How to Study the Bible Effectively and Hear from God
I had been a Christian for most of my life, but I did not know how to hear from God. When people would say things like, “I feel led to do this,” or “God told me that,” it would only discourage me. How much of a super-Christian did I have to be to finally hear God speaking clearly to me?
One day, a mentor explained that God desires to speak to His children because He wants to have a two-way relationship with each of us. In fact, He does speak to us all the time. We just have to learn to listen.
“How do I listen?” I asked.
She began to describe praying first during one’s devotional time and then reading the Bible for God’s response. She told me that the Bible is more sure than even an audible word from God, and especially more than a feeling. All experiences are to be judged by the infallible standard of the Bible. The Word of God is living and active, and God uses it to speak to His children. (Hebrews 4:12)
She advised to not jump around in Scripture seeking a word from God, but to read exactly where I had left off the day before. In other words, God does not need us to try to read only Scriptures that we think will apply to our situations. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (II Timothy 3:16-17)
Furthermore, if we do not perceive any answers to our questions in our daily reading, God will still answer us in His timing. Perhaps the lesson of His answer will unfold in time. No matter what, leading from the Holy Spirit will come. The Lord is faithful!
A dear pastor friend used to say that knowing God’s voice was like loving moon pies. When you know and love moon pies, you will recognize the counterfeits. It doesn’t matter if it looks like a moon pie, feels like a moon pie, or someone you trust tells you it’s a moon pie. If it is not a real moon pie, you know it. God’s voice should be like that for Christians. We should know our Father's voice so well that we can easily recognize counterfeits.
After my mentor taught me how to hear from God, I set out to put it to the test. A new girl at church needed a roommate. Everyone was looking to me since she and I were the same age, and I was currently living by myself. The trouble was that I had been burned by roommates in the past. I did not know this girl, and I especially did not want to do anything God did not want me to do.
I prayed, “Okay, Lord. You showed me how to hear from You. I’m reaching out in faith. What should I do?”
Not really believing I was super-Christian enough to recognize God's voice, but hoping it would work anyway, I opened my Bible and read my Scripture reading for the day. A verse seemed to jump off the page.
Practice hospitality. (Romans 12:13b)
I stared at the words in shock. I could have believed it was just a strange coincidence. You readers could believe that, too. The thing was, I felt the words.
I felt a jolt followed by a deep peace in my spirit. I couldn’t explain it, but I just knew the Lord was telling me to open my home to the new girl!
It turned out to be one of the best roommate situations of my life, and she and I were both grateful that God had put us together.
As time went on, I began to hear from God more and more. I realized that He had probably always been speaking. I had just not been listening, or I had not recognized His voice.
I was so humbled. I could hardly believe God had not only died for us, but this was what He died for! To be able to be in a real relationship with us! He really did want to speak to me, just like my mentor told me.
I’ll never forget the joy of first recognizing the still, small voice of God.
I hope my story has encouraged you. However, receiving directives from the Lord is not the only reason for Bible Study. The Bible instructs us to love the Word of God and to meditate on it daily. God's Word equips a Christian for service. It is our spiritual food. It reveals God’s will for our lives. The Holy Spirit uses it to teach us to become more like Jesus.
(If you are not a Christian, see this article for an explanation of how and why to become one! Jesus loves you and has been waiting for you. Get to know Him today.)
So, let's do it! Below is a simple guide for how to study the Bible to hear from God.
The Bible contains 66 documents that were inspired by God. Thirty-nine are gathered into the Old Testament, and 27 make up the New Testament. Prophets, priests, kings and leaders from Israel wrote the Old Testament in Hebrew. The apostles and their associates wrote the books of the New Testament in Greek.
The Old Testament is divided like this:
The Law – (5 books) Genesis – Deuteronomy
History – (12 books) Joshua – Esther
Wisdom - (5 books) Job-Song of Solomon
Major Prophets - (5 books) Isaiah – Daniel
Minor Prophets - (12 books) Hosea - Malachi
Between the Old Testament and the New, there was 400 years of silence, when God did not speak through prophets or inspire any other writers of Scripture.
The New Testament begins with the birth of Christ and spans all the way to the end of the world as we know it. Therefore, the Bible tells us what has been, beginning with the Creation of the world, and what is yet to come, ending with the Consummation – the end of time.
The New Testament is divided like this:
The four Gospels of the New Testament record Jesus’ birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension to heaven.
The book of Acts tells the story of how the Christian church came to be during the early years of preaching by the apostles. The church was established in Judea, Samaria and into the Roman Empire.
The 21 epistles (letters) that follow Acts were written to churches and individuals.
