“Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them.” — Psalm 111:2
This fall, we’ve begun a short series called “How To Grow In Knowledge”, with the focus of helping one another grow in the spiritual discipline of a daily connection with the Lord through his Word (what is often called a “devotion” or “quiet time”.)
The first leg of this journey is learning how to “think biblically”, by simply reading the Bible regularly, and getting its words into our heart and minds. Breaking the spell of biblical illiteracy that hangs over too many believers would be a monumental achievement for many.
But God invites us to go further on and higher up with him and his Word. The next leg of the journey of growing in spiritual knowledge is learning how to “think theologically”, where we learn how to not only read the Bible for ourselves, but to study it, for “theology” means the study of God.
Studying is a deeper thinking and deeper interaction with what we’re reading. In the verse from Psalm 111 shown above, the Hebrew word for “study” is “darash”, which means to seek, to search, to rub over, to tread like wheat, or to beat a path.
Janis and I did a season-ending hike in Shenandoah at the end of October, and it’s fascinating to think that these trails we took were first laid down nearly 150 years ago. That’s a lot of feet treading down these well-worn paths over the years. That’s what study does. When you learn to study God’s Word, you’re ‘beating a path’ deep into your mind and heart.
So why should we be bothered with study? Shouldn’t we just leave that for the scholars? You’d be most unwise to do that. Here are three reasons I should learn the art of studying God’s word.
1. Study will deepen your love and knowledge of God.
Proverbs 2:1–4 says, “My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments within you” (we might say this is reading God’s Word), “making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding” (we might say this is meditation on Scripture, a step up from reading), “yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God.” Ah. And there is study.
I remember when Janis and I went down to Cancun one cold New England winter. When we first got down there, we just ran straight into the water, swimming and splashing like little kids, and washed away a winter of cold and weariness. That’s what it’s like when you simply listen to or read your Bible. Having God’s words and thoughts flowing into you, is like swimming in the warmest, purest water.
The next day, we went snorkeling around the resort, and spent several hours swimming slowly, peering under the surface of the water, marveling at rainbow colored fish and tiny crabs, things we hadn’t seen while just swimming. That’s like meditation. It’s slower and quieter than mere reading, and you see things that you don’t see with simple reading.
Later in the middle of the week the resort offered a diving excursion a mile offshore above a coral reef that was there. That took more work and time, and required some skill-building, but my oh my, did our love for the ocean, and awe of its power and beauty grow that day. That’s study. Someone once said: The more you study the Bible, the more you’ll love its author.
2. Study will show you riches in God’s Word that you won’t see otherwise.
According to Psalm 19:10, God’s words are “More to be desired… than gold, even much fine gold.” Years ago on a vacation out to Yellowstone, Janis and I discovered the camouflage-art of Bev Doolittle. Here’s one of her paintings.
Look quickly, there’s beauty to be seen, for sure. But stop, and really look, and new wonders will appear. We see the Indian holding up the buffalo skull easily enough. But look closer. Do you see the herd of buffalo drinking at the pool? Once you do, suddenly a pathos and longing overtakes you, that matches the sullenness of the sky.
There are endless riches in God’s Word that only study will reveal. So for example: you can read quickly of the 7 major feasts which God commanded Israel to keep. From a quick reading of those feasts, you might conclude that God wants us to rest, to worship, to have joy in life. And all that is true.
But look deeper at the Feasts, study them, and they paint a picture of Christ.
- How can you not see Christ in the Passover, as the lamb is slain that allows God’s judgment to pass over his people, pointing to Jesus the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).
- The Feast of Unleavened Bread points again to Jesus, the Bread of Life. The Matzah bread is unleavened, showing us the sinlessness of Christ. It is striped reminding us that Jesus was whipped, and by his stripes we are healed. The bread is pieced, just as Jesus was “pierced for our transgressions” “(Isaiah 53:5). Then part of the bread is wrapped in a cloth and hidden for the children to find, just as Jesus’ body was wrapped in a cloth then hidden in a tomb for three days.
- The Feast of First Fruits is the resurrection of Christ, who is the first fruits pointing to our own future resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20).
- Pentecost was celebrated 50 days later, the feast of the summer harvest, where leavened bread was to be baked this time, symbolizing the birth of the church age on Pentecost when both Jews and those nasty, unclean, leavened Gentiles were now included in the family of God, as the book of Acts describes.
- The Feast of Trumpets points to the return of Christ, who will come with the sound of the trumpet.
- The Day of Atonement points to a final cleansing of the earth, before the Feast of Tabernacles or Ingathering when the harvest is completed, and the Messianic age will dawn.
The riches of God’s Word and God’s truth are boundless for those who take the time study them.
Because your love and knowledge of God is deepening through study, and because you’re seeing riches you never saw before…
3. Study will strengthen your faith and witness.
1 Peter 3:15 tells us, “Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and respect.”
We call this apologetics, or the defense of the faith. How do you grow in the skill? Sorry, but there is no apologetics pill you can take, or Matrix download.
Charles Spurgeon wrote, “Study is the metal that forges a Christian.” It’s through study that you will learn to address all the questions and doubts that skeptics will raise. That’s good not only for them, but it’s good for you. Because it’s not only unbelievers who will have doubts and questions. We will as well.
So study will hold you in place when trials come. Or when persecution or suffering knocks at the door. Study allowed the Berean Christians to discern truth from error (Acts 17:11). Study will help keep you from becoming an exangelical or deconstructionist.
After walking with Christ for more than 50 years, after more than 40 years of regular quiet times, and 30 years of preaching, after a near-lifetime of reading, and studying, and kicking at the tires of our faith, questioning it, trying to poke holes in it, I can say with all my heart and by the grace of God that there is no one like Jesus; there is nothing like the gospel; there is no book like the Bible, and there is no faith like Christianity.
Can you say that with full confidence? If not, maybe it’s time for you to dig deeper, and study.
Bear Clifton, writer and screenwriter, is the pastor of BridgeWay Community Church in California, Maryland. His blogs, screenplays and devotionals can be enjoyed at his ministry website: trainyourselfministry.com and his writing website: blclifton.com. Bear is also the author of “Train Yourself To Be Godly: A 40 Day Journey Toward Sexual Wholeness”, “Ben-Hur: The Odyssey”, “A Sparrow Could Fall”, and his latest — “Living Under The Cross”, a collection of essays on the Beatitudes — all available through Amazon.