How I Write a Bible Study – Practical Bible Study without a Study Guide
One of the biggest questions I get from others is: “How do you get insights and real application out of the Bible?” I remember when I was younger and the boys were little and my life was hectic, that I KNEW the Bible had the answers, but HOW did I get to them? I could (and did) read the Bible. I participated in Bible study, I read Bible study books. And while I learned from that, it also meant that I was constantly looking for books to fit whatever season or trial I was going through to help me pick out truths from the Bible. I was always looking for someone else to hold my hand, who had already dug into the Bible and was able to point out to me what they learned. But I neglected the Bible because I was searching for answers somewhere (everywhere!) else.
Can you relate? Am I the only one?
This is why I started writing the Journal and Doodle Bible studies, and why I keep making different journals and guides to help you interact with the Word in different ways. But… I totally understand that even those things can be overwhelming at times. Wouldn’t it be great if we could just regularly study the Bible (without someone telling us what to learn or write in the blank) and have answers to the ROOT of problems, rather than hunt for detailed how-to’s to superficially treat issues?
Yes, yes it would.
And we can!
Since I’m writing a new study on 1 Peter, and since a dear friend asked me HOW I learn from the Bible, I thought this might be a nice chance to jump in and just show you the basics of what I do to learn from a book before I start writing about it. Be forewarned, it’s not a glamorous process. But man, it’s SO worth it! When you look up from where you are mining into the Word and see a sparkling gem peeking out from the pages, it is awesome. When you pick the gem up and examine it closely, from every angle possible, (Biblical meditation) that’s when life change happens. That’s when the root of the issue starts to be dealt with.
I would ABSOLUTELY love it if the women of God who struggle like I did would be able to mine out precious gems for themselves and no longer need any Bible study–mine or anyone else’s–because they are going straight to the source itself!
So since my friend asked, here’s a letter to her, that you get to be a part of too. Be sure to write back in the comments below if this is helpful for you and if you’d like me to continue posting about this.
How I Write a Bible Study
You asked me how I learn from the Bible. You asked if I have questions I ask myself to gain insights. Yes, I do, but I don’t have a list of them to give you. It’s actually more of a process that takes time… But not so much time that you need hours and hours each day. You can do this within any span of time, it just will take more spans if they are shorter in duration. Either way, do what works for this season of your life. (This is why I take a slow year every year or so. There is huge value in reading the Bible through in a year–like being on a train, traversing the country of the Bible– but I also really treasure a year of working in the coal mines, digging out gems too.) It is so worth it! Because when I mine a truth out on my own, without others doing the hard work, I remember what I learned and it is more potent and able to do some real, lasting heart work. DIY may not be the fastest, but you certainly get to know a lot more about the object that way!
Read the Whole Book
When I prepare to start a new book, I try to read the entire book through at least once, in one sitting. This is hard, and I honestly don’t always do it, but it is great if you can focus your attention enough to understand the flow of the book. When the boys were little, and I was tired, I could never focus well enough to make sense of what I was reading for more than a chapter or two. Do what you can. If you have to read just a chapter at a time, do that.
Next, look up a good overview of the book (or if you have a study Bible, read through the intro notes at the start of the book) then skim through the book, reading the column titles or headlines, so you get an idea of what the book is covering. (Obviously these are not inspired, but they were written by people who studied the Word deeply, so they are worth taking advantage of!) I usually make a journal page listing bullet points from the book’s introduction, and make a list of all the headlines in the book. It’s pretty cool having them all out on a page to get the flow of the book!
Pray for insight and wisdom
This is such a cliche thing to say and when I was taught these seemingly boring things in my early years of being a Christian (read the book, pray for wisdom), I thought, “Ya, ya, ya… get to the meat and potatoes though… what do I actually have to do to learn and fix this problem?” I wanted the Matrix download. The 15 minute podcast. The Twitter Bible. I wanted easy skills and instant knowledge. So I would hear this, maybe try it a bit, and then search for a new book with beautiful cover and clever title that promised something close to that instant skill set I wanted. I just wanted to deal with the problem that was in my face at the moment. But, the truth is, the Bible is the inspired Word of God, and you, believer, have the Holy Spirit who inspired it living inside you. Welcome Him into your time in His Word. Take time to read slowly. Allow Him to speak to you through it. Ask the best teacher in the entire universe to help you understand what He wrote. He will do it.
