Have you ever gone to sleep while studying the Bible? Do you have to force yourself to "get in" your Bible study each day? Does "studying by the clock" sound all too familiar? Perhaps you even find yourself neglecting study altogether? These are very common errors — and it's time to learn the way out of them.
IT JUST doesn't seem possible for baptized members of God's Church to get bored with Bible study! Nevertheless, they do. You do. You won't want to admit it, but it has no doubt happened to you. Yet you can recall when the Bible was fascinating. You couldn't wait to begin studying and learning from it each day. But that was back when you were in your first love. Remember? You sat down to do a half hour of study on the Correspondence Course and found that two hours had passed before you knew it. A new PLAIN TRUTH magazine arrived in the mail and you were unable to put it down until you had read the whole issue. You had been challenged by Mr. Armstrong to "prove all things," and you did search the Scriptures daily to see whether those things were so. Yes, back then you had a powerful motivation for studying the Bible. You suddenly realized that the Bible didn't say what you always assumed that it said. You wanted to find truth. You wanted to find out whether Mr. Armstrong was right or not. You wanted to find God's True Church! And you did.
Is Your Goal Reached?
God has led you to His Truth. You know that this is God's True Church. So now that motivation is gone. And nothing has come along to replace it. As a result, far too many of you have lost your once-vibrant sense of purpose — and consequently Bible study has little attraction for you any more. Your sole motivation may now he the crutch that "the ministers say so." If the minister says we must study "at least one-half hour each day" to make it into God's Kingdom, then out comes the stopwatch and we are set for precisely thirty minutes. Some seem to think it is the thirty minutes that prepare us for God's Kingdom rather than the Bible study! If thirty minutes of Bible study a day is your goal, it's no wonder you aren't getting anywhere. When you have "put in" yow thirty minutes, you have "served your time" and you have reached your goal. You feel totally satisfied, don't you? Sorry — you have accomplished nothing. Why do you study the Bible? What is your goal? Where are you going? If you have a goal,, then thirty minutes of Bible study will find you thirty minutes closer to that goal. Furthermore, you'll eagerly await your next opportunity to get still closer, because that goal will always be there drawing you on, Bible study will once again become interesting, scintillating and invigorating — and once again two hours will pass before your "thirty minutes" are "up." But if you don't know where you are going, how can you ever hope to get there? You can't. And that's why this article was written: 1) to help you know where to go, and 2), to help you get there. Let's organize this crucial instruction by asking and then answering two fundamental questions: 1) WHY should you study the Bible? 2) HOW can you make Bible study interesting?
WHY STUDY? — To Gain the Abundant Life
Even a carnal mind can be highly motivated to study the Bible. Why? Because the carnal mind wants to be successful, happy, healthy, wealthy and wise. Consequently, many great men of this world have made Bible reading a regular habit. They came to realize that the Bible is the book that understands man, describes him, and tells him how to live. Read what some of these men have had to say about the Bible:
George Washington: "It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible."
W. E. Gladstone: "I have known ninety-five of the world's great men in my time, and of these, eighty-seven were followers of the Bible. The Bible is stamped with a specialty of origin, and an immeasurable distance separates it from all competitors."
Daniel Webster. "lf there is anything in my thoughts or style to commend, the credit is due to my parents for instilling in me an early love of the scriptures. If we abide by the principles taught by the Bible, our country will go on prospering and to prosper: but if we and our posterity neglect its instructions and authority, no man can tell how sudden a catastrophe may overwhelm us and bury all our glory in profound obscurity." Halley's Bible Handbook, pages 18 and 19.)
Are you tired of being poor? The Bible tells you the cause and the cure for poverty. Do you want to be a success? The Bible helps you to understand what success really is and tells you how to achieve it. Take for example the book of Proverbs. Why was it written? "To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding; to receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity; to give subtilty to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion. A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels " (Prov. 1:2-5). Who can live an abundant life without wisdom and instruction? Who can prosper in business without justice, judgment, equity, and subtlety in all his dealings? Anyone should jump at the chance to learn such things. The way to riches and honor and life is contained in the Bible — therefore, "Take fast hold of instruction; let her not go: keep her; for she is thy life" (Prov. 4:13). Even carnally, if we want to live to the full, we can't afford to neglect the Bible. How much more does this apply for our spiritual needs and goals?
