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General Bible Courses > Living by the Book > Studying by the Book

Chapter 6: Bible Study Techniques


IN THIS CHAPTER, you will discover:  

*    Verse study techniques.  

*    Analytical study techniques.  

*    Synthetic study techniques.  

*    Topical study techniques.  

*    Biographical study techniques.  

*    Devotional study techniques.      

AS A RESULT, you will be able to:  

*    Analyze individual verses.  

*    Evaluate texts in detail.  

*    Investigate books of the Bible as a whole.  

*    Research interesting and important topics.  

*    Learn from the experiences of Bible characters. 

*    Grow continually in intimacy with God.

Verse Analysis Method

Key Scripture: “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God” (1 John 3:9).

Verse analysis is the simplest and most commonly used technique in methodical Bible study. Your textbook contains excellent examples of applied verse studies. Familiarize yourself with them. To help you acquire skill in verse analysis, we will walk you through an additional study here. Fill in the blanks below, or record your answers elsewhere.

Our target verse is the Key Scripture. The KJV translation of this verse reads: “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” The idea that a Christian “cannot sin” has confused many, especially since John says earlier in his letter: “If we claim we have not sinned, we make him [God] out to be a liar . . .” (1:10; cf. v. 9). The NIV translation clarifies John’s intended meaning by stressing his choice of verb tense (present infinitive). John is stating that a Christian “cannot go on sinning” heedlessly, habitually, and wholeheartedly. This resolves some of the perplexity surrounding the verse, but not all. Even mature Christians succumb to temptation. What does John mean by “sin,” “God’s seed,” and “born of God”? This is a verse that warrants continued study and reflection.

Step One. Observe the immediate context.

(O) Observe the verses that immediately precede and follow verse 9 (vv. 8 and 10).

Step Two. Make initial observations, interpretations, and applications.

(O) These verses contrast two groups, the “children of God” and the “children of the devil.”

(O) We see a repetition of the phrase “born of God” in verse 9.

(O) One who is “born of God” cannot “continue” or “go on” sinning because “God’s seed remains in him” (a cause and effect relationship).
(O) In verse 10 two types of action are said to characterize a child of God — to “do what is right” and to “love his brother.”

(O) An explanation for the appearance of the Son of God is given in verse 8: “to destroy the devil’s work.”

(I) Children of God naturally do the works of their father — righteousness and love — while children of the devil naturally sin. The “child” has, and expresses, the nature of the “parent.” What does it mean to be “born of God” or to be “children of God”?

(I) John’s metaphor of the “seed” suggests a power that is in the process of growing and expanding in the believer. The verb tenses in verse 9 (“continue”; “go on”) also imply process, development, and action over time.

(A) Do my actions show that I am a child of God? Am I growing in works of righteousness?

Step Three. Rewrite each verse in your own words.


Step Four. Correlate each verse (sample correlations are given below).

Verse 8 — John 8:44; Matt. 4:3; Heb. 2:14
Verse 9 — Ps. 119:3; John 1:13; 1 John 3:6; 5:18; 1 Peter 1:23
Verse 10 — 1 John 1:12-13; 2:9; 3:1-2; 4:8

Step Five. Specify life applications (example given).

(A) Do you know Jesus as the one who appeared to “destroy the devil’s work” in your life? Is the Holy Spirit cautioning you to cease sinning in some particular area(s)?


Step Six. Define pivotal ideas (examples below).

The central focus of verse 9 is the tension between “sin” and “God’s seed.” We may define sin biblically as “lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). “God’s seed” is His divine nature, spirit, and will, which by their very nature accord with the highest law, the law of love (4:16). Thus, lawlessness and love are at war in those who are “born of God,” and only one can finally prevail. Since the child will inevitably be like the parent, those who are “born of God” should show signs that the light within them is overcoming the darkness.

Step Seven. Distill the essence of the verse in your own words.

Step Eight. Chart the passage.

Step Nine. Choose a title for the passage.

Analytical Method

Key Scripture: “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

Our textbook compares the analytical method of Bible study to looking through a microscope. Like verse study, it concentrates on the immediate details of the text. However, the analytical method focuses on larger portions of Scripture than verse study. Again, excellent examples of analytical technique appear in the textbook. Study these carefully.

