When Your Right-Now Life Needs a Realistic Way to Study Scripture

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If you’re here for the first time, welcome! We’re in the early stages of a new series, The Sacred Art of Receiving Your Right-Now Life. It’s all about living your ordinary life with extraordinary purpose.

Here’s what I’m learning. I can provide soulful encouragement and how-to tips all day long. But if we don’t begin with one of our most basic needs — being fed and nourished on a soul level — we’ll lose perspective and momentum quickly, no matter how good our intentions and ideas are.

There is one thing that helps me receive my own life, undesirable days and all, more than anything else. It’s the truth and sustenance of God’s Word. 

I invite you to read the previous post — The One Word that Forever Changed How I Approach Scripture — so that you can have the full context for this post.

Here’s the main point: I began to desire God’s Word when I realized it was my food.

Without it, I ricochet through my days much like a hungry child with low blood sugar. My life is easily defined by my frustration, circumstances, and selfishness. With it, I’m more grounded and centered. I have a perspective that’s so much bigger than myself and my own little kingdom. I walk in a spirit of truth instead of a spirit of crazy.

With the foundation that God’s Word is our food, it’s time for us to learn how to eat. There are countless approaches to studying Scripture, but my goal here is to share lessons from my own journey and to help you find practical ways to be nourished in your right-now life.

One thing to remember. Any food is better than no food.

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A Tale of…a Lot of Group Bible Studies

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I did my first real group Bible study when I was in graduate school. I was a young mom with a new baby. I was also just coming out of an intensely dark season of my life spiritually. I had gone from belief to not knowing what I believed to definitely not believing in anything to shakily embracing my Christian faith again. That’s a story in itself but not the point of this post.

I was starving. Our new church advertised a Bible study and they had childcare.

Armed with All The Colored Pencils, my notebook and my Bible, I devoured each week’s Precepts inductive lesson even though it often meant cramming the night before (because grad school + a baby that didn’t sleep.)

I probably loved Precepts because of its timing in my life and not because it’s a tailor-made approach for me. Which just goes to show, it’s really not about the method. It’s about the intersection of your right-now life and what you have access to.

When my young family moved to the town we live in now, I got involved with the weekly small group studies at my church. We did everything from book studies to Books of the Bible studies to Beth Moore studies. They had childcare for my little ones (praise) and it also provided relationship and community for me as a young mom in a new place.

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The most meaningful study for me during those years was Beth Moore’s Believing God. No surprise, it was all about the timing. Again, I had survived a dark and painful season (of a totally different nature) and I was struggling to believe in God’s goodness and faithfulness. That study and Beth’s teaching was a lifeline to me.

As my kids got older and their schooling demands meant I could no longer spend a morning in Bible study, I floundered. I can’t even remember what my “quiet time” looked like in those years but it was a time when life felt more defined by my circumstances and what I “should” be doing than by who God is and what’s He’s already done for me. Spiritually speaking, I probably lived in a chronic state of low blood sugar and it showed up in every area of my life.

About five years ago, a friend from college told me about Bible Study Fellowship (BSF.) I was 100% not interested. I’d heard of BSF and it sounded, um…not for me. Too structured, too old-school. But there was something about it I couldn’t shake and I was finally in a season that offered time and energy.

Long story short, I traveled to an hour-away Bible study for two years with a friend of mine. We then had the privilege of helping begin a BSF satellite group in our own town.

This is my first year in five years not being involved in BSF and I miss it terribly. While there is no one way for every person, Bible Study Fellowship fed me richly and deeply with the Word of God like nothing else ever has.

When I studied the Life of Moses, God was bringing me out of an impossible place and into a promised land.

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When I studied John, I was living in the tension between my right-now work and my hoped-for work. Week after week, Jesus’ words and life spoke into that tension in a way that literally changed me, that helped me accept God’s perfect timing. The Gospel of John taught me to receive my right-now life in all of its unnoticed abundance and in all of the ways it fell short of what I longed for.

Do you know what my own journey with Bible studies tells me?

It’s not about finding the one perfect way to be in Scripture.

It’s about letting the richness of God’s word into your daily life — no matter the season — and being desperate for Him to meet you right where you are.

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Enough backstory. Tell me what to do!