Read one chapter and look for thought breaks
The next thing I do is read through the chapter slowly, thinking through where the text changes to a new thought. When I see a break, I put a faint line in between each section. Sometimes I have to read and re-read a chapter multiple times just to do this. I’m not looking for the perfect grammatical formula, this is not an English class and there is no test and you are not required to share what you got with others (the worst!). Just take the text as it is, and where it seems that maybe a new thought comes in, just break it up there.
This takes a big chapter with lots of thoughts and information and breaks it down into smaller, bite-sized pieces that are “meditatable.” There is HUGE value, however, in reading and re-reading that chapter as you cut it into sections. It will help you later! Don’t rush this process, enjoy it.
So, C, that’s all I’ll write in this letter. I encourage you to find a short book, and test it out. Start with reading it though, praying over it, summarizing it, and breaking it up. Write back soon and let me know how it goes. I’ll write more later with next steps if you’d like.
And to the rest of you, write back too! Let me know how you have approached Bible study in the past, what your frustrations have been, and if you try this out, let me know. If it seems like this might be a valuable topic, I’ll make it into a series. Let me know!
Lots of love,
P.S. The Bible I use is this one, and the journal I use for studying a book is this one. But use whatever you have!
I love this teaching. I struggle so much trying to study the bible. I do not know where or how to start. I feel like I am just reading it and not getting it. Thank you!!!! I hope you do more. Cheryl
I definitely will! Stay tuned!
Hi Kari – Thanks for sharing! Would definitely love to hear more about your process. I totally relate to wanting to find the next beautiful book with the clever title that will give me the immediate skills mine all the gems. I have the horrible tendency to gloss over all the hard work it takes to get good at the skills. And then I get discouraged and impatient. And move on to the next beautiful book with the clever title…I am working on it though. Appreciate all your wonderful insights!
YESSS to the beautiful books! Ugh! Together (with lots of GRACE!) we can change though, right? So thankful for each new day and new mercies!
Thank you Kari for letting us see “behind the curtain.” I get stuck in the loop of “read through the Bible” in 90 days/365 days etc. But it doesn’t seem to stick, I’m just ticking the box of “read the Bible today.” 2020 was the first year I read the entire Bible in a year (NT & Psalms twice) I almost did it in 2021, but lost steam in December because of . . . well life. I switched to a 5 day reading/listening plan for 2022 but again it seems like I am just doing the motions and I don’t want the “app” to keep prompting me to listen to today’s reading and get behind. I look forward to you continuing this series. I really enjoy your posts! On another note: we are planning to turn our front yard into a garden with berry bushes instead of the ornamental ones and true apple trees instead of the useless crabapple. It has the best sun exposure and is away from the huge black walnut in our backyard that is not friendly to any vegetables. I hope you have a great day.
Oh I’d love to talk gardens and Bible with you! What a great idea with the berry bushes and trees! I haven’t touched our front yard, it sounds like yours, everything planted was pretty, but useless. Maybe next year I’ll tackle that!
Absolutely, please do a series on this very concept.
I have two bookcases, full of books on different ideas about the Bible or specific scriptures, Bible studies, etc, and they just sit there collecting dust. I am afraid to get rid of them because I know one day I will want that very book.
You hit the nail on the head when you said that you have to dig for yourself to find your own gems. Understanding a scripture is a very personal process. We can each read the words, but the take away is different for each one of us. Just because Joyce Meyer got this concept from reading it, doesn’t mean I have the same take away. And the next time I read that same Scripture, it can mean something else to me.
That’s the beauty of God’s word. I is always relevant regardless of what century it is.
I guess I have always known this, but never gave it life until reading this.