In our exercise below we have room to give only sample observations, correlations, interpretations, and applications. Since analytical study is more lengthy than verse study, you should record your observations on a separate sheet of paper. For the sake of continuity, we will remain in John’s first epistle. Our target text will be 4:7-21.

Step One. List all observations, problems, cross-references, and applications that occur to you as you read the text. You can add to this list as you progress through the study (SIAB, p. 25 and the examples given below).

(O) While we usually consider the head and the heart “separate,” John says we know God through love, because God is love (vv. 7-8).

(C) Verse 7 — 1 John 2:4-5; cf. John 14:21; 15:17; also see “Knowledge,” pp. 97-98 and “Love,” pp. 103-5 in the NIVTSB.

(I) What kind of love, among all the “loves” with which we are familiar, is John speaking about? What distinguishes agape from other kinds of love? Is there any similarity between them?

(A) Are there “loves” in my life that do not measure up to John’s standard? Should they be purified or eliminated?

(C) Verse 10 — Romans 5:7-10.

(O) John says the source of our love is not only the being of God, but also the revelation of God that occurred in Christ’s incarnation (vv. 10, 19). God’s act of love in sending his Son is to be our standard for knowing and expressing love (vv. 11, 17).

(O) John’s two evidences that God lives in someone are the presence of love and the acknowledgment that Jesus is the Son of God (v. 15).

(C) Verse 15—2:23; 3:23.

(O) As God’s love is perfected in us, we experience the presence of confidence and the absence of fear (vv. 16-18).

(C) Verse 17 — Ephesians 3:12; Verse 18 — 3:19-22; Romans 8:15.

(I) Why does perfect love eliminate fear?

(A) What do I fear? How does fear in my life indicate sin?

(O) “Love your brother” is not a suggestion but a commandment (v. 21).


Step Two. List the key thoughts for each verse. For example, the key thought for verse 7 might read: “To love others with God’s love is to know God.” (Note: John repeats his main points in cycles throughout his epistle, so there will be some duplication in your list of key thoughts.)

Step Three. Make a summary of key thoughts for each segment of verses (see SIAB, p. 29). Group your verse segments according to the paragraph divisions in the NIVTSB (7-12; 13-16a; 16b-18; 19-21). The summary thought for verses 7-12 might be: “Two ways of knowing the God who is love.”

Step Four. Choose one application that occurred to you and focus on it. Duplicate the steps shown in the example below with an application that the Holy Spirit has given you. 

1. State the guiding principle: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (4:18).

2. State the application: One who is filled with the love of God — that is, completely submitted and obedient to Him — need have no fear.

3. State the problem: Fear of underachievement.

4. State the solution: Though the primary emphasis in 4:18 is freedom from the fear of God’s judgment, the secondary emphasis is that the perfect love of God frees us from all anxiety (4:16). If I believe that God is truly for me, no one and nothing can triumph over me (Rom. 8:15, 31). I can be content in all situations for nothing can separate me from God’s love (Rom. 8:38-39; Phil. 4:11-13). He can be trusted to give me the desires of my heart in His own way (Ps. 37:4; Rom. 8:32). My confidence in God brings a peace that passes understanding, which nothing can take away (John 14:27; Phil. 4:7)

5. State the specific thing that God would have you do: Fear is a human emotion that I cannot entirely escape. In fact, to live without a sense of discretion and caution would be reckless. But gnawing anxiety about the future is not of God. When I begin to fret over how I will accomplish my goals, I must bring my thoughts into submission and realize that God is sovereign and loving. Because this is so, chronic worry is really a lack of faith, a kind of atheism. I will do my best and let God do the rest. I will recall this ancient inscription: “Fear knocked at the door. Faith answered. No one was there.”

Synthetic Method

Key Scripture: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13).

