Three: Effective Journaling
The next item necessary for effective study is journaling. Just like accessories make an outfit what it is, this third piece of your personal Bible study is really what’s going to make the difference and give you confidence. And like accessories consist of multiples, journaling is made up of interpreting and applying Scripture, and writing your personal thoughts about it.
Your notebook doesn’t have to be anything special, but it does need to be dedicated to your Bible study. If you keep a journal for other purposes, find a new one you can reserve for Bible notes. In fact, keeping a separate small notebook for each book of the Bible you study can be helpful. That way, when you want to find your notes later, they’re easy to access. This may seem obvious, but you need a pen that fits comfortably in your hand and has good ink flow. Some pens leave ink globs, and some seem scratchy on the paper. Both are distracting.
Choose a portion of text to read for the day. If you want to study a book in the Bible, which I recommend, choose it, and then read it either one chapter at a time, or in shorter segments. If your time is limited, or conversely, if you want to dig deeper, take only a section of a chapter at a time. Most Bibles divide chapters with subheadings. Use this as your dividing tool for daily reading. As you read, you will ask yourself three questions.
What does it say?
The verses you read may be telling a narrative story, or they may be a teaching or words Jesus spoke. Jot down in your own words what the passage is about. For instance, if you’re reading in Ruth, chapter one, verses 1-5, you’ll see that Naomi’s circumstances are described. This is what it says.
What does it mean?
Most of the time, a section of Scripture means something larger than the actual events. At this point, pray and ask the Holy Spirit to illuminate the truth to you. Then write what you think the larger meaning might be. This is where your commentary will be useful if the passage seems complicated or obscure. In the case of Ruth 1:1-5, maybe you sense that a person’s choices lead to unforeseen circumstances or consequences. Maybe you already know how the story goes and now you see that God was at work, even in the middle of what seemed like an impossible situation for Naomi, to bring her back to her roots and bless her.
What does it mean to me?
This is the point at which you search your heart and pray, asking the Lord to speak to you. What can you learn from this passage? How can you apply the truth in the larger meaning to your individual life? In the Ruth example, maybe you understand how some trial or difficulty you’re going through can be part of God’s good plan for your life. Or maybe you realize that some of your choices in the past led you away from God and now you’re in a lonely place. And God desires to lead you back to Him and into His best plan for your life. Write a paragraph about what the Lord says to you.
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