Thank you for serving God and answering your calling.
God’s Word is definitely living and active, for sure! I will definitely continue this series! Thank you for the encouragement!
Kari, I love your journal/doodle Bible studies. I get so much out of them and I go back and read through my notebooks. I do not like read and fill in the blank studies. I want to be in God’s word not someone else’s word. After doing several of your doodle studies I did the Book of Job on my own in the journal style. I used overviews and a favorite commentary to focus on main ideas. I got so much out of Job which I never understood before. So please continue with this series! And I encourage others to step out of your comfort zone and the shadow of others’ knowledge and do your own Bible study. Thank you for your wonderful material.
I LOVE that you read through your notebooks too! I was just reviewing one of my I Will Meditate guides because I remembered I had studied it before! What a wonderful testimony about your time in Job! I will definitely continue the series. Thanks for your encouragement!
Kari, you have been instrumental in my studying the Word in a new and deeper way! I started on your challenge of Psalm 119. Although I didn’t finish the whole chapter, I felt like a was in a gold mine discovering one gem after another. Then I moved on to several of your journal and doodle Bible studies. Again, they were the source of great encouragement and enjoyment as I worked through each one. I was not settling on a ‘read-through-the-Bible plan for this year, and then I lost the first half of this month due to the death of my sister-in-law and all the work that ensued in taking care of her house and belongings. I had pretty much decided to do some book studies this year instead of reading through the Bible again. My husband and I also gave a challenge to our 14 grandchildren aged 3-15 that we would take anyone who memorized the book of James by July on a week vacation. If they learned 4 chapters, a four day trip, three chapters a three day trip, etc. Some are working on it and I have sent some study helps to them as well. I also love using the Hebrew/Greek Study Bible and have sent them copies of the chapter with deeper meanings for important words. I had decided to start with studying the book of James for my Bible study time and this post popped up today. I will enjoy using your ideas as I dig into the book of James. And yes, it also means that my husband and I are working on memorizing the book as well. It is probably a bigger challenge to us than them. We have the motivation, but memorizing Scripture has been difficult for me since college days. I think you also had a post on Bible memory that encouraged reading a passage 50 times before starting to try to memorize it. As we have traveled for a couple of funerals in the past month or so, we have been listening to the book of James over and over. Again, I thank you for the help that you have been to me in helping my Bible study time be one of rich delight! I always look forward to reading your posts of encouragement!
What a wonderful idea and could there be a better legacy then encouraging your grandchildren in this way. I am so glad to hear you and your husband are also working on it together. I pray God will pour out blessing on you and your generations to follow you.
Yes please Kari make this into a series.
Yes! Psalm 119 is SUCH a gold mine! And what an awesome challenge! I hope you and your grandchildren memorize it all and share that wonderful memory!
This was so helpful. I would love if you would continue the series! I’ve done many different studies over the years, alone and in groups. I’ve loved your studies and like to go back and forth between overview and digging deep. But this particular post was so clear and concise. Especially love the idea of listing all the headings of the chapters/sections in one spot before you start. Thanks so much for all the time you take to share what you’ve learned!
Thanks Rachel! I will continue the series! Thanks for the encouragement!
I have been looking for a new bible study to do in our very small small group. I think this might be prefect. If not, I will be doing it. Thank you Kari.
Thank you for sharing this with all of us! You’ve put so beautifully into words what I’ve felt for a long time! I work with college age girls and I’m excited to pass this along to them.
That’s awesome! Thank you for the encouragement!
Thank you for sharing, Kari. Please continue and help us all!
I definitely will! Thanks for the encouragement!
I am so happy I came across this article in search of a method to do a book, verse by verse study on my own. I wanted to do something more than complete the required list of readings to get through the bible. Nothing wrong with that, but, at this time, that feels like just checking a box. I noted you suggested to start with a short book and one of the ladies spoke about the book of James, so I decided to begin there, which I did today. I am looking forward to what you have to tell us next.
This is wonderful, Kari! Thanks for sharing your process with us.