Friday, June 17, 2016

Five Ways I'm Simplifying Bible Study

In the last month my hunger for time with Him has finally returned. It's been years since I've been willing to bring myself to the table and listen to Him in this deep, consistent way. I've tried over and over again to find our groove -His and mine. I've worked hard to make space, small bits and pieces that I was sure would come together into a cohesive bible study. Alas, no.

I threw up my hands and tried to hold tight to grace. Grace that was true and good, but not able to fill the hole of missing in my chest. Grace that sang love, but didn't solve the way I wanted so deeply to be Father and child again. I waited. With pent up energy and more failed attempts than I have fingers and toes, I waited for us to find a relational flow.

It's back and I'm thankful. But the thing about faith and relationship is: there's no special trick to bible study, no way to bullet proof your faith from all the holes and aches that happen in life. There's no way to make it easy when it's hard or deep when shallow is all your soul can swim through. But when you're trying to make your way back, find your groove again there are ways to make it easier on your weary soul. Here's a few of my newest tips and bible study tools:

1. Do your journaling in your planner/bullet journal/daily tracking place.

I usually have a separate journal for my bible study. But the last month I've been doing it in my bullet journal so that the words and reflections are caught among my daily business. At first, the mish mash annoyed me, but lately it's been a reminder that faith is a daily -small f choice- more often than a Big F Faith challenge. And, well, I feel encouraged to see some truth of His among my To Do lists.

2. Use multiple translations.

My (favorite) bible is ASV and I adore the way there are emphasis among the verses. The binding makes my heart sing and the size of the bible is perfect for travel, church going, and being tossed in my purse. However, NIV was what I grew up on and The Message made my heart sing in high school. So, I use two bibles -one has NIV and The Message side by side in it- when I'm studying at home. This allows me the flexibility and opportunity to move between translations when a verse (or series of verses) is unclear in one translation.

3. Read small, palatable chunks instead of chapters.

I can't explain why I feel like it's important for me to read an entire chapter every time I sit down for my bible study. But, I do. Sometimes I get hung up on one verse but won't spend time mulling it over because I need to get through the rest of the chapter. This is doing my time with Him a disservice.

Since taking on Jane Johnson's Quiet Time Challenge, I've realize that clean breaks on chapters aren't nearly as important as I expected. In fact, reading an entire chapter is too much content to begin to metabolize it. I've started to think of the bible as a rich bar of chocolate -better consumed in small, enjoyed pieces than in a large binge.

4. Find a bible study that is (sort of) structured.

This is what I enjoyed about Jane Johnson's Quiet Time Challenge as well as the studies found in Studying the Scripture (heard about it from Jane). In the last few years I've come to find devotions distracting, instead of inspiring. Often I wander down a rabbit hole of thought while going over the text written by another Christian, when I should be engaging with the text of the Bible. So, I've dropped the devotions and leaned toward loose studies with wider questions.

5. Color code your interactions with His words.

I've started using different pens to mean different things in my bible instead of trying to keep it uniformly black. This was partly inspired by Jane Johnson and also by the art journaling movement with influence from my desire to mark, notate, and highlight. I track three things in my bible:

  • Emotional reactions in magenta/purple/pink. 
  • Recurring phrases, theme, and cross references in green. 
  • Notes from pastors, books, devotions, and the link in blue. 
  • Highlights for verses that are beautiful and convicting. 
There are more thorough systems and suggestions out there for what to track, but I prefer not to have to work through a color code in order to study.

Basically, I'm suggesting to simplify. 

The best way to tune yourself out of your own bible study is to make it work, work, work, work, work (didn't expect a Rhianna reference in here, did you?). Keep your system simple. Keep your system fun. Keep your system centered around conversing with Him instead of focusing on all the logistical details of study.

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