3 Principles for Studying the Word of God More Effectively
By Xiao Xiao, France
Reading the Bible is a daily must for Christians, and it’s also indispensable on the path to gaining the truth and growing in our spiritual lives. The Lord Jesus said, “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Clearly, frequently reading God’s words in the Bible and holding them firmly in our hearts is something that every Christian ought to do. However, every one of us has had the following experience in our Scripture reading: Sometimes we’re able to gain the Holy Spirit’s enlightenment and illumination; our spirit is moved, we can understand God’s will and requirements and have the faith to put God’s words into practice in our daily lives. After a period of time, we grow in our spiritual lives. But then at times, we feel dry and lack enjoyment in our Bible reading and can’t feel the Holy Spirit’s enlightenment or illumination. We don’t have a sense of God’s will and requirements, and even less do we know how to practice God’s words in our day-to-day lives, and after some time, we experience no spiritual growth. Sometimes we might even get sleepy while reading the Bible and become less and less willing to read the Scripture, attend gatherings, and pray. This can be very confusing. We’re reading the Bible just like always, so why are there two totally different outcomes? How can we obtain the Holy Spirit’s enlightenment and illumination so that we are able to achieve good results in our Scripture reading? Actually, as long as we grasp three key points, we can resolve this issue. Next, I would like to address my simple personal understanding of them.
- 1. When reading the Bible, quieting your heart before God is a precondition for gaining the Holy Spirit’s enlightenment and guidance.
- 2. Don’t read aimlessly, but select corresponding passages according to your actual problems and difficulties.
- 3. Focus on pondering God’s words and understanding their inner meaning.
1. When reading the Bible, quieting your heart before God is a precondition for gaining the Holy Spirit’s enlightenment and guidance.
Though we read the Bible at a set time on a daily basis, most of the time our hearts are not quiet before God. When we read the Bible, we still think about family or work matters. Particularly in such a fast-paced age—being busy at work and complicated interpersonal relationships leave us exhausted, body and mind, so we’re likely going through the motions and gaining just a cursory understanding when reading the Scripture. In fact, that kind of Scripture reading is just following a rule, performing a ritual—it is very hard for us to obtain the Holy Spirit’s enlightenment and gain genuine understanding of God’s words. Naturally we’ll no longer have any spiritual enjoyment.
God’s word says, “The true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeks such to worship Him” (John 4:23). “No step is more crucial to entering God’s words than quieting your heart in His presence. … Only after people are able to be at peace before God can they be touched by the Holy Spirit, and enlightened and illuminated by the Holy Spirit, and only then are they able to have true communion with God, as well as to grasp God’s will and the guidance of the Holy Spirit” (“On Quieting Your Heart Before God”). We can see from God’s words that He requires us to worship Him with an honest spirit. If we wish to be moved by the Holy Spirit and get good results from our Bible reading, we must quiet ourselves before God. This is because our time reading the Scripture is also our time to draw near to God and worship Him, as well as our time to understand truths from God’s words. Only if we fully put our hearts into God’s words, and genuinely seek and ponder them can we obtain enlightenment and illumination of the Holy Spirit and understand the meaning within God’s words. That’s why, before reading God’s words, we should find a quiet place, and avoid any people, events, or things that could distract us. We should make a prayer before beginning, intentionally quiet our heart before God, and ask God to guide us to understand the truth within His words. The more we practice this, the more we’ll obtain the Holy Spirit’s enlightenment and guidance, and the more we can understand God’s will. Then, we will grow in our spiritual lives more quickly.
2. Don’t read aimlessly, but select corresponding passages according to your actual problems and difficulties.
First, we have to know that reading the Bible isn’t following a rule, nor is it completing a task. Rather, it is to resolve our own practical problems and difficulties so that we have a path of practice in our daily lives. However, we are bound to make some mistakes in our Bible reading; sometimes we are just following rules and plodding through chapter by chapter, verse by verse; sometimes we read whichever page we aimlessly flip to. Reading the Scripture this way without a purpose will not achieve good results. It’s just a like a sick person trying to treat their illness—they can’t take any old medicine and expect to get better, but they have to understand what has really caused the illness and what kind of illness it is, and only then can they restore their health by taking the right medicine for their particular condition. It’s just the same when we read the Scripture. God’s word says, “When you eat and drink the words of God, you must measure your own real state against them. That is, after you discover the shortcomings in yourself during your real experiences, you must be capable of finding a path to practice, and turning your back on your incorrect motivations and notions. If you always try hard in this and you always pour your heart into these things, you will have a path to follow, you will not feel empty, and thus you will be able to maintain a proper state. Only then will you be someone who carries a burden in your own life, and only then will you be someone who has faith” (“Practice (7)”). We can see from God’s words that we should take into account the difficulties or problems that we encounter in our regular lives, and read God’s words in the Bible in a targeted manner—that’s the only way to achieve good results. So before doing our daily reading of God’s words, we should first give some thought to what kind of spiritual state we’re in, what sort of people, events, and things we’ve encountered in our lives, and which aspect of the truth they relate to. Then we can consciously look for the words of God to read that are relevant to our actual difficulties.