Our textbook author, Walter Henrichsen, compares the detail-oriented analytical method of Bible study to the use of a microscope. Following that analogy, the synthetic method of study may be compared to a telescope. With this method we look at the entire panorama of a biblical book, investigate its general structure, and observe how the author has developed his central theme. The analytical and synthetic approaches complement one another. One is incomplete without the other. Any serious Bible study must contain both critical dimensions. To illustrate this truth, we will focus again on John’s first epistle. The insights discovered in the last two lessons will be sharpened and clarified when understood in the context of John’s original intent in writing this epistle.

Step One. Read the book through carefully, preferably at one sitting. As with the analytical method, list all observations, problems, cross-references, and applications that occur to you as you read. You will be continually revising this list as you progress through the other steps of the study. (A sample list appears below.)

Step Two. Read the book through a second time, focusing on the way the writer develops his argument. List the key thoughts and major themes of the book. Watch for connective phrases and conjunctions that signal the beginnings of important segments.

Step Three. Read the book a third time, looking for the predominant theme of the entire book. Note how that theme is developed in terms of the key thoughts you have recorded in the previous step. In your own words, summarize the central thought of the book.

Step Four. Read the book a fourth time. Draw up an outline of the book that reflects the major breaks, key themes, and overall thrust of the work (see sample in SIAB, p. 43).

Step Five. Summarize the historical background of the book, using the IBC, NIDB, the book introductions in the NIVTSB, and any other scholarly resources you have. This is a crucial step. Remember that the primary task of biblical interpretation is to reveal the message that the author intended his original readers to understand. As you come to understand the historical context of a book, you will quickly see whether you have been on the right track in your observation and interpretation. There is a great deal of personal satisfaction in confirming that you have truly “heard” the voice of the inspired author as a result of your careful research.

Step Six. Focus on one application that occurred to you and explore it as you did in Step Four (see also SIAB, pp. 129-34). More advanced synthetic study techniques are found in your textbook on pages 45-49.

Now that we have summarized the techniques of synthetic study, let’s look at some examples from 1 John.

(O) Repeated words or themes in 1 John include: life/eternal life (1:2; 3:14-16); light/darkness (1:5-7; 2:9-10); truth/falsehood (1:6; 5:20); love (2:15; 4:7-12); knowledge (2:3; 4:7); obedience (2:3-5; 5:3); fellowship (1:3, 4:21); belief in the humanity and divinity of Christ (2:22; 4:2); being children of God (3:9; 5:1); and the importance of living righteous lives (1:8-9; 3:7). You may list further references to the above themes or to others.

(O) Much of the language and many of the themes of the epistle are reminiscent of the gospel of John. Some parallel phrases include [epistle] 1:1—[gospel] 1:1,14; [epistle] 1:4—[gospel]16:24; [epistle] 1:6-7—[gospel] 3:19-21. Can you find others?

(I) Similarities in phraseology, style, and tone suggest that the author of the epistle was the author of the gospel, as tradition indicates.

(O) There are warnings throughout the letter concerning the world (2:15-17); antichrists (2:18); schismatics (2:19); and testing the spirits of prophets (4:1-3). John’s central intent in writing the epistle is revealed in 2:26.

(I) Who was leading believers (2:12-14) “astray” (2:26; 3:7)?

(O) According to the historical information in the IBC, pages 1571-72, John’s letter was a response to the crisis caused by gnosticism. Gnostics taught that matter was evil, therefore the Incarnation was not genuine. According to the gnostic teacher Cerinthus, “the Christ” came upon the man Jesus at His baptism and left before His crucifixion. The message of the gospel was stripped of its ethical content and reinterpreted along strictly intellectual and mystical lines by gnostics. The elite who attain the “light” of gnosis considered themselves “emancipated from the morality which governed the unenlightened.” They alone truly knew God and had true knowledge. Complete salvation was realized in the present; there was no further resurrection or judgment to look forward to (2 Tim. 2:18).

