That is how I started studying my Bible. Eventually, I started taking more detailed notes in church, and then later I started writing down what the Spirit revealed to me during the week. The key words there are “eventually” and “later.”  You can start taking detailed notes and revelations, but that feels like drowning to me. “We’re throwing you into the deep end, missy. Sink or swim, baby. SINK. OR. SWIM!” That’s just a bit too overwhelming, and frankly, most people end up sinking. I don’t want that to happen to you. Start with bite-size chunks that you can process during the day.

First, get acclimated to this new Christian lifestyle. The heavy lifting will come later.

As always, please let me know if this helped you, and I’m always interested in what worked for you. Leave a comment!



A Prayer: Salt and Light

Many years ago while taking a writing workshop for my Master’s Degree, one of the students read a poem citing all the sins he felt God had committed against him, and the biggest was an unanswered prayer for help. As I sat listening to his raw yet carefully measured words, it occurred to me this man’s rejection was based on what he had been taught about God not what he had learned for himself. This young man, so deft and eloquent in his abandonment of who he thought was God, had never found relationship with Jesus because he kept following the rules of the Church and never read for himself Who God truly is. My heart was broken, but as a new Christian, I didn’t know how to reach out to him.

As I drove home from class that night, I wept in my car for this young man and wailed to God to help this young man find Him. “Let someone cross his path that could show him Who You really are!” were the last words of that heartbroken prayer.

Before I went to sleep that night, the Spirit gave me this:


God Forbid

The more I understand
You, Lord,
The more I understand
I know very little.

God forbid
I stop knowing
Your power
and try to walk
this life
on my own;
I ever stop believing
all things work
together for good
for those who
know You,
and for everything
there is a season
and purpose
under heaven;
a mustard seed
of faith ever stops
being enough.

God forbid
You become
a religion to me,
something talked about
only to certain people,
and worshipped
only on Sunday;
I ever think of You
as a genie in a bottle
or put You in a box,
only to bring You
out when it is
convenient or desirable;
that I speak of You
as only a subject
of children’s stories
and songs,
equal in importance to
the Easter Bunny or Santa.

God forbid
I stop being
salt and light,
becoming hearer
and not doer;
I become hard pressed,
or struck down and
stop believing
my strength,
and future
are in You.

God forbid
I forget
who You are:
my King,
of everything.

God forbid
Jesus starts caring
how many times
I make a mistake,
slam the door,
or walk away.

God forbid.

God forbid.


I took this poem to writing workshop the next week. I have no idea how the young man received it. He wasn’t there. The class did have some good discussion about being the salt and light. Many of the students had never heard of such a thing and wondered where it was found in the Bible (Matthew 5:13-16).

If you are ready to give up on God, or maybe you already have, I implore you to give Jesus one more try. He is still there, waiting, no judgment, and with no list of corrections to be made before He will accept you. He loves you just as you are, and He wants you just the way you are.

Sometimes God isn’t Who we think He should be, Who we have been taught He is. To really know and understand Who God is, we must read the Bible, apply what it says, and pray. It really is as simple as that.


1 Corinthians 15_49


Bear the Image of The Man of Heaven


Finding God’s Specific Will for You

It is cliché to say that from the moment we accept Christ, God doesn’t instantaneously show us His specific will for our individual lives. He leads us to that revelation little by little.

In Acts, Luke explains how the misguided, murdering Saul accepts Jesus’s testimony and sacrifice, and then transforms into the Apostle Paul. Ananias explains to Saul that faith and clarity of will is not instantaneous when he says, “The God of our forefathers has destined and appointed you to come progressively to know His will” (Acts 22:14).

Just like Saul, we too have come to know God’s over-arching will for humanity (“not willing that any should parish but that all should come to repentance” 2 Pet 3:9) over time. The Holy Spirit reveals God’s grace to us over time. None of us accepted Christ the first time we heard. It took time and some convincing.

God’s specific will for Saul/Paul to become the Apostle to the Gentiles wasn’t revealed until after he has had been educated in the Christian faith. Likewise, we come to know God’s personal will for us progressively, over time. As a child doesn’t grow into adulthood in a day, so our spiritual growth has to be progressive. We come to know His will more clearly and more accurately as we follow and trust Him.

How is “following and trusting” done? Well, we need to do what Saul/Paul did – learn.

This may also sound cliché and pedantic; however, there just isn’t any other way to follow and trust God but to read our Bibles and spend time in prayer. There just isn’t any other way. There isn’t a short cut.

God speaks to us individually as we read His word. What jumps off the page at me is going to be different than what jumps out at you. Why? Because my life is different than yours. What I need from God (breaking bad habits that cause huge life problems) may be different than what you need from God (comfort and reassurance).

Each time we read Scripture and choose to believe it and act on it, we become more and more persuaded that what God says is true. This process of becoming persuaded is also known as building faith. As God progressively builds our faith in Him, the more we want God to persuade us that we can trust Him. It is a never ending cycle of persuasion and belief (a.k.a following and trusting); however, it can’t happen if we do not sit down and read the Bible and pray.

I can only know what God specifically wants from me and for me if I spend time with Him. The only way to spend time with God is through reading, praying, and fasting. You cannot know what a person wants for you or from you unless you talk to him or her. The same is true with God.

He will not tell me, nor will I learn, His will all at once. I must be patient and trust Him where I am right now. There are things that He wants to teach me before He shows me how He wants me to minister specifically.