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Group Bible Studies

A group Bible study might be for you if: 

  • You struggle with intrinsic motivation and need the accountability of a group.
  • You like to process what you’re learning with others.
  • You need to receive what you’re learning in a variety of formats — studying on your own during the week, processing with a small group, and perhaps having teaching on the topic from a leader that ties it all together.
  • You have small children and have access to a Bible study that provides childcare.
  • You need to get out of the house.

 

A group Bible study might not be for you if:

  • Your time is scarce.
  • You get super annoyed when you process things in small groups with a variety of personalities.
  • You don’t have convenient access to one.
  • You have a schedule that means your involvement will be hit or miss.

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Studying God’s Word on Your Own

(fail…and then find something that works)

This current year of my life — with where we are as a family, with my job and some extra work — doesn’t allow for a group study. I got the big idea that I would go through the book of John again on my own because it meant so much to me and I longed to dig deeper.

I was not consistent. Like, at all. But I did get really good at drinking coffee and jumping right into work and shuffling papers around.

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One of the reason group studies have often worked well for me is because there’s accountability. When someone expects something of me, I do it. And if someone doesn’t? I can be hit or miss. I meet outer expectations. I tend to resist inner expectations.

BSF worked for me because I had homework due every week and I have never been the gal who shows up without my homework done.

After spending last semester snacking my way through devotionals and being hit or miss with John, I knew I needed a new approach. But still, there was the issue of time. I don’t have a morning or an evening to go to a study or even to join an online group.

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The first week of January, I met with a friend and she introduced me to what I’m doing right now. I call it “Bible Study Devotional Journaling.” I literally just made up that title as I typed it. : )

Here’s the thing. No one is holding me accountable. But after a summer + semester of being spiritually “hangry,” I have craved my time with God each day because I know how badly I need it.

Like any discipline (a word I don’t love), the fruit of the habit becomes its own reward. This is what continues to motivate me day after day, not the habit itself. 

Yes, your personality matters and we’ll talk about that more in a minute. But once you begin eating real food every day, once it becomes the sustenance that keeps you grounded and centered in the truth of who God is, you don’t want to go back to nibbling crumbs every other day and wondering why you feel spiritually anemic and unsteady.

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“Bible Study Devotional Journaling” how-to:
(Guys, please help me find another name for this.)
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Step 1: Choose a devotional that goes through a book of the Bible.

I’m using Tim Keller’s The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms.

Step 2: Grab a simple composition book and a good pen. You’re ready to go!

Step 3: Read the Scripture passage.

Don’t read the notes from the author. Don’t read the prayer. Just focus on the Scripture. Read through it once or twice.

Step 4: Start writing.

I try to write down 20-30 things, going verse by verse. Here are the types of things I write:

  • Who does God say He is?
  • What attributes of God do I see? (Faithful, good, patient, just, merciful, etc.)
  • What is He promising?
  • How I resonate with particular verses of the passage.
  • A one-sentence prayer in response to a verse.
  • A truth statement.
  • A personal application in response to a verse.

 

Step 5: Read the commentary or devotional.

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There’s a reason you read this last. It’s important to let God speak to you when it’s just you and the Scripture itself. I love commentaries. I love looking up the original Greek or Hebrew for a certain word. But that’s not where I begin. The Word itself and the Holy Spirit are enough. After I’ve done my own verse by verse examination and study, I love seeing what the author of the study or devotional has to say about it. This can offer extra insight.

Step 6: Read back over the verses, what you’ve journaled, and maybe the commentary / devotional. Write a short statement. 

Add some more things that you didn’t notice the first time and then read over all that you’ve journaled. Is there an overarching principle or truth statement you want to carry with you for the day? This forces me to synthesize what I’ve read and apply it in a more concise way.

Step 7: Pray

Sometimes I write out my prayer. Sometimes I write out and pray the author’s prayer. Sometimes I just sit in my chair and pray, not writing out anything.

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Choose a simple all-inclusive Bible study…and maybe a friend.

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If my current method doesn’t sound like a fit, if you need something more structured (and with less writing), consider a Bible study that has a passage and directed questions for you to answer. I did this study for the Book of Galatians and it’s a great approach. Everything you need, including the Scripture, right in one book.

If you can’t do a group study but you don’t feel like you’ll stick with something on your own, what about asking a friend to meet with you once a week or every other week? This is a great compromise because you still have accountability but it’s not A Big Weekly Thing You Attend.