The last book of the Bible, Revelation, culminates with Christ’s return to establish His earthly kingdom. After the millennial reign of the Lord, there will be the last judgment. Believers throughout all history will enter ultimate eternal glory, and all the ungodly will be consigned to eternal punishment.
Though the Bible was written over a 1,500-year period, it is one book with one Divine Author. Over the centuries, three principles were used to determine if writings were inspired by God or not. First, the document had to have a recognized prophet or apostle as its author, or one associated with them. Second, the document could not disagree with or contradict previous Scripture. Lastly, the writing had to have general consensus by the church as inspired.
Various councils met in church history to consider the canon of Scripture. The canon of the Old Testament conforms to the Old Testament canon of Christ’s day, since the New Testament writers quote from it. By the way, the Apocrypha was not given this honor and authority by Christ or His apostles.
Miraculously, the prophet Isaiah tells us that God’s Word is guaranteed to be preserved. (Isaiah 40:8) No inspired Scripture has been lost or altered through time. God intended His Word to abide forever, and it will.
If you are in the market for a Bible, consider spending the extra money on a study Bible, which will include notes to help you understand what you are reading. You will also notice that there are several different translations of the Bible available. Some of the English translations may be easier to understand than others. The New King James Version (NKJV), New International Version (NIV) and the English Standard Version (ESV) are popular translations today for comprehension. The language of the King James Version (KJV) clearly reflects the Elizabethan period, though it’s still a favorite.
*Note about translations: Bible translations are all the inspired Word of God even if they are written a little differently. Translation is a process where a text in one language is transformed into an equivalent text in another. However, with so many meanings of the original words, and so many English words to choose from with similar meanings, different translators made their best selections. For example, there are four different Hebrew words for our English word “love,” and each of the four has a unique meaning. Any time the Bible uses the word “love,” it is interesting to investigate which kind was meant.
Step One: Read Daily
Psalm 1:1-2 reads: Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.
If you are a new Christian, begin with the New Testament.
If you are not a Christian, turn away from your sin and turn toward God today! You will receive the Holy Spirit of God in your life, Who will reveal the Scriptures to you as you read them. Otherwise, your mind will stay blinded. (II Corinthians 4:4)
Step Two: Interpret What You Read
As you read a Bible passage, ask yourself questions like, "What is Jesus teaching His disciples?" "How can I disciple people like Jesus did?" "How do I apply this passage to my life?"
However, beware. A true seeker must always avoid making the Bible say what he or she wants. You do not want to say, “To me, this passage means this…” The Bible is not subjective. There is a true interpretation, and you can find it.
Christian leaders tell students of the Word to “interpret the Bible with the Bible.” This means cross-referencing other Scriptures, looking up original word meanings, and understanding culture.
First, the Bible was written in Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic. Understanding the original meaning of a word can be the key to interpreting a passage of Scripture. Learn to use a concordance to the Bible for this.
Next, Scripture must be viewed in the context of the culture of the time when it was written. A little bit of knowledge of first-century Jewish culture will help understand the Gospels, for instance. The easiest way to get started with this is to obtain a study Bible so that historic notes about passages can be easily referenced. For Bible students who are ready to dive deeper, a good Bible dictionary or Bible encyclopedia would be useful for helping place people, events and geography in Bible history.
Thirdly, there are four principles that should guide Bible students when making interpretations. The first is the Literal Principle. Scripture should be understood in its literal, normal, natural sense. The second is the Historical Principle. Ask what the text meant to the people to whom it was written. The third is the Grammatical Principle. A sentence may become clearer if you look more closely at the grammar, the verb tense, and so on. The fourth is the Synthesis Principle. Since the Bible does not contradict itself, if an interpretation of a passage contradicts a truth taught elsewhere in Scripture, the interpretation cannot be correct.
Over time, you will notice that as you study, correlate, cross-reference, and connect the doctrine of one passage to that of another, a bigger picture will start to form. Since the Bible is one book, its truths and principles are taught over and over to make one big story. Bible study causes a sound doctrinal foundation to be built.
Step Three: Evaluate Your Interpretation
Once you have arrived at your conclusions, it is time to consult others to help ensure you have the proper interpretation. Accountability is important. Bible commentaries are a good resource for this. Many are found online. Take any confusion and questions to pastors or leaders of your Bible-believing church.
Step Four: Apply What You Learn
Ask yourself, “How do I apply this to my life?” Studying Scripture without learning to apply it is fruitless effort. Jesus said, “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (John 13:17) That is a promise of God!
Therefore, if there is a command to be obeyed, obey it. If a promise to claim, claim it. If a warning to be followed, heed it. Submit to Scripture, and let it change your life.
Meg Grimm writes biblical studies and research articles that help set women free from impractical standards of the world. She strives to unveil true beauty and sensible body care principles from a godly perspective.