Overview: Personal Bible study can be hard to maintain day after day. Here are doable tips that don’t expect you to spend hours but still give you that injection of the Spirit that you need.
It’s 3:00 in the afternoon, and you’re frazzled and grumpy. It’ll be time to start dinner soon, and you wish the world would just go away. Instead you have to keep pressing on, but for some reason, today you’re having a hard time with it all. It’s not like anything terrible happened, so what’s the deal? If you’re like me, one of the most common causes of the afternoon frazzles is that you neglected your personal Bible study time that day.
Time in the Word is one of the most important things we can do each day. I have made mine one of the few non-negotiables in my morning routine, and yet I still sometimes struggle with being consistent. It’s common to believe we have to be practically seminary students during our time in the Word—looking up word definitions, cross-referencing passages, spending an hour or more each day—and that keeps us from doing it at all.
It’s my belief that God wants us in there to be encouraged, hello, and that it’s not supposed to be a difficult or onerous task. So I’m sharing tips that can help us have a consistent time with the Lord—and hopefully avoid the afternoon frazzles (or any other time of the day frazzles). And the impatience with the kids. And the complaining about things that aren’t going right. And the thoughts that take us where we shouldn’t go. And the list goes on. I am pretty familiar with it, LOL.
10 Tips for Consistent Personal Bible Study
1) Make a commitment to spend time in the Word every day that it is at all possible.
I’m not unrealistic; I know it’s difficult to do it EVERY day. I don’t do it EVERY day myself. But do open your Bible and see what it says as often as you can. Five minutes is better than nothing. If you don’t have your own Bible, check out www.BibleGateway.com. They have many versions accessible for free online.
2) Have a plan.
Being haphazard about personal Bible study can only lead to stagnation, or worse, misinterpretation. The best way to learn what the Bible says is systematically by book, or less frequently by topic. There are some wonderful studies based on portions of the Bible at Doorposts.com.
Lately my plan has been to read a chapter a day from the New Testament (in order within a book, but I don’t necessarily follow the books themselves in order) as well as a chapter a day from either Psalms or Proverbs. This doesn’t take long, and I internalize it by utilizing tips #3 and #4 below.
Don’t feel bad about not going super in-depth or not being able to spend bunches of time each day. Again, a little bit of time most days is better than a large chunk of time infrequently. The Holy Spirit can use even one verse, if you are willing to learn and are focused during the time you do have.
3) Write something about what you are learning.
This has been HUGE for me. I used to journal, writing several paragraphs, which was great for clarifying thoughts. Nowadays I just write down a verse or passage from my reading that I want to remember or that has grabbed me by what it says. Sometimes I’ll make notes about it, as well.
I have a small, thin notebook (bought at Michael’s for literally a dollar apiece) that I keep within the pages of my Bible for just this purpose. Each day I write the date, then the chapter I’m reading, then the verse that I want to focus on. I take some time to think about it and ask God for help to do or believe what it says (more about that in #4).
4) Pray about what you read.
I used to write my prayers as part of my journaling. Now I just talk to God in the moment. “God, help me to understand this better,” “God, show me how this applies to my life,” “God, please help me to be willing to change my life as You show me I should be in these verses”—prayers like these should be part of our response to what we have read. The Holy Spirit is faithful to illuminate our hearts and minds, if we but ask.
Hint: keep a box of kleenex handy. Just sayin’.
In the back of my thin notebook I put the date again and list my prayers, whether they be for myself or other people. I work from the back forward with this list and from the front backward with the verses, so that eventually I meet in the middle. Then it’s time to grab another notebook.
5) Choose a verse or passage from your reading to meditate on and memorize.
Take as many days as you need to think about it fully and memorize it well. No need to try to do a different one each day, unless you are truly realistically able to do that. Again, don’t set yourself up for failure; do what is reasonable and doable FOR YOU.
I personally find it more helpful to keep working on the same verse for several days, because that causes me to think about it that much longer and thereby understand it more fully. It helps to write it freshly on my “to do” list for each new day. Each time I look at what else I have to do, the verse is there in front of me.