In light of this historical understanding, the real meaning of John’s epistle becomes apparent. We can grasp for the first time the full intent of 3:9, the subject of the verse analysis in our first lesson. There John refuted the gnostic claim to be above good and evil and thus unable to sin. He affirmed that the reception of God’s seed was the true key to overcoming sin and that moral living and love for the brethren were the signs of having received true gnosis. John’s letter is, in essence, a point-by-point refutation of each of the gnostic teachings listed in the paragraph above (see, for example, 1:8; 2:3, 22; 4:2, 17; 5:20). Read the epistle again with this perspective in mind. As a final exercise, consider the following application:

(A) Do I encounter any doctrines today that echo gnostic teachings? Can I counter these teachings effectively and contend for the faith (Jude 3)?

Topical Method

Key Scripture: "Choose my instruction instead of silver, knowledge rather than choice gold" (Prov. 8:10).  

The topical study method is practical, easy to use, and leads to a systematic understanding of Scripture. Its adaptability allows you to tailor Bible study to meet your present needs and interests. By picking a single theme and "chasing" it through Scripture, you can understand the theme in light of the entirety of God's diverse revelation. It is then easier to live in harmony with God's will and wisdom in that area of your life.  

Because of the vastness of Scripture, it is often necessary to limit the scope of your subject to carry out a topical study effectively. To look up and evaluate every reference to "sin," "love," or "man," for example, would be a hopelessly overwhelming task. When working with such broad themes, pick a manageable subtopic, such as "Jesus' teaching on sin" or "love in the gospel of John." Be careful, however, to consider the progressive nature of revelation in evaluating your subject. A study of "atonement" that leaves out Paul's explanation of Christ's work on the cross would be incomplete. Similarly, an attempt to understand Paul's arguments about the atonement without background knowledge of Old Testament sacrificial practices would be incomplete.  

To perform a topical study, you need the right tools. Your NIV Topical Study Bible is, of course, a great help. An important additional tool to consider is the NIV Exhaustive Concordance. 

Word study books, based on the original languages, will help you dig into the original meaning of biblical words. Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words is a popular starter resource. The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, now abridged in one volume, and the four-volume New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology are excellent, more advanced resources. For Old Testament word study, the two-volume Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament is outstanding. Roget's Thesaurus and Webster's Dictionary are useful for finding synonyms for the terms being researched.    

Seven Steps of Topical Study    

Step One. Choose a topic of interest to you. What one word best summarizes the topic? Write down this target word along with several synonyms. Why is the topic of interest to you? What questions do you want answered in the course of your study? Write down the main goal or purpose for undertaking this particular topical study. Using your resource materials, look up and list several scripture references for your target word and its synonyms (you need not be exhaustive in listing references). If your target topic was "assurance," some useful synonyms would be testimony, promise, trust, guarantee, pledge, confidence, and security. Using a concordance or topical Bible, locate passages in which these words appear and list them vertically on the left-hand margin of the page.  

Step Two. Keeping your central question in mind, investigate the texts you have listed (see SIAB, pp. 54-57). As usual, think in terms of observation, interpretation, correlation, and application. Remember to ask "Who?" "What?" "When?" "Where?" "Why?" and "How?" Nouns often provide clues about the five W's of the passages under study. Verbs help you understand "How?" As you ponder verbs, be application-minded. If the Holy Spirit prompts you to take action in some area of your life, write it down.    

Step Three. Return to the verses you accumulated in Step One and write the key thought of each verse next to the reference in your own words. Next to James 4:7 you might write: "I have assurance that Satan cannot harm me if I am submitted to God." Next to 1 John 1:8-10 you might write: "I have assurance of forgiveness if I confess my sin." Next to 1 John 5:14-15 you might write: "I have assurance of answered prayer if I remain in Christ."    

Step Four.  Arrange the verses you have researched into logical subtopics. Common key thoughts naturally suggest these subtopics. For example, the three verses above might be combined under the subtopic, "Submission to God brings assurance."  

Step Five. Identify a key verse for each subtopical category.   

Step Six. Identify a key verse for the entire study. This verse should summarize all that you have learned and motivate you to put your knowledge to practical use. Memorize this verse so that the Holy Spirit can more readily apply what you have learned in day-to-day living. A key memory verse for your study on assurance might be: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight" (Prov. 3:5-6).  

Step Seven. Choose one application from those you have listed and  focus on taking concrete action in that area. (Refer to the sequences under Step Four of Analytical Bible Study in the Study Guide.) Do you need to repent of some sin? Ask forgiveness of someone? Make reparation for some damage you have inflicted? Decide what your first step should be and then do it.  

