Imagine a collection of books that allowed for you to everyday hear the very voice of God. Consider adding to that collection stories of righteous prophets, holy wars, acts of valor, and slaves being freed. And then, throw into that collection personal prison letters, a God who came to earth, and more. Then, envision the entire collection being ancient, from another time, but still incredibly relevant. You already know I’m talking about the Bible. Now, let’s go through four steps to take Bible study from dull to incredible.
1. Change the subject of your study.
This next point is spoken shockingly little, and I think it’s because we don’t outright want to admit why our Bible study is seems boring. The Bible is a means to an end—it’s a means to knowing God as Creator, Jesus who came to earth, and Spirit present with believers. God is the subject of the Bible, and should be the subject of our study. It is not the Bible we worship, but the living God, who came to this very earth as a human, as Jesus, to die for all of our wrongdoings and rise again.
If our Bible study is focused on the Bible, we’re really missing the point. Boring study is introduced when we think of the Bible like any other historical work or like a textbook. Jesus himself makes this point to some Jews of his time, “You search the scriptures because you think that you have eternal life in them, and it is these that testify about me. And you are not willing to come to me so that you may have life” (John 5:39–40 LEB).
2. Picture it as a movie.
The Bible is full of epic battle scenes and intense drama (read 1–2 Samuel or Acts). In our overly saturated, visual culture, many of us have lost our imaginations. We rely on others to imagine for us, in the forms of movies and other mediums. I think this is tragic because it’s in imagination that we find the will power to make the world a better place.
The patriarchs of Israel, the few great kings over God’s people, and the righteous prophets, were great visionaries of a better life. They studied God’s past actions (often through the oral tradition of the time) and then prayerfully sought the will of God for the present. Through times of prayer they were able to see what others could not—a life lived for God, full of spiritual (and often physical) plenty. This vision is carried forward with Jesus’ disciples, who have an opportunity to execute the vision of the living God on earth. And we too are meant to imagine the past, both as it was and as it could have been, so that we can envision a better future.
3. Decide which character you are.
Jesus told lots of stories—great parables that were meaningful (see Matthew 13). It’s easy to forget when reading these that the point of them is to identify with the characters: We either are meant to realize that we are one of the characters or comprehend that we’re yet to live like the characters do. When we do so, Jesus’ words move from obscure to real. He is telling us something we can do right now. When we hear Jesus, we are meant to take action; we are meant to do what he has just asked. This takes the Bible from words on paper to words lived out.
4. Pray about the next steps.
Prayer is perhaps the most undervalued element in western Christianity (compare Philippians 4:2–6). Sure, we pray over meals and even pray for people publicly, but modern prayer is often treated like asking God to grant our wishes. In actuality, it’s a conversation—he talks and we talk, in a dialogue—and one that should be full of thanksgiving. It’s an opportunity to align ourselves with God so that we can do what he has in store for us. It’s where we learn who we are and what we are meant to be. It’s where we take the words of the Bible to God and request that he change us, so that we may do what he has already commanded for all people (compare Matthew 6:5–15; 6:25–7:12).
Without prayer, Bible study will continue to be like studying another book. Indeed, you may improve your life, but you will not be holistically changed. God has the ability to make you better than you could ever imagine being, which certainly will not be easy (it means changing), but will be well worth the journey.
I hope that when you hear the words “Bible study” you will no longer think of boring schoolwork or dry lectures. Try turning off the negative reaction to “study” today by remembering that Bible study is about knowing a God who has left you guidance in a book. He is also a God who wants to give you personal guidance today.
You know what you have to do—go make it happen.
John D. Barry is the CEO and Founder of Jesus’ Economy, dedicated to creating jobs and churches in the developing world. Because of John’s belief that business can transform lives, Jesus’ Economy also provides an online fair trade shop. He is currently leading Jesus’ Economy efforts to Renew Bihar, India—one of the most impoverished places in the world where few have heard the name of Jesus. Learn more at JesusEconomy.org.