Throw your whole being into building a relationship with God. Invite Him into your everyday, or begin to see how He is already in your everyday. Begin to talk to Him all day long about everything, and you will begin to notice that He talks back. When He begins to talk back, do what He says. From there it will become easier to see what is His personal will for you.

Like I tell my daughter, “Run after Jesus with everything you have, and one day He’ll say, ‘Hey, look over there. I want you to do something for me.’ And then do what he tells you to do.”

Learning the specific, individualized will of God centers around the cycle of persuading and believing, so sit back, take some time, and get to know Him.

Devotion, Hymns

A New Song

I love to sing; however, I’m not a singer.

My childhood was cupped in music. At any given moment, someone in my house was singing, humming, chirping or crooning out some tune, made up or memorized. If we weren’t making music, we were listening to it, especially when Dad was home. He had speakers wired throughout the house (quite a feat for the 1980s), so the entire house buzzed with whatever new album he brought home.

Swiped from

Swiped from

In a house like ours, a song was not hard to find.

I have always carried music with me wherever I went. It has been my constant companion as well as emphasizing the important moments in my life. There has been a soundtrack for days that were filled with laughter and fun, vacations in the Georgian mountains, and getting ready for a date. There has been a soundtrack to everything I’ve done: taken history tests, getting a drink at the water fountain, doing dishes, and mowing the lawn. Songs take me back to life-altering moments: bitter breakups, birth of children, and the death of loved ones.

It’s an understood maxim that songs punctuate life.

When I became a Christian in my late 20s, it became obvious that, although they were useful at points in my life, the songs rolling around in my head were not meeting the needs of my new life.  My previous post, “He Placed Me on My Feet,” details how I gained self confidence when Jesus placed me on solid ground.

Now I needed a song to go with that new found confidence.

Jesus never fails. In Psalm 40:3 (NLT) “He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see what He has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in the Lord.”

Not only did He pick me up and set my feet solidly on good ground, but He also gave me a song.  Jesus didn’t wait for me to ask Him for something to sing, hum, or warble. He gave it to me to me like a friend giving my a tissue when I sniffle, or pen when I need to write something down, or a penny when I’m short in the checkout. He just gave it to me.

I don’t mean to diminish the song Christ gives as something insignificant, just the opposite. It seems like a small thing, but to the receiver, it is very important. It can be an encouragement, a day changer, a life saver.

He knew I needed it before I knew I needed it. To say I was between a rock and hard place when I cried out to Jesus is an understatement. I was at my rock bottom with no where to go except under the rock. Something deep within me told me that if I crawled under that rock, I would be hard pressed to come out (no pun intended, although it works well). The soundtrack playing in the back of my head wasn’t encouraging in the least. As I mentioned in “He Placed Me on My Feet”, Jesus let me see that there was hope, that hope gave me confidence in the future, and my new found confidence allowed me to stand on faith. In retrospect, it was all so small. I was looking just a few weeks, maybe months, ahead. That’s as far as my faith would let me go – a couple months. That is all I needed.

Jesus’ grace is sufficient for today. I set my sights on getting through the week by getting through each day. I knew if Jesus’ grace could cover me for just one day at a time, then He’d get me through the week.  That was my song: Jesus’ grace is sufficient for today, and that gives me hope, which gives confidence, and builds my faith. 

The tiny bit of Christian music I had was completely insufficient to help me, so I sang what I had. I crooned out a little ditty in the shower, in the car, at the sink, by the stove, and anywhere I felt I needed a boost. Jesus knew I needed a song before I did, and He gave it to me when He gave me hope.

My song was brand new and it came out of my circumstances. I had never sung a song like the one that Jesus gave me. I remember sing praise choruses and hymns in church and at church camp, but they never overflowed into my everyday life. Jesus gave me a new song, a song of praise and thanksgiving for hearing me, for rescuing me, for giving me hope.  All of this I have said before, but it was brand new to me. It can be brand new for you, too!

I will always have something to praise God for, because He saved me from myself. He saved me from a life that was controlled by me.  He saved me from being tied down to my simplistic, unfounded thinking. My new song is a praise to Jesus Christ! My praises are different than yours because my life is different than yours. Yes, the pit is miry old bugger that each one of us finds ourselves in, but at the same time, it is also a unique pit to each of us. We each find ourselves in the pit, but the details of that pit differ. When I sing “He took me out of the miry clay,” my miry clay has different ingredients than your miry clay, but it’s still miry and it still bogs us down. So although we all sing praises to Christ for lifting us out of that pit, our praises are new and unique because of the dirty details.

At first I wanted to hide my dirty details, but that’s not what Christ is about. Should we be sorry for the dirt? Yes, absolutely. Should we flaunt how dirty we were? No, absolutely not. Can we admit that we were dirty and, in the right context, talk about our dirt in reference to Christ’s saving grace and God’s loving mercy? YES and AMEN! Sometimes that is the only way others will get to see Jesus. It is through us, those that He has saved and transformed, that others will see that Jesus is real and put their trust in Him. I talk about my dirt, but I also give praise to Christ for what He, and only He, has done for, in, and through me. It’s a good thing to show how Jesus chipped your paint, and how He has repainted you.!

Swiped from a Facebook friend.

Swiped from a Facebook friend.


Sing your new song loud and proud, my friend. It chips off more paint than you know.

If you need a new song, cry out to Jesus. He will give you one.

Let your song spread. Psalm 40:3

Let your song spread.
Psalm 40:3