Practice and share the truths you have discovered. Preserve your topical studies in a notebook, adding insights and questions periodically. You may want to keep a spiritual diary and record your successes and failures as you seek to apply what you have learned. This takes courage and determination, but the rewards include accelerated spiritual growth and deeper knowledge of yourself and God! Spiritual growth, like intellectual growth, consists largely of learning the same lessons over and over again until they are internalized. Keeping a spiritual diary will improve your spiritual memory, sharpen your conscience, and increase your awareness of the Holy Spirit at work in and around you.

Biographical Method

Key Scripture: “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come” (1 Cor. 10:11).

It has been said that those who do not learn from the mistakes of history are doomed to repeat them. Perhaps this is why the Bible presents the successes and failures of its characters with such objective clarity — with “warts and all” as Dr. Gyertson says. Those who tragically fall stand as warnings to us. Those who triumph through courage, faith, and the aid of God strengthen our confidence and give us hope. Those who stumble and are redeemed again, such as David or Peter, are perhaps most dear to us. We see in them our own weaknesses, and see through them the abiding constancy of God’s mercy.

In undertaking a biographical study it may be necessary to limit the range of your subject, as with topical studies. A study of Jesus or Paul would encompass too much material to be manageable otherwise. A smaller topic area — such as “Paul the public speaker” — would be more workable. Another consideration in biographical study is the importance of historical context. When judging the actions of biblical characters or when making life applications based on their actions, remember that what was appropriate in their time and culture may not be so in ours. Focus primarily on character qualities, decision-making, and life attitudes. Often Scripture itself will comment about what is to be admired and imitated, or avoided.

The same research tools used for other study techniques will help you in biographical study. Bible dictionaries provide overviews of biblical personalities and basic scripture references. All the Men of the Bible, All the Women of the Bible, and the Life Application Bible contain short but useful biographical studies. A good idea to consider is making a “Character Study File” so you may review your research and applications from time to time. 

Step One. After selecting a biblical figure and setting the limits of your study, use a concordance or topical index to locate relevant scripture passages. Read each several times. List the references and write a short summary of each verse beside the reference.

Step Two. On another sheet of paper record observations, problems, interpretations, and applications (see SIAB, pp. 53-57). Note basic information about the person. Think as a biographer would think. Ask questions such as: What was their background? Who were their parents? Where did they live? What did they do? What obstacles or decisions did they face? How did they deal with them? What was their primary motivation? What act particularly revealed their character?

Step Three. Write a brief sketch of the person’s life. Keep it objective and journalistic. Give their background and mention significant steppingstones, turning points, and accomplishments. Make it two or three paragraphs in length. At the end you may comment about why you think God used them as an example in the Bible.

Step Four. List the person’s strengths and weaknesses. Why did God consider them great? Where did they fall short? Here is an example:


His Strengths:

  • Third king of Israel; David’s chosen heir.
  • Wisest man who ever lived; valued wisdom above wealth and power.
  • Wrote thousands of proverbs, songs, and many books. Also a naturalist, interested in birds, animals, fish, and plants.
  • Built the temple in Jerusalem.
  • An excellent diplomat and a decisive politician; his reign over Israel was peaceful.

His Weaknesses:

  • Made political alliances by marrying many foreign women.
  • Built temples for their gods and was eventually drawn into idolatry, even after being warned by God.
  • Taxed his people excessively and conscripted labor forces.

Step Five. Select a key verse that summarizes what is most significant about the individual. For example: “Among the many nations there was no king like him. He was loved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel, but even he was led into sin by foreign women” (Neh. 13:26).

Step Six. Based on your research and the key verse in Step Five, summarize the lesson of the Bible character’s life in a key thought. For example: “Unapplied wisdom is ineffective wisdom. Great wisdom, whether of earthly or heavenly things, means little without the will to conform one’s life to God” (see Ecclesiastes 12:1-14 written perhaps near the end of Solomon’s life).

