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If You Want People to Grow Spiritually, Quit Telling them to Study the Bible

I love to study the Bible but recently my Bible study led me to a surprising conclusion: We should quit telling people to study the Bible, and start telling them to meditate on and delight in it.

This is what happened. I was teaching a class on how to study the Bible and in preparation I decided to look at what the Bible itself has to say about Bible study. I was jarred by what I discovered. The Bible says almost nothing about studying the Bible! Very often we are told in the Bible to obey and meditate on Scripture, and there are many passages that tell us to remember and not forget God’s word and God’s acts. But study the Bible? It’s almost never mentioned in all of scripture.

Perhaps like me, you immediately think of the passage, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God….” (1 Timothy 2:15, KJV) But this is a poor translation of the original Greek. All modern translations render this better, as the New King James version does, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God….”

The key emphasis in the Bible itself on how we are to relate to it is not to study it, but to meditate on it, delight in it, ponder it, obey it, and not forget it. If you don’t believe me, do a quick word search on the words “study,” “delight,” “meditate,” and “obey.” You will be shocked, as I was.

In other words, the problem isn’t that we are stupid. The problem is that we are forgetful. Or to put it another way, the issue isn’t that we need to learn more Bible, the problem is that a lot of us know quite a bit of the Bible. But we don’t enjoy it and let it soak in, so we forget it or don’t apply it. So we often miss the abundant life that it is calling us to.

The key passage in all of the Bible on how we should treasure God’s word is Psalm 119, the 176-verse acrostic on why and how we should love Scripture. Have you ever noticed that it does not mention studying the Bible even once. But 17 times it talks about obeying Scripture and 8 times speaks of meditating on God’s word and his works. Notice, for example, verses 97-101:

Oh, how I love your law!
I meditate on it all day long.
Your commands are always with me
and make me wiser than my enemies.
I have more insight than all my teachers,
for I meditate on your statutes.
I have more understanding than the elders,
for I obey your precepts.
I have kept my feet from every evil path
so that I might obey your word.

The problem with telling people to study the Bible is that most people hate studying. In fact most people heartily agree with Ecclesiastes 12:11: “Much study wearies the body.” So when we tell them to study Scripture, we are implying that it’s a textbook and people are repulsed. Who likes to read textbooks?

I recently asked on Facebook, “What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word ‘study’?” I was hoping that at least ten people would respond and was shocked that over 100 did. Some people reported feelings of joy when they heard the word study but many offered words like, “ugh!” “stress,” “boring,” “dread,” “anxiety,” and “exhaustion.”

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that Bible study is bad. It’s a wonderful thing. But the word “study” repulses most people. And careful Bible study itself reveals that study is not the primary way we are supposed to absorb and respond to God’s word.

Instead, we are invited to ponder, to meditate, to delight in, and obey it. If you want some fresh ideas on how to respond to Scripture in life-changing ways, consider the simple Discovery Group and three-column approaches that are being used around the world in the rapidly growing disciple-making movement.

I hope you have a delightful time meditating on and responding to God’s word today!

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