For example, say a conflict develops between us and our family, or brothers and sisters, and we fail to be tolerant and patient with them but instead show our temper. We must first learn to quiet ourselves before God, consider which aspect of the truth this issue is related to, what God’s requirements of us are, etc. Once we’ve gained a grasp on these things we can look for Scripture about God requiring us to have love, tolerance, and patience for others. We can also look for passages where God asks us to reflect on ourselves and not merely focus on the other person. We could also read about how the Lord Jesus loved and forgave people. With this kind of targeted Scripture reading we can see that problems exist within ourselves; we can see how we’re arrogant, dissatisfied, and petty with others. We can also realize that God’s will is for us to learn to forgive others, to be mutually loving, magnanimous, and tolerant; He wants us to live out the likeness of a Christian. Then if we give some thought to the Lord Jesus’ magnanimity and tolerance for people, like personally washing the feet of His disciples, we’ll feel even more moved. Once we’ve understood these truths we’ll become willing to love others in accordance with God’s requirements, and we’ll naturally develop tolerance and understanding for those around us. Let’s look at another example. When we become weak and negative while preaching the gospel upon encountering the suppression and slander of Satan’s evil forces, we can read God’s words about how to be considerate of God’s will as well as passages about how to increase our faith. We can also look at portions about being wise when we’re faced with Satan’s forces that are in opposition to God while preaching the gospel. By reading these words of God we see how fragile we are, that we become negative and weak when we face failures or setbacks, and that we have too little faith. This can also help us understand that spreading the gospel of the kingdom is our bounden duty and mission, and that we should endure persecution and difficulties in order to bear witness to God’s work. We can also come to understand God’s requirements of us; we must have wisdom to share the gospel in this evil age, and learn to be “wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16). Once we’ve understood these things we’ll have the faith to lean on God and we can use wisdom to defeat Satan, then continue spreading God’s gospel.
God’s words are our guide in all things. No matter what problems and difficulties we have, we can find the solution in God’s words. This is why if we read God’s words in the Bible in a targeted way that addresses our actual difficulties, we can more easily gain the Holy Spirit’s enlightenment and guidance, achieve understanding of God’s will, and have a proper path of practice. Then our relationship with God can grow closer—this is how to get the best outcome out of reading the Scripture.
3. Focus on pondering God’s words and understanding their inner meaning.
A lot of people think that only those who are really familiar with the Bible and are well versed in Bible knowledge are those who bring joy to God. So when reading the Scripture we lay a lot of emphasis on memorizing more passages. However, we don’t focus on pondering God’s words in the Bible so that we can achieve understanding of what they are really about. If we think about it carefully, we may find that doing this only makes us more familiar with the text in the Bible and we come to understand some spiritual principles. However, we don’t understand the truths within God’s words, and we particularly lack true knowledge of God’s will or requirements. And in our regular lives we don’t know how to experience or practice God’s words. We may also become more and more arrogant because we grasp so much Bible knowledge and theory. We brag among brothers and sisters and show off by interpreting biblical theory and knowledge; we make a display of ourselves so that others will look up to and adore us, and we bring the brothers and sisters before us while at the same time, our relationship with God is growing more and more distant. Spiritually, we fall into darkness and devolve and cannot feel God’s presence.