WHY STUDY? — To Do God's Work as a TEAM
What should our main motivation for Bible study be? The obvious answer to this question is wrong. Most of the members of God's Church would immediately and confidently state that "we must study the Bible so that we can maintain our own spiritual growth and thereby qualify to be born into God's Family." Of course this reason is absolutely true — but it should not be, indeed it must not be, our primary reason for Bible study! To the Apostle Paul, his own salvation was his second most important goal — yes, his SECOND. What was first? Paul tells us in the ninth chapter of Romans. Now he knew that even converted minds were not going to believe what he was about to say. So he begins in chapter 9 with a three-fold declaration of his wholehearted sincerity: "I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit. that I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart" (Rom. 9:1-2). "For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh: who are Israelites" (verses 3-4). In Paul's mind — as incredulous as it does sound — even his own personal salvation was subordinated to the worldwide salvation of the whole nation of Israel. In other words, Paul realized that the Work of God was more important than anything else. His own life — even his own eternal life — could not come ahead of God's Work. Do you catch the awesome significance of Paul's emotionally powerful statement? God's Work is more important than individual salvation! That's heresy to worldly "Christianity" — but God inspired it, Paul wrote it, and we preach it. The collective experience of all of God's ministers today verifies and confirms this living law. Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong himself continuously emphasizes this point: Those people who are more interested in their own personal salvation than in the worldwide Work of God eventually (and invariably) fall by the wayside. On the other hand, all those who put their whole hearts into the Work are always rewarded with enormous personal growth. Now we know that the Church is the instrument that God is using to do His worldwide Work. But the Church is composed of individual members. And if those individual members are spiritually weak, then obviously the Church must likewise be spiritually weak to that same degree. Conversely, as its members grow in strength, so the Church multiplies in strength — and consequently God's Church becomes the vigorous organic unit which generates the electrifying dedication absolutely necessary to fulfill the gigantic commission which Christ has given to His Body. All of us must come to realize how intimately we are involved in God's Work. Not because we say so. But because the Eternal Creator of the entire universe has given every member of His Church personal responsibilities and detailed assignments — all of which are specifically tailored for us as individually distinct, begotten sons of God. And Bible study is one of our "personal responsibilities" mid one of our "detailed assignments." "Oh well," some of you are probably now thinking, "that's encouraging all right, but my Bible study is not helping anybody. I'm never going to be a minister; I'm never going to teach." Wrong — on all points! You have got to learn to think BIG. God thinks on unfathomable levels of immensity. And you're practicing to be God. So force your mind to expand beyond the confinement of your "four walls." Meditate — and pray that God inspires it. You must come to realize that Bible study by the members of God's Church is what builds a strong Church. And a strong Church is essential to do God's Work. So, as an irreplaceable component of God's Body, you must do your part. Picture yourself 10 to 15 years from now. You will be God — and you will be ministering, and you will be teaching. You're being groomed for that job at this very moment. Because of your unique background, occupation and experiences, you are the best-equipped human being in the world to deal with thousands and perhaps tens of thousands of similar human beings. Think about it. If you are a farmer, factory worker, civil service employee, housewife or high school student, your personal Bible study today is God's method of training and preparing you to be the counselor, the instructor, and the minister for these thousands and tens of thousands soon to be sitting in your congregations in the world tomorrow.
WHY STUDY? — To Do God's Work Personally
For some strange reason, many have assumed that "the Work" is purely the responsibility of the ministry. Not so! Very clearly in the Bible, the Work is shown to be the Work of the Church — and that includes every individual in it. The primary purpose of God's Work is to give today's wretched world the good news of tomorrow's wonderful world. And you are intimately involved — not only as a member of the TEAM (as we stressed in the previous section) but also as a distinct individual. How many people do you know — from high school, on your job, in your community, from travel, among relatives, neighbors, friends, associates, acquaintances, and on and on? Many hundreds of people to be sure. Taking an average of 250 personal associations apiece for the brethren in God's Church, we find that a personal witness is going out to many millions of people! In Matthew 5:14-16 Christ said: "Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." Now you can't hem light. You can only see it. We have often used this passage to help Church members who have been prone to "preach" to unconverted relatives. Some of us seem to like nothing better than a good religious argument, and so we take the light that Christ has given us and we shine it like a glaring spotlight directly into somebody else's eyes. That is not what Christ wants. But neither does He want us to remain hidden. Notice that this city — which was put on a hill — cannot be hid. No matter how quietly we go about obeying God, we are going to be seen sooner or later — and that's good, because Christ wants us to be seen. And when we are discovered, people are going to start asking questions. What are you going to say when they do? Does Christ command us to refuse to answer? Did He ever order His followers to become defensive and clam up, or to mutter something about what "my minister says"? Read the answer in I Peter 3:15:"Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear." The time is soon coming when you are going to be called upon to give an answer concerning your faith. You may have to answer to a court of law, an unconverted relative, a hostile employer, a curious neighbor, or an interested friend. But be careful! You might unnecessarily involve yourself or others in a court case, further antagonize a relative, lose your job, create a neighborhood feud, or cause your interested friend to lose interest. There seems to be a peculiar perversity of human nature which compels us to go to one of two extremes. We either preach to, argue with, and antagonize people, or else we become automatons that do everything because "my Church teaches it" and we won't answer anything for anybody. You say your beliefs come from the Bible. But if someone challenges you on something you believe, it sounds awfully weak to say "It's in ah — the Bible ah — somewhere." You need to be able to tell them not only what the Bible says, but where it says it. To do this, you are going to have to do some studying. As Paul wrote Timothy, "Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (II Timothy 2:13). This is not to say that you are to preach to your friends and relatives. Normally, the less said the better. But if you are prepared, God may use you to help someone to a knowledge of the truth. I would not have come into God's Church as quickly as I did if it had not been for a member of the Church who answered my questions as I asked them. He never tried to "argue religion" with me. I had to drag some of the answers from him — but he had them, and he knew where they were found in the Bible. I might not have come into the Church at all if he had been unprepared!