Step Seven. As you have done in previous lessons, focus on one personal application. Come up with a workable plan to implement that insight. Choose a course of action and follow it through. Unless you allow the truths revealed in your Bible study to help you break old habit patterns and propel you into new adventures in faith, your study will become tedious and sterile. Solomon’s lesson to us is a useful one. We must apply what we learn to “own” it fully. We must “use it or lose it” — even when it comes to divine wisdom.

Devotional Method

Key Scripture: “On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night. Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me” (Ps. 63:6-8).

The final Bible study method we will discuss is the devotional method. Study techniques — while absolutely necessary for learning — are themselves incapable of bringing about the full intimacy with God that we need and desire. Devotional study is an approach to Scripture that allows us to pass beyond the limitations of techniques into the waiting arms of God.

Perhaps an illustration will clarify this. When a young man and woman are attracted to each other, they go through an intense and lengthy process of investigating one another. Each closely scrutinizes the other’s habits, attitudes, family, friends, beliefs, opinions, hopes, and dreams. At the conclusion of this mutual evaluation, they may discover that they are in love, and decide to marry. But inevitably a moment comes in the bridal chamber when the time for mutual analysis and evaluation ceases. It is instead time for complete self-giving. Anything less would be a forfeiture of true communion and a betrayal of love.

The devotional exercises that follow are invitations to the experience of communion with God. When God invited David to be still and know Him (Ps. 46:10), an important principle was revealed. We may study God as an “it” with any attitude of heart we like. But to know God as “Thou,” our receptivity, openness of heart, and single-minded longing are necessary. Surrender must take the place of analysis.

Praise and Worship

Devotional study should begin with a time of praise and worship expressed through the reading of a psalm, spontaneous thanksgiving, or the singing of a scripture song or favorite hymn. The experience of worship is rooted in the reality of the “worth-ship” or worthiness of God. David roused his spirit to worship God by meditating on one of four things — the wonder of the Law or Word of God (Ps. 1:2), the celebration of the mighty and merciful works of God (Ps. 19; 21), the magnificent attributes of God (Ps. 145), or the beauty of divine wisdom (Ps. 111:10). Bearing in mind that Christ is the image of the invisible God in whom all wisdom is complete (Col. 1:15; 2:3), these categories continue to provide us with a good inventory of reasons for offering thanksgiving to God. As we concentrate on the worthiness of God, we are drawn into the realm of holy awe and God becomes visible to our spirit.

Prayer and Confession

Prayer involves both speaking to and hearing from God. Scripture tells us that unconfessed sin creates a barrier between us and God (Ps. 66:18; Prov. 28:13; Isa. 59:2). Confession is therefore the first order of business in preparing to commune with God. Proper repentance and forgiveness between ourselves and others are prerequisites for maintaining open communication with God (Matt. 5:23-24; 6:9-13).

Be responsive to rebuke and correction by God as you make your confession. If He gently reminds you of unknown or unconfessed sin, it is because He wants to remove any hindrance that would spoil His intimacy with you. God is anxious to be in right relation with us. If you find yourself wrestling with your conscience about some sin, do not think that you are unusual or that your prayer time is being wasted. Sit and allow God’s conviction to work in you, helping you to release that area to God’s control. When you feel your time of confession is finished, intercede for the needs of others and, finally, for your own needs. Invite the Holy Spirit to refresh your spirit and illuminate God’s Word to you.

Devotional Reading and Meditation

The aim of biblical meditation is to focus on a small portion of scripture so that God may speak to you through the passage. Read the passage several times and then wait before God. Ask Him: “Father, instruct me. What would you have me learn from this? How would you have me change? How can I use this wisdom to help others? What does it show me about you?”

It takes patience and single-mindedness to be still and listen to God. But meditation should not be approached as an exercise in willpower. The secret to profound meditation is the correct attitude of the heart. David knew God intimately because he emptied himself of all else in his desire to know him: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God” (Ps. 42:1). Devotion — and the informed confidence that God earnestly desires communion with us — are the best foundations for rich prayer and meditation.

