When I entered sixth grade, I began attending the youth group at our church and started learning about this thing called “Daily Quiet Time”. At the beginning of the school year we were given a quiet time diary which contained a Bible reading plan for the entire year. Each day had a passage of Scripture and then lined spaces to fill in the answers to two questions:
What is the writer saying?
How can I apply this to my life?
We were encouraged to spend about 30 minutes every day reading our Bibles and praying, using this notebook as we went. I followed this method and it formed a consistent habit of Bible reading in my life.
In high school I learned how to do the Inductive Bible Study method, moving beyond just those two questions, digging a little bit deeper into how to study the Bible. I went through several different Bible studies using this method, but all the symbols, highlighters and pens seemed like busy work to me so I wasn’t consistent with this on my own.
Then I went to Bible college and spent hours in the classroom and in the library learning how to study the Bible to not only understand it, but in order to teach it. There was a lot more to it than just answering those two questions or even color-coding my notes. I loved it. It was thrilling to see the Bible come even more alive than it had before as I uncovered the meanings of Greek words, researched the historical and cultural context of books of the Bible, and discussed difficult passages of Scripture with professors and classmates.
After college, I got married and had children and while I kept up my regular Bible reading I grew more and more frustrated. I knew how to study the Bible, but I wasn’t taking the time to do anything more than read a passage of Scripture and journal a little bit about it. For some reason I thought that my ‘daily quiet time’ was different from Bible study. It also seemed unattainable in a busy life of raising little ones to spend time doing an intense Bible study as I had done in college.
I’m not sure when the realization came, but one day it dawned on me that my regular Bible reading and deeper study of the Bible did not need to be two separate things. I could do them simultaneously. It might not look like hours in the library pouring over a passage of Scripture, but I could incorporate all of the tools I had learned in Bible college into my 30-45 minutes (sometimes less, sometimes more) of daily Bible reading. There are times when I do further study, but the process I’m sharing here is where I start, the steps that go through on a regular basis.
You don’t need to have formal training or any previous experience with Bible study in order to read and study God’s Word. If you feel intimidated remember that we have the Holy Spirit who enlightens the eyes of our hearts to understand the inspired Word of God.
So, I offer to you my simple, uncomplicated method for consistent and meaningful Bible study.
How to Study your Bible Using a Notebook and a Pen
BIBLE: (not a paraphrased version; I would recommend the ESV or NASB) and I prefer to not use a study Bible, at least initially.
NOTEBOOK: I use this five subject spiral bound notebook with pocket dividers.
As I began this combination of quiet time/Bible study, I realized I needed something that was more like a workbook, not a pretty journal. I study my Bible curled up in my comfy chair, not at a desk, so it needed to be relatively small, durable, and have lots of space. I have ample room to take notes, places to store anything that might be pertinent to my study, and everything is in one place.
PEN: These are my favorite for writing on notebook paper and the ink doesn’t bleed through the pages of my Bible.
AN ENGAGED MIND & A TEACHABLE SPIRIT: This is critical. We need to come to the Bible with an eagerness to learn, but also a willingness to allow the Holy Spirit to transform our hearts in the process.
Nothing will happen when we read the Bible if we’re trying to do it from our own intellectual abilities. It requires a work of the Spirit in our hearts, so simply asking for help in understanding is the first step.
Choose a book of the Bible and read through it at least one or two times.
I always start at the beginning of a book and work my way through. Topical studies of the Bible can be helpful, but we first need to increase our comprehension of the Bible in its entirety. We need a foundation of Biblical literacy that can only be formed as we study the Bible in context. This is where we need to begin, and studying an entire book at one time is the best way to start.
Before I begin any type of note taking, I spend a day, sometimes several days, reading through the entire book. I might jot a note in the margin of my Bible, underline or circle something, but the purpose of this is to begin understanding the message of the book as a whole.
Once I’ve completed this initial overview, I then begin a process that includes the following:
Write it down.
Mark it up.
Reflect on what you learned.
(In more technical terms this is referred to as Observation, Interpretation and Application).
Go back to the beginning of the book and slowly work your way through. This looks different depending on the type of book that it is. For example, when I read through a book that is either narrative (e.g. Exodus) or prophetic (e.g. Isaiah) in form, I might read a portion of a chapter or an entire chapter. However, if I’m reading through an epistle in the New Testament, I would read 1-3 verses each day. The point is to keep it short in order to focus in on a portion within the book.
Write it down.
This requires reading smaller portions of Scripture at a time, or choosing a verse or two within a chapter or slightly longer passage. Years ago I wondered what would happen if our Bibles were taken away, so I began writing verses in my journal. I figured that eventually I would have the entire Bible written out. While I’m not as fearful of this happening, the practice has remained. Writing it down helps me to remember what I’ve read and also provides space for me to make notes. There isn’t enough room in my Bible to jot down my questions, thoughts, and other insights I glean as I study.
Mark it up.
After I’ve written down the passage, I start taking notes. This process includes asking questions, looking for repeated words or themes, connecting thoughts, looking for contrasting ideas, circling words to look up for further insight.
Most days there will be questions on the page, things that I’ll come back to later as I continue studying through the book. Sometimes I’ll draw a picture or make a diagram or chart of contrasting ideas. Each notation is simply a way of seeking to understand the author’s intent in writing the book. He wrote to a specific audience, in a specific time, with a specific purpose; this is what we try to uncover through reading and studying the Bible.
*See notes at the end of this post for resources on questions to ask about the text when studying the Bible*
Reflect on what you learned.
The mind and the heart must be engaged throughout each step, and both are working simultaneously, but this is the point in the process when I spend time allowing the truths to penetrate my heart. Each day looks a little bit different, but in general I do one (or more) of these things.
Summarize: Write down a statement that captures the main idea of the passage or paraphrase the verses in your own words.
Make Lists: Create a list of things you learned about God, things you learned about yourself, or commands that have been stated.
Create an action step: Based upon what you learned, write out something that needs to change in your attitude, thoughts, or behavior.
Write a prayer: A short paragraph of summary, praying back what you’ve learned and asking the Lord to help you believe the truth and allow it to transform your heart.
There is a proper approach to Bible study, but we can accomplish it through a variety of methods. This is the method that works for me on a regular basis, helping me to have both a consistent and meaningful study of God’s Word.
Women of the Word, How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds–Jen Wilkin. Every woman who desires to grow in their understanding of how to read and study Scripture needs to read this book.
8 Tips for Studying God’s Word — excellent article from Crossway, with some basic ideas for Bible study.
Making the Most of Your Bible Study — this is a great article by Jen Wilkin written for Crossway’s blog.
Risen Motherhood : Laura and Emily have an excellent podacst, which I highly recommend, but they have also designed tools and resources for women to grow in Biblical literacy.
- Step-by-step tutorial on how to use the Inductive Bible Study method
- Free downloadable worksheets to use with IBS
Guide to Inductive Bible Study — Free download from Precept Ministries International on how to use the Inductive Bible study method, in a simple 1 page format.