WHY STUDY? — To Grow Spiritually
The obvious purpose of Bible study is to maintain and accelerate our own spiritual growth. Remember, it must not be our primary motivation — but it is important. Without this personal spiritual growth, the greatest goal of a Christian — to be born into God's Kingdom — can never be realized. Bible study provides the food to stimulate that growth. Over and over again in the Bible, God compares physical food with spiritual food. In I Peter 2:2 we read: "AS newborn babies, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby." Without the physical milk, a newborn babe would show abnormal skeletal development. The same thing is true in the spiritual realm. Too many members of God's Church are living with a case of spiritual rickets — they are undernourished. As we grow in the Church, we should progress from the milk of the word to strong meat. As Christ said, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4). We who have been begotten by God's Spirit must now mature unto the stature of the fullness of Christ. We must now come to have the mind of Christ — to be strong in the faith. How do we do it? What is it that makes the big change in our lives to give us spiritual strength and spiritual backbone? Read the answer in Psalm 119:9. "Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word." A Christian must compare the way he lives with God's instructions for living found in the Bible. He has got to look at the Bible as a way of life and make a fervent, wholehearted attempt to live by it. II Timothy 3:16-17 lays out some of the goals and purposes of Bible study for us: "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." We need to have these goals and purposes in mind when we study our Bibles. We are not just "doing our duty," we are working toward a goal — becoming God!
HOW TO MAKE YOUR BIBLE STUDY INTERESTING
In the previous four sections we have been showing why we should study the Bible. You all agree. But the question is how? Human nature quickly becomes bored to any repetitive action — and our reaction to Bible study is no exception. Consequently it becomes our individual responsibility to candidly face this problem — and to solve it. And that's precisely the purpose of the second part of this article. Here are seven practical methods for making your own study of God's Word as interesting as possible. Now please don't just memorize these points. Nobody's going to spring a test on you. Blind memorization won't do you one bit of good. But think about these seven aids. And apply them. That will do you an eternity of good.
1) Establish Overall Goals
We've already enumerated our four all-encompassing goals for Bible study: 1) To gain the abundant life, 2) to do God's Work as a TEAM, 3) to do God's Work personally, and 4) to grow spiritually. Sure, we've enumerated them — but how will that help you? It won't — not unless you force your mind to focus on them. And meditate about them. And use them. Continually. And especially at the beginning of your study.
2) Set Specific Goals
In addition to the "big picture" goals of Bible study, we need to set smaller, more immediate goals for ourselves. The human mind demands stimulation and incentives along the way. For example, Christ said that man should not live by bread alone but by EVERY word of God (Matthew 4:4). How can you do this if you haven't even READ every word of God? You can't. And yet, a recent survey showed that many members of God's Church still have not read all of the Bible. Correct this deficiency — systematically. Go to the table of contents at the front of your Bible. Which of those books haven't you read in their entirety? Mark them. Then begin to read them, checking them off as you go. Many of you will probably want to read the Bible all the way through from Gen. 1:1 to Rev. 22:21. Even if you read very slowly (200 words per minute) you can accomplish this task — and feel a sense of personal satisfaction — in less than 62 hours of reading. At this speed you can read the Bible completely through in just one year spending only 10 minutes of your time each day! Perhaps you have read all of the Bible, but look at the table of contents again: Do you know the basic message of each of the books. To whom were the prophecies of Zephaniah directed? What is the central message of the book of Lamentations? How many of God's statutes (Ex. 21-23) are you familiar with? Get busy and fill in your weak spots in Bible knowledge! Certain Bible study aids can be useful in adding interesting details. Halley's Bible Handbook. for example, will give you a breakdown on the basic subject matter of each section of the Bible. It will also help tie the numerous books together by pointing out parallel accounts in other books and by giving the historical setting of these events. It is very helpful to put a prophet into his correct historical setting. Many obscure passages become quite clear when we do this.