God’s word says, “When reading His words, Peter was not focused on understanding doctrines and he was even less focused on obtaining theological knowledge; instead, he was focused on understanding the truth and grasping God’s will, and achieving an understanding of His disposition and His loveliness. He also tried to understand the various corrupt states of man from God’s words, and understand the corrupt nature of man and man’s true shortcomings, achieving all aspects of the demands God makes of man in order to satisfy Him. He had so many correct practices within the words of God; this is most in line with God’s will, and it is man’s best cooperation in his experience of the work of God” (“How to Take the Path of Peter”). It’s clear from this that when Peter read the words of God he wasn’t content to just understand some theological knowledge or letters and doctrines, but he emphasized engaging in repeated seeking in and contemplation of God’s words, and then he was able to understand God’s will and demands for man. After that he would act according to God’s requirements in all things. Peter’s practice provides us with a path of practice. God’s words are the truth, and they are an expression of God’s disposition, and what He has and is; they all contain God’s will and requirements. If we don’t carefully seek and ponder them, we won’t understand anything except words and doctrines—certainly not God’s will. Much less will we be able to understand what God’s words are truly about, so naturally we won’t be able to enter into the reality of His words. So, every time we’ve read a passage of His words we should diligently ponder these things: What was God’s purpose in saying this? What is His will, and what are His requirements of mankind? How should I practice and enter into God’s words in my real life? What can I do to meet God’s requirements? When we engage in this kind of seeking and pondering, before we know it, God will enlighten and guide us and allow us to understand the inner meaning within His words.
Let’s look at the following words from the Lord: “Truly I say to you, Except you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). “But let your communication be, Yes, yes; No, no: for whatever is more than these comes of evil” (Matthew 5:37). We can see in God’s words that He loves honest people and is disgusted by liars and cheaters. Only honest people can enter the kingdom of heaven, while sinister and crafty people cannot pass its gates. Only by praying and pondering God’s words can we understand that God wants us to be honest people, as innocent and open as a child with no trickery or deception. Once we’ve thought about things to that point, we can continue to seek: Do we have dishonest parts? By reflecting on our thoughts and actions, we can see that we still display a lot of deceitfulness. Sometimes when we’re before God in prayer, we say all sorts of wonderful things and set our resolve many times, but in our real lives we hardly ever match up to that. Sometimes we do something wrong and want to acknowledge our mistake to someone else, but we’re afraid they’ll look down on us, so in order to preserve our own face and name, we tell a half truth and cover up the truth. Sometimes when we’re talking about our experiences, we’re willing and ready to talk about how we do put God’s words into practice, but very rarely speak of the ways we defy and resist God, and our manifestations of not practicing the truth. We often pretend to be something we’re not so that others will maintain a good image of us. Sometimes we see brothers and sisters doing things that are not in line with God’s will and want to share fellowship with them, but we’re concerned about injuring their pride, or afraid that they won’t accept our opinion and will judge us, so we go on with one eye open and one eye closed, pretending we don’t know anything. The list goes on. Through reflection, we can see how much deceitfulness we display—we are not at all honest people who are pleasing to God. So, how could people such as us enter the kingdom of heaven? After understanding these things, we must continue to mull over the path to becoming an honest person in God’s words. First, we cannot lie with our words, but must speak in accordance with the truth. One is one, and two is two. But primarily, we need to have honest hearts. We cannot have crookedness or deceitfulness within our hearts; anything we say or do is subject to God’s scrutiny. We cannot lie or cheat to protect our own status, reputation, or face, but when we encounter an issue we should be able to forsake our own incorrect motives, speak honestly, and speak out what’s in our hearts. If we can live up to this, we start to enter into the truth of being honest people. If we always earnestly ponder God’s words in this way, seeking to understand the essence of the truth through the literal meaning of God’s words, we will understand the finer points of the truth more and more, and then what we practice in our lives will be more correct. We will become closer to God’s will and requirements and we will feel more and more steady, at peace, and content in our souls.
One more point to raise is that no matter which aspect of God’s words we’re reading, we can’t thoroughly comprehend it after reading it once or twice, or a handful of times. This is always a process. God’s words are so profound that there are many truths hidden within them, so we cannot be too eager to finish. We must put effort into God’s words, constantly mull over them and pray about them, and diligently work on understanding the truths within them. We must also bring God’s words into practice in our daily lives, thinking about them and entering into them at the same time. After practicing this for a period of time, we’ll be able to understand and go deeper into the truth bit by bit, and this will bear the fruit of understanding the truth.
These are the three principles of reading the Scripture. By putting these three principles into practice, any issues we have of lacking enlightenment in our reading or lacking spiritual enjoyment can be resolved, and we can grow in our spiritual lives.
Dear brothers and sisters, what are you waiting for? Go try it out!