Hint: The Navigator Topical Memory System is a super helpful resource for making verse memorization a regular part of life. I used it as a college student and have brought it back out again as an adult. Go through it with a friend!
6) Regularly attend and become involved in a solid church where the pastor practices expository preaching.
This means he preaches through the Bible by concentrating on a particular book from start to finish. The Bible is meant to be understood as a whole—it is an amazingly crafted work; each part is interrelated to all the others. Topical sermons are helpful in moderation, but over the long haul they cheapen the value of the Bible, turning it more into a genie in a bottle that will give answers when rubbed, rather than the high-level treatise on the nature of God that it truly is.
How does this help your own personal Bible study? By reinforcing what you are learning on your own, by giving you friends to help encourage you and hold you accountable, by helping to answer some of the questions you might not be able to figure out for yourself… I could go on.
Going to church does not replace personal Bible study, but it does keep you more motivated to pursue the Word on your own time between services. Always a good thing!
7) As you have time from your more important commitments to home and family, attend a small-group Bible study.
Be careful with this. Some “Bible studies” are nothing more than gab-fests or opinion-sharing meetings. The Bible is God’s Word, not to be treated lightly. Our opinions don’t really mean much; what matters is correct interpretation of what God meant when He caused a given passage to be written. The leader of the study should show humility in his/her handling of the Word and yet be mature enough to be able to keep the discussion under control.
Doing a group study can give you something to work on in your own time between meetings, so that becomes the plan you need to keep moving forward and the accountability to stay consistent.
Also, you make great friendships when you are all studying the same thing at the same time and are sharing with one another how it’s affecting your thoughts and your life. Definitely worth the time commitment, if you can swing it without neglecting other things.
8) Share what you are reading and learning with your friends and family.
Your children are your God-given disciples; teach them what is fresh on your heart. Your friends can be your sounding boards, giving you further input or calling you up short if your understanding is off base in some way. This is presuming that your friends are as interested in the Bible as you are; we should definitely be encouraging one another with it regularly. (If they are not, beware if hitting people over the head with it, but be ready to share as someone shows interest.)
This helps because it solidifies in your own heart and mind what you’ve been learning, plus then you are encouraging others to do the same. Seeing how God can use what you’re learning in the lives of those you love is a great motivator to keep going back to the Word for more!
9) Continually practice the habit of replacing negative, sinful thoughts and emotions with God-honoring ideas from the Bible.
Pick out a verse or passage for each temptation you suffer, then call that to mind as often as necessary. Go look it up if you can’t remember it when you need to.
One of the most growing times in my life was when I categorized verses from my regular personal Bible study into areas of application: homemaking, parenting, marriage, finances, etc. Then when I was struggling in a particular area I could go look at my list of verses for that topic and be corrected or encouraged. A lot of them have become close, personal friends that I still refer to often.
A great book for teaching ourselves to think in a way that honors God is Loving God with All Your Mind, by Elizabeth George. It is a life-changer!
Or try this simple devotional plan to help conquer anxious thoughts: How to Trust More and Worry Less.
10) Don’t get discouraged.
One time I asked a pastor why I could never remember what I had studied. He asked me if I remembered what I had eaten for meals every day the previous week. When I predictably answered “No,” he proceeded to tell me that neither would I remember every verse I study, but that I still needed to study regularly, just as I needed to eat regularly.
The growth comes with the consistency. We don’t see the results day-to-day, but with time and consistent effort, Christian maturity WILL develop. I think regrets for wasted time are natural, but we are not to give in to them. There is always hope for change. “He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it” (Philippians 1:6).
Have you been lacking personal Bible study lately? Then just jump back in, using as many of these tips as are helpful to you. Take it slow, building up as you have time. A few minutes as many days as possible will be more beneficial over the long haul than you realize.
While the afternoon frazzles may still occur even when we’ve been in the Word that morning, I do believe they happen less frequently when we are consistent to feed on it regularly. Just do what you can, as often as you can, and watch the Lord work!