3) Study Basic Doctrine
Do you thoroughly understand all of the fundamental doctrines of God's Church? You may well be convinced of the truth of an argument without understanding it. It has been said that you truly understand a subject only when you can explain it to someone else. This is a critically important principle. Can you explain and prove from the Bible why we keep the annual Holy Days and not the ritual sacrifices? If not, then you don't really understand this basic doctrine — and you need to go back and study it again. Be systematic on each doctrine. Use sermons, articles, booklets, and Correspondence Course lessons. Mark the appropriate proof texts and scriptures in your Bible. Chain reference them from one to the other so that you can march right through scripture after scripture for each subject. Could you explain to a new person in the Church the meaning of God's Holy Days? How do you know that the Feast of Trumpets symbolizes the return of Christ? Could you prove it, If not, then you don't really understand it. What about the Holy Spirit? Can you demonstrate that the Holy Spirit is not a person and that there is no trinity? I'm sure you're convinced, but can you explain it? What about the question of "Why were you born?" Could you prove from the Bible that the purpose of human life is to literally become God? How about "law or grace" — could you explain that one?
4) Study for Personal Correction
God chastises every son whom He loves (Heb. 12:6). It's not fun — but it's the only way we're ever going to become God! One of our heavenly Father's most effective methods of correction is through Bible study. It is our responsibility to apply the Biblical lessons, examples, admonishments and corrections to our own lives. Here's a start: Which Biblical character exhibits problems which are similar to your own personal problems? What mistakes did he make that you can avoid? How did God handle him? What was God's advice? How can you benefit by these lessons? You should be just as systematic when studying and praying for personal correction as when studying doctrine. First list your specific problems. Next compile the scriptures which deal directly with each of those problems. Then, write out an analysis of each problem together with an explanation of how each scripture should help you to overcome that problem. Finally, deeply appreciate God's correction — and change.
5) Mark Your Bible
A well-marked page in your Bible is like an old friend. An unmarked page is a total stranger. Learn to mark your Bible — and watch your study take on a new zest. Now you don't have to use six different colors, three rulers, four separate pen-point widths and an artistic Hair. Your Bible will not be put on display — the Smithsonian Institute doesn't want it. What you should do is produce the most effective tool for your own private use. For example, boldly mark the Bible so that you will be able to spot the story flow at a glance. When you are reading through the book of Kings, write the name of each king in the margin so that you can recognize each one of them instantly as you leaf through your Bible. Use smaller print for explanatory and exhortative notes. Write down the understanding of a "difficult scripture" and indicate the application of a "two-edged sword" verse. We like to kid around about our "inspired margins," hut seriously, a well-documented and expounded scripture will come alive as your own personal possession — it will spark your imagination and sustain your interest.
6) Ask Questions
Make it a goal to keep a piece of paper in your Bible to write down questions. And having written your questions down, be sure you get them answered. Don't be embarrassed to "show your ignorance" — ignorance is shown only by those who don't ask questions. But first of all do a little research on your own — and then, if you can't find the answer, ask the minister or send the question up in Bible Study. Be sure to ask a lot of questions. Be curious without being critical. God doesn't want a lot of weak "doormats" hanging around His Family — people who aimlessly swallow everything they're fed without questioning or caring. God wants sons; and sons ask questions to "prove all things" (I Thes. 5:21) that they are indeed right.
7) Vary Your Approach
Don't use the same method of Bible study all the time. Be different. Change your style. You can read through an entire book one day and then spend the next several days drinking in of just one chapter. Meditate about what you are reading. Meditation and Bible study, intertwined together, are a mutually multiplying combination. Visualize the Biblical passage in your mind's eye. Put yourself into the story. When you read about the personal experiences of a specific individual (like David), get involved — picture yourself in his shoes. Live through his exploits, trials, problems, errors, repentances and reliances upon God as a real-life, day-to-day situation. Don't allow the sanctimonious-sounding King James language to throw you. Pore over modern translations. Live God's Word. Bible study should never become boring. If you have the right goals and you are interested in making your study interesting, it never will!