When God speaks, it may not be to your mind or even to your heart. He might not tell you to do something or to rearrange your feelings in some way. He may instead speak to your spirit. This is communion through self-revelation. Imagine Adam and Eve walking with God in the cool of the evening. There must have been times when no one spoke, and they simply moved through the garden aware of each other’s presence in deep, intimate communion. In moments of profound meditative stillness God sometimes silently makes His presence known to us, and this is in the most powerful and dynamic part of meditation. As you experience the spiritual presence of God, you will be transformed in the most fundamental way (2 Cor. 3:18; 1 John 3:2). Like frozen, lifeless bodies, we are awakened and warmed before the gentle blaze of God’s infinite love, power, and intelligence.

Continuing in Communion

Whether we call it “practicing the presence of God” or “praying without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17), our devotional time should extend into our daily activities in three ways. First, we should pray to be prepared for specific challenges facing us. Second, we should readily follow any instructions God has given us in prayer. And third, we should remain attentive, our spiritual ears alert to any further word the Spirit might speak. Dr. Gyertson likens this attitude to a CB radio that remains in standby mode to receive incoming calls. Or we might compare it to a man with a severe toothache. No matter what he does, part of his mind remains on his tooth. In the same way, a devoted and disciplined heart is always attuned to God. After you have consistently practiced devotional prayer for a long time, this attitude of uninterrupted communication with the Father becomes spontaneous, like a “continual feast” (Prov. 15:15).

The Time for Devotional Bible Study

We should begin and end every day by spending time with God (Ps. 91:1-4). Realistically, it takes thirty minutes or so to quiet the mind and focus on God. It is best if you can spend this time in the morning. Just as breakfast is the most important meal of the day, morning prayer prepares you spiritually for the day ahead. In your evening devotions evaluate your day and allow God to reveal actions and attitudes that need to be changed.
Devotional retreats are good ways to make headway in meditative practice. Weekend, monthly, or quarterly retreats allow you to recharge and refocus your spiritual life. Perhaps your denomination has a retreat center close by. Remember, too, that the Sabbath was designed by God to be a day of communion with Him. The Jewish rabbis spoke of it as “an island of eternity in the sea of time,” a holy time that parallels our conception of a church altar as a holy place. Consider spending part of your Sunday alone with God.

Parents have the responsibility of insuring that their family enjoys a collective devotional life. In doing so, children are trained to know God, and the entire life of the family is enriched and brought under God’s headship. Family devotions should not, however, become a substitute for individual devotional practice.


We hope you have been encouraged and equipped to begin systematic Bible study in these lessons. At the very least, begin to practice devotional Bible study. Remember Jesus’ words: “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). We need to feed on God’s life-giving words for strength, direction, and meaning (John 8:48-58). And we need to learn to wait before God so that He can enliven His word to our conscience and mind (Luke 5:16).

Take the quiz

Quiz Instructions

Review Questions

1. True or False. We may define sin biblically as lawlessness.



2. John says we _____________ God through love because God is love.



3. As God’s love is perfected in us, we experience confidence and the absence of ____________.



4. “Love your brother” is not a suggestion, but a _________________.



5. Gnostics taught that matter was ________ and the Incarnation was not genuine.



6. The detail-oriented _____________________ method of Bible study may be compared to the use of a microscope.



7. The panoramic _____________ method of study may be compared to the use of a telescope.



8. One of the four stages common to most Bible study techniques is ___________________.



9. One of the four stages common to most Bible study techniques is ___________________.



10. One of the four stages common to most Bible study techniques is ___________________.



11. One of the four stages common to most Bible study techniques is ___________________.



12. In _________________ Bible study a single theme is systematically “chased” through Scripture.



13. In _______________ Bible study we learn from the successes and failures of Bible characters.



14. To know God as “Thou,” _________________ must replace analysis.



15. Begin devotional study with a time of praise and ________________.



16. The experience of worship is rooted in the “ _______________-ship” of God.



17. David worshiped God by meditating on His Law, His wisdom, His attributes, and His ______________.



18. _________________ removes the barrier of sin that keeps us from communing with God.



19. After confession is completed, _________________ for others is possible.



20. The secret to Christian meditation is a correct attitude of the _____________.



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