Today I will cover the last two spiritual disciplines surrounding the Bible. These disciplines are (1) studying the Word and (2) meditating on it. I think these are very similar, but not exactly the same. Studying the Word (I think) is more about checking cross-references, figuring out what things meant in the original language, and using study Bibles and other tools. Meditating on the Word seems to be simpler, and more about direct application. I’ll share some tips I’ve found helpful about each.
How-To Study the Word
-Use a Study Bible
If you have one, use it, and if you don’t, there are many free resources online. My mom and dad have always used the MacArthur Study Bible, but there are other good ones too. My sister (Lissy) has a nice ESV Study Bible that has contributions from many Bible scholars. When I use one, I use the family Bible, which is a MacArthur. Study Bibles offer things beneath the surface that common people like us would likely miss.
When studying a passage of the Bible, search the reference! You can usually find a ton of interesting things about it with that.
-Look Up Cross-References
Most Bibles have cross-references at the bottom or middle of the page. When studying, go ahead and look these up. They often give good insight into what the passage means.
-Listen to Sermons
There are many great podcasts from good pastors who unpack the Word in an easy-to-understand way. Here‘s a post where I share some podcasts that do this.
-Think Through Things
Ask yourself questions that will help you understand the meaning better. Here are a few:
- Who was this written to?
- Why did they write it?
- Who wrote it?
- When was it written?
- How can I apply this?
You can search online to find the answers or look them up in a book.
How-To Meditate on the Word
-Read the Passage Many Times
Take a small passage, and read it over and over. Read it once on one day, once on the next day, and then another time on the day after that. You might get a different perspective for each reading, and you’ll definitely think about the passage more throughout the day.
Once you’ve read the passage, look for the “how.” Try to figure out, from the passage, how you can apply it to your life. For instance, at the end of Jesus’ talk about abiding, He says:
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
So, the how of this passage, which tells us how to abide, says “Keep my commandments.” Of course, we could go to other places to answer the how of keeping His commandments, and we could go to more places to answer the how of those passages.
Some people think that two different people can get two (correct) interpretations of the same passage. While I do not believe that’s true, I do believe that two different people can get different applications. This is because of the Holy Spirit. So next time you’re reading a passage, ask the Holy Spirit to apply it to your life (if He hasn’t started already).
Sometimes nothing works better than just sitting down and memorizing whatever you’re meditating on. The repetition helps, plus the fact that your head is so drenched in the Scripture.
How-To Apply the Word
Applying the Word is essential to growth, and it’s probably the most important spiritual discipline. If you only take this one, many of the others will bloom out of it. So why do I have so little about it here? Because it’s simple. Here’s the basic idea of application:
Look at a passage, and try to understand what it means. Then try to understand what action God wants you to take out of that passage.
Sometimes the action will be as specific as making something right with someone you’ve been at odds with for a while. Sometimes the action is as general as being kinder. In any case, do what you know you should do.
I am not saying one particular passage can have different correct interpretations. I’m saying they can have different applications. Passages mean the same thing, but they can lead everyone to different actions. Take this passage, for example:
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)
One person may apply this by quitting their high-paying job and moving away to Africa to be a missionary. Another may decide to start tithing from this. Someone else might completely dedicate their platform to promoting the message of Christ. All these applications have the same theme, but they’re all different. See what I mean?
The main difference between meditation and study is this: when studying a passage, you’re going to be pulling from resources apart from your own knowledge. When meditating on a passage, you’ll usually just be pulling from what you already know and trying to contemplate the meaning and the application. In short, meditation pulls from what you already know, and study pulls from what other people know. Obviously, you use much of your own knowledge in study, so meditation fits inside study.
If you only remember one thing from this entire series, this is what I would want that to be:
All disciplines surrounding the Word are about application. If you don’t apply the Word while you’re busy reading it, listening to it, memorizing it, and all that stuff, you fail miserably. His Word is given for change! And if you do not let it change you, you are mocking it and using it to make yourself feel better. God’s power in His Word is realized through applying it to your life.
Many of these things I’ve shared are probably things you already knew, but I hope I’ve helped you understand what meditation and study are, and the difference between them.
God bless you as you seek to walk with Him and let His Word transform you!