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The Word on the Go

Now that we carry computers around in our pockets, we can carry Scripture with us wherever we go. you on your journey.

Read Scripture App

You guys. This is the coolest.

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It’s a free app that provides videos and context along the way. There are reading plans and reminders you can set to spur you along. It’s for everyone from kids and teenagers to people like you and me. Seriously, if you don’t know where to start, download the app and begin with this.

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Your Personality Matters

God’s Word is for all of us. But there’s no one best way to study the Bible.

Know who you are. Chances are, you don’t need a personality test to tell you what you already know. You know whether you’re disciplined or not. You know if you’re sort of ADD or not. You know how you learn best. You know if you need to study with others or if your time is richer on your own. You know what you have time for in this season and what you don’t.

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I know that reading through the Bible in a year is highly recommended and a great spiritual discipline. But you guys, every time I’ve tried I get so bored. I lose interest. I dawdle and procrastinate. I just can’t.

I’m sustained by God’s Word when I dig deep into smaller passages at a time. I love to take an entire year and study one book. This feeds me so richly, but I know it’s not for everyone.

I have artistic friends who have journaling Bibles with wide margins. They draw beautiful images as they study and it makes God’s Word come alive to them.

I’ve been in small discussion groups that literally were such a struggle for me, it got in the way of studying Scripture. I know, I’m a horrible person, but it’s true.

Take what you know about yourself and apply it. Don’t feel guilty. Walk in freedom and experiment! Just find a way to eat that’s nourishing, sustaining, and doable for you. 

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Hearing the Word

Sometimes we place so much emphasis on personal Bible study, forgetting that for centuries, most Christians couldn’t have a “quiet time” as we think of it today for one very big reason: they were illiterate. 

Priests rolled open the scrolls and people simply listened. They read the Word and congregants believed them. Preachers proclaimed the Gospel and this spoken word found its way into the desperate hearts of men, women, and children.

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Whether it’s sitting in church regularly and hearing the faithful preaching of God’s Word or listening to sermons on your iPhone as you drive to work — hearing the Word matters. It matters a lot actually. If you’re beating yourself up because your personal quiet time isn’t as robust as it “should” be, know that there are many ways God feeds his people.

Sometimes I’ll play the audio version of Scripture on the Bible Gateway app on my phone as I drive or clean the kitchen. And if you want something super cool (that your kids will dig), check out Streetlights — the actual Word of God being spoken (with an urban, street vibe) in your home or car, via your earbuds. The spoken Word is a powerful thing and it will not return empty. That’s God’s promise, not mine.

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A Few Final Thoughts: On simplicity, new habits, and real enemies

You may be tempted to run out and buy a pretty new Bible study, Moleskin journal, and fancy pen to start your new Bible routine.

But here’s the thing. New and fresh will only get you so far.

When I needed a different approach this year, I grabbed The Songs of Jesus devotional I already had and an old composition book from ye olde pile of castoff notebooks.

I spent zero dollars. But every day, I feel like I eat a 5-course meal.

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A friend told me this and it’s too good not to share:

The way to become like Jesus is by spending time with Jesus. We can call it spiritual discipline but it’s really just time with him.

The more I feed on God’s Word as my daily sustenance, the more I desire this time with Jesus, the Word who became flesh and came to dwell among us. 

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Some of you have asked what to do when God seems distant, when his Word seems to leave you no different than when you arrived, when it feels like duty instead of desire. I’m familiar with all of these places. And as much as I’d love to talk about it here, I’ve already written too many words for one post. These are topics I’d love to write about in the future because they’re part of my story.

Here’s what I will say right now:

  • Come hungry, asking to be filled.
  • Come seeking and honest, asking to be met in personal ways. Just this morning, my passage in the Psalms began with this question: “Why, Lord, do you stand far off?” It is good and okay to go to him with with our gut-honest questions, feelings, and perceptions. He welcomes us just as we are.
  • Come often. Habits and disciplines can feel awkward and contrived at the beginning. Keep coming to the table hungry and see what happens.

 

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One final word. There is a real enemy who wants to keep you from the sustaining truth you need to receive every day, the truth that enables you to receive your right-now life with hope for the future, with trust in God’s timing, and with the certainty that God is at work even the most mundane or painful seasons of your life.

In Ephesians 6, the passage about putting on the whole armor of God, there is but one offensive weapon mentioned in the entire list. Guess what it is?

