If the preacher I am today could sit down and talk with myself as a fresh seminary graduate, what would I say? No doubt there would be a plethora of topics we would discuss, but imagine I could only discuss some hacks or shortcuts that would help me as it relates to studying the Bible. What would I say? Here are a few hacks that will help every beginning Bible study student.
1. Save your work.
Do not dare throw away all of the research you have generated in the process of studying a biblical text. By the time you finish studying you will have amassed pieces of paper, PDF documents, copied pages of books, booklets, and your own notes. All of this will come in handy in the future. You will use it again in the future if you get in the habit of studying the Bible.
2. Create a filing system.
You need to create a filing system so you can retrieve your work should you need it in the future. I would suggest creating a filing system for hard (paper) copies and electronic copies of your work. I keep an electronic copy and a hard copy of all of my sermon manuscripts, Bible study handouts and accumulated research material for each.
Paper material can be placed in manila folders labeled with the sermon title and biblical text. These files can then be put into filing cabinets in order based on the order of books of the Bible. Electronic copies of your work should be saved on your computer and an external back-up drive in case of a crash.
Since I am an expository preacher/teacher, both filing systems (paper and electronic) are based on my preaching method. I have several filing cabinets that contain all my sermon manuscripts. Drawers are labeled based on books of the Bible. For instance, I have two filing cabinets for all of my New Testament sermons for a total of 8 drawers:
- Matthew thru Mark
- John thru 1 Corinthians
- 2 Corinthians thru Philippians
- Colossians thru Hebrews
- James thru Jude
- Empty for future space
Each week I usually add two manila folders (AM and PM sermon) to my files.
I put the contents inside a blank folder and my assistant prints the label and applies it to the tab.
I have two electronic folders on my computer, one labeled Old Testament and one for the New. Under each folder are folders for every book of that Testament. Then there are chapter folders and verse folders under each book. This system helps me locate notes, manuscripts, and handouts for any biblical text I have preached and taught on before.
3. Learn to harness technology.
My last post was about the top ten most influential website for Bible study. Technology is increasing at break neck speed and it would be foolish for us not to harness it for the gospel. First, use a software of your choice for the purpose of creating documents. It can be as sophisticated as Microsoft Word or as simple as Evernote. I use both, Word to create sermon manuscript and Evernote for my spiritual journal. In a perfect world all of us would be able to write out notes by hand on legal pads and then write sermon manuscripts with fountain pens. There are great preachers and teachers who still do that, however most of us do not have a multitude of hours each week to do that.
Second, find websites or software that will help you in Bible study. Find websites that have already done what I call the “spade work” for you. When you have a garden it is usually easier to begin if someone has gone before you and plowed up the ground so you can start planting seed relatively quickly. Similarly, in Bible study it is easier if someone has checked cross references, done word studies and checked a biblical atlas so I do not have to.
Over the years I have located preachers of God’s Word who post their sermon manuscripts for viewing and downloading for free. I do not plagiarize these men but I do use the manuscript as one of my study resources. Consider the sermon manuscripts of Dr. John MacArthur at Grace to You as a great study resource.
There are dozens of good Bible study websites and Bible study software. I use Logos each week. It saves me tons of time. Bible study websites I use regularly include Blue Letter Bible and Bible Gateway.
Third, be familiar with apps that will aid you in Bible study. Dropbox allows you to access your files from anywhere. The Kindle app enables you to use your smart device to read any book you have purchased in electronic form, including commentaries. Amazon regularly gives away the Kindle version of books. Many ministries have apps where you can listen to great Bible teaching and preaching also. I listen to Dr. Alistair Begg at Truth for Life every day on my iPhone via their app.
4. Reserve large blocks of time.
The beginning Bible study student cannot navigate resources at the same speed as someone who has been studying the Bible for years. I remember my beginning days as a pastor and how long it took me to prepare one sermon. Some weeks I thought I would never finish. Over the years, I have achieved a little more speed. Some of this is because of an increase in my biblical knowledge and some is just plain experience. My increase in knowledge has only come because of the grace of God and because I know what needs to be done every time I sit down to study a text.
Do not get discouraged because Bible study takes a lot of time. Study 30 minutes to an hour then take a break. Plan to study a little each day. Try not to multi-task. Purposely reserve large blocks of time to study at home, a home office or somewhere else.
I am still learning as a Bible study student myself. I am always looking for time saving methods and tools. These are some of the ones that have been beneficial to me and I hope that they will be to you also.