In the 25 years that I’ve been a Christian, I’ve participated in a lot of Bible studies.
There was the Bible study that encouraged me to be more like David, someone after God’s own heart. The Bible study that took me from Genesis to Revelation in ten weeks. Homespun Bible studies written by gifted women in my church and shiny new Bible studies from major publishers. Bible studies that provided free childcare (thank you, Lord) and Bible studies that had me in tears of conviction on the drive home. Big Bible studies in a room full of women and small Bible studies in a church member’s living room.
Over all these years with all these different studies (and in my own personal study), I regularly looked to the Bible for life-changing words that would transform my relationships, improve my spiritual self-discipline, or solve other problems in my life. This kind of “what’s in it for me?” way to study the Bible is the default setting even among longtime Christians. Reading the Bible and seeking God’s personal, problem-solving message to you is very common—try googling “what Bible verse should I read when” and you’ll see what I mean.
I did learn from these Bible studies. I sometimes even found answers to my problems or inspiration to become a better person in some particular way. But for more than two decades, even though I enjoyed and learned from the Bible studies that I had done, none of them answered the question that I didn’t even know I had: how to study and Bible, and why.
Finding a new (to me) approach to Bible study
I believe that any Bible reading is worthwhile, but seeing the Bible merely as a helpful life resource is very limiting. I’d been short-changing myself on the full benefits of reading the Bible by not thinking about how or why I was doing it….
I went to my first Bible study because I was lonely. I was in my early twenties with two small children at home and was desperate to meet other women and make new friends. The offer for free child-care only sweetened the deal and I signed up, eager for a few hours away from children and hungry for adult conversation. I did not go to this study because I had a burning desire to know God or his Word. However, while I did meet new friends and benefitted from a few hours away from the demands of small children, ultimately, I met God. And I have continued to attend Bible studies ever since.
If you attend a weekly Bible study of some kind—in your church, neighborhood, or community—I want to ask you why? Like me in my twenties, perhaps you attend Bible study to make friends or enjoy child-care. The reasons that compel us to walk in the door will vary from person to person and from season to season. But the bigger question I want us to consider is, Why do we go to Bible study at all?
It’s an important question because the answer shapes our expectations. What should we expect to be the result of going to Bible study? I’d like to propose that, while there are a myriad of good things that happen in and through Bible study—we deepen friendships, grow in our knowledge of God’s Word, invest in the lives of those around us—one of the ultimate things that happens is transformation.
If you are a Christian, God is at work in your life transforming you. He is changing you into a woman who is better able to discern his will (Rom. 12:2). He is changing you so that you will be better equipped to join him on his mission to seek and save the lost. He is transforming you so that you will be more consumed with his kingdom than with your own, with his glory than with yours. And he is changing you to be increasingly more like Jesus in every way (Rom. 8:29).
One of the most remarkable things about this extra-ordinary transformation is that it happens in very ordinary ways. And “going to Bible study” is one of the ordinary means God uses to do his extraordinary work.
But this transformation does not just happen automatically—it requires your participation. Two ways you can actively participate with God in your transformation is by doing your homework and by showing up to discuss it with others.
DO THE HOMEWORK
A lot of women I talk with think of the homework provided in their Bible study as optional or something they will be better able to prioritize in a different stage of life. But time in God’s Word is vital at every stage of life! And a good Bible study will provide you with the structure and opportunity to spend that time productively.
Most Bible study homework will ask you to read a passage of Scripture, answer questions about the passage, and consider how you are to respond to what you’ve read. The actual moments you use to go through these steps can feel so ordinary. Some of you do your study early in the morning while you’re still in your pajamas. Others study over lunch while sitting at your desk. Some of you try to finish it while you’re waiting in the carpool line. Very average moments for the most part. But, as we move through the homework of our study—reading, answering questions, reflecting, and thinking about how we are to respond—God is at work!
Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:16 that, “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” This list is not exhaustive. As you read God’s Word, he, by his Spirit, is instructing you, teaching you, convicting you, encouraging you, rebuking you, feeding you, calling you, reminding you, humbling you, lifting you, comforting you, and loving you…
If only I had a nickel, (or maybe a Starbucks tall Americano with cream), for every time I’ve heard the following: “I decided to read through the Bible. I made it all the way to the first couple of chapters of Leviticus. Then I stopped.” Yup. I’ve been there. You started with great intentions and a real desire to meet God in his word. Then you came to a verse like this, “And from the peace offering he shall bring an offering made by fire to the LORD consisting of its fat: the entire fat tail cut off close to the backbone, the fat that covers the entrails, all the fat that is on them, both kidneys with the fat on them near the loins, and the lobe of the liver, which he is to remove with the kidneys” (Leviticus 3:9-10). At that point certain thoughts may have entered your mind. “Hm. Maybe I overestimated myself,” or “I mean, Bible reading is overrated, right?”
The Bible is a complicated book, and parts of it take real commitment to understand. It can be difficult to reach the point where the text is speaking to your heart and connecting you to the God you’re craving. How many genuinely Jesus-loving, God-seeking people have begun some sort of Bible study with great intentions only to stop a few days or weeks later? Then comes the shame and disappointment of quitting, along with the still present ache for a richer understanding of God’s word.
Let’s step back for a moment from the world of Bible study and enter another field to help us understand what might help. A study reported by the National Institutes of Health found that 95% of those who started a weight loss program with friends completed the program, compared to a 76% completion rate for those who tackled the program alone. A huge marketing push for many gyms includes a buddy program, or some sort of person-to-person accountability for those wanting to hit their fitness goals. These marketers aren’t just trying to help you make friends; they’ve tapped into something true about our God-imaging humanity: we do better together.
Genesis 1:26 reads, “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” God exists in trinity; he lives in community. We, his image bearers, flourish when we do the same….