It seems every Christian has been there…
trying to dive into a passage in Scripture, knowing that there is so much depth to the content, but finding oneself unable to unleash the depth during personal time in the Word.
You’ve heard a pastor preach on the book you’re reading, and the passage really convicted and moved you to worship then! But now you’re alone at your dining room table, trying to devote yourself to the Word, but feeling confused, frustrated, and unimpressed.
When we aren’t moved by Scripture, we can with all confidence assume the problem is with us and not with the Word. Whether it’s our method, our lack of contextual knowledge, our lack of historical vocabulary, or even a lack of humility, etc. we often get in our own way of knowing God through His Word.
When I get stuck in a passage, I am learning to ask myself these few questions. They light up my time in the Word, and I hope they do for you too!
I will explain the questions in this post, and I made a free download with the questions so you can print it out to have during your study of the Word.
1. REVIEW THE textual context.
Though I am a huge fan of taking it slowly in Bible reading, when we read a book chapter by chapter, verses by verse, breaking it up amongst days or even weeks, it can start to feel divided, yet Scripture is meant to be understood as a whole. So you always want to try and review what you have learned previously in the book you are studying, and see how to connects to what you are currently reading. My rule of thumb is:
If you’re stuck on a word, read the verses surrounding it.
If you’re stuck on a few sentences, read the sentences leading up to it.
If you’re stuck on an entire chapter, read or review the premise of the book so far.
Then, make the connection to what you are reading now. This will give you the big picture and help you understand the fullness of the message the author is trying to convey. Plus, the more you review an excerpt, the better it will be ingrained in your memory!
2. LEARN THE historical context.
Where did this take place?
When did it take place? What was happening during that moment in this area?
What were the popular opinions and practices of religion in this area?
The subject matter being addressed in this story/letter—was this taboo or customary?
Is there a greater meaning of the little details we might skip over?
Because we live about 2000 years at very minimum after the canon closed, we are in a very different world, and we read Scripture through the lenses of a very different worldview. Even the parables and stories in the gospels, though they might seem straightforward, gain a new level of depth when the context of the stories are understood.
3. Rephrase the verses in your own words.
This helps you stop the rote, robotic reading of a verse (especially familiar ones), and causes you to pause really think about what is being said.
This tool will help you process the verses and avoid accidentally skipping over the details that we think have little or no significance.
This almost serves as your own “commentary” on a passage! (Note, that of course, it will more than likely contain errors and misunderstandings; we aren’t perfect. That’s why we need Scripture. 🙂 )
If you need help doing this, I suggest checking out the Message version (it’s far more of a paraphrase than a translation) of the Bible! Though it gets a lot of flack, this is basically what Eugene Peterson did, and it is helpful, as long as it’s understood as a paraphrase, and not the exact word-for-word translation! 🙂
Then of course, you can follow up with a trusted commentary.
4. Ask: what is the heart attitude being condemned, praised, or corrected in this passage?
Hebrew tells us that Scripture is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
… meaning it’s suppose to exposed us, convict us, and change us into holier people. Scripture, when understood and applied rightly, will cause us to love God and others better.
So ideally, we should always walk away from Scripture with a humble and repentant heart.
However, we all have the sinful tendency to first apply the passage to others in our life (friends, spouses, children, coworkers, culture at large) rather than to our own hearts.
So ask these questions, and apply them to yourself (not others):
What is the heart attitude (or attitudes) that are being communicated in this letter/story/parable?
In what areas haveI shown this sinful heart attitude? Ask the Holy Spirit to convict you and repent of that.
In what areas has God given you a holy heart attitude that you previously didn’t have? Praise Him all the more for that!
5. lean on a friend!
Scripture is meant to be read and understood both personally and communally.
“As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend” (Proverbs 27:17); we are better and wiser together. We need each other to help us understand the text. As we talk our thoughts out with others, we tend to process things better, recognize logical fallacies, and overcoming barricades in our understanding.
Conversation with other Christians is a wonderful tool to understand Scripture more. Definitely take time to process by oneself, and then bring up the conversation with other trusted Christian friends, and watch how the Spirit enlightens your understanding even more.
6. Pray, pray, pray.
Just as conversation with others helps us, conversation with the Lord will help infinitely more.
He honors a heart that earnestly seeks Him, a heart that depends on Him, a heart that desires Him.
So pray, pray, pray. Even if you don’t think you’re saying the right words, tell Him what is on your heart. Tell Him how you long to know Him. Ask Him to show you the resources that will help you know Him. Pour out your desperation.
If you are feeling lazy, feeling indifferent to God, or just hopeless, tell Him.
Ask Him to change your heart, to move it.
And remember: that’s what time in the Word is for.
FREE printable DOWNLOADS
There are two printable options: unlined and lined!