“The sword of the Spirit,” the Word of God.

Know that when you are fed, you are able to fight.

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If you have ideas you’d like to share with others, practical ways that you’ve been nourished by God’s Word, share them in the comments! I’m only one person. Let’s learn from one another.

If you have questions you’d like to see me address, I welcome them. You can leave them in the comments section or email me directly.

If this series sounds like something you need, all you have to do is subscribe to this online space. (You can do that in the box below this post.) If you’re already subscribed, yay! You’ll automatically receive it. The series is totally free.

Simply come and receive.

Whenever the latest installment of the series is published, you’ll be the first to know and you won’t miss a post.

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Post 1: How to Live Your Ordinary Life with Extraordinary Purpose

Post 2: The One Word that Forever Changed How I Approach the Bible

Other Resources:

“He leads me beside streams of toilet waters.” (a real-life tale of how Scripture shows up in the mayhem of your right-now life)

The Best Online Bible Studies for Women by Kayse Pratt

Comments

  1. Patricia says

    Please write on GRIEF.

    I work with young & older Widows.
    Last week a 17 year old girl was killed in our community. Excruciating pain for her Mother/family.

  2. Susan says

    I’ve been so looking forward to the next post in this series! Thank you for persevering in getting it out there in the midst of your right-now life.

    Though I definitely feel anemic and need to reevaluate what works for me with my current life, in the past I found it helpful to journal in bullet points and phrases. For some reason, in my head “journaling” looked like a letter of complete sentences for me, making it harder to get started, or finish a thought. Bullet points work better for me.

    And I agree, seeking God in his Word in the midst of grief is another topic I’d love to hear your thoughts on.

  3. Tonyia says

    Thank you again – it seems like each week God is directing you to talk to me! I’ve not had quiet time until recently. All of life’s changes and everything – I needed Him. Finding time each morning to get up and read, write and listen has been hard, but I’m doing it. And honestly, maybe I don’t always feel like I walk away with something new BUT, I feel different – life is different – days are different – and that difference is Him! I want to get closer to Him, and I am getting there. Your blog is helping me to do that! Thank you!

  4. Colette says

    Well I am not surprised some force is trying to block your blogging on this topic! I can’t tell how exactly but there’s something powerful in your way of writing the real! Food for thought again and spur to action and heartwarming encouragement. Keep fighting for your writing!

  5. says

    I just started using the Read Scripture app and I LOVE it. I love that they give background and history and make connections that I wouldn’t be able to make on my own with the videos included.

  6. Susan says

    Great posts on Scripture! I am going to BSF this year for the first time, and it is because I read about it on your blog one time. Thank you — I love it! I agree — I always have my homework, so the BSF somewhat like school thing works well for me and keeps me accountable.

  7. Lynette says

    THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!!
    your posts all minister to my heart so much!
    This one helped in multiple ways, mostly by helping me not feel guilt anymore for not being in a “Ladies Bible study group”.! I feel freedom! I learn best on my own, and I am going to embrace that more, and stop the “guilt thing”, and devour more Jesus food.
    Thanks again for standing strong and giving us this word, you have feed me life.

  8. Leanne Culshaw-Ewert says

    Great post! Reminds me of a few approaches I haven’t done / haven’t tried for a while. I didn’t even know about the Read Scripture App! I go to BSF (this is my 4th year) – they’re introducing a few changes to make it less intimidating. However structured or not the type of study, it is a blessing to spend time with Christ in His Word!

  9. Nicole Arias says

    Marian, I feel God is calling us all to simply His Word. You and I are so many states away and so many years without conversation, but He has so called me to the same….enough fast food devotionals, I desperately need more of Him which is found in His Word, not the smatterings of other people’s thoughts. No joke, I am pretty much teaching your new method to a group this semester. My goal is for us to study the Word first, for ourselves, making observations as you say. And then, we look at commentary. We are blessed to walk this as a group at this time, but my goal is that they each feel equipped to do it on their own, not feeling the need to be dependent on the latest devotional or the latest emotion driven women’s Bible Study. Author Jenn Wilkin has so influenced my drive and passion to encourage other women to get into God’s Word for themselves. She says about God, “The heart can not love what the mind does not know.” And she continues saying that we must use our minds as we approach God’s Word to know who God is, so that we can truly love Him!

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