The Bible not only forms the foundation of an effective prayer life, but it is foundational to every other aspect of Christian living. While prayer is our primary way of communicating with God, the Bible is God's primary way of communicating with us. Nothing should take precedence over getting into the Word and getting the Word into us.
If we fail to eat well-balanced meals on a regular basis, we will eventually suffer the physical consequences. What is true of the outer man is also true of the inner man. If we do not regularly feed on the Word of God, we will suffer spiritual consequences.
Jesus said, "Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4). Great physical meals are one thing; great spiritual meals are quite another. In fact, the acronym M-E-A-L-S will serve us well as we get back to basics with regard to the Bible.
One of the best things that happened to me as a new believer was being told that all Christians memorize Scripture. By the time I found out that not all of them did, I was already hooked. Now, as I look back, I can say truthfully that nothing compares with the excitement of memorizing Scripture. Charles Swindoll summed it up nicely when he wrote:
I know of no other single practice in the Christian life more rewarding, practically speaking, than memorizing Scripture. That's right. No other single discipline is more useful and rewarding than this. No other single exercise pays greater spiritual dividends! Your prayer life will be strengthened. Your witnessing will be sharper and much more effective. Your counseling will be in demand. Your attitudes and outlook will begin to change. Your mind will become alert and observant. Your confidence and assurance will be enhanced. Your faith will be solidified.
Despite these marvelous benefits, far too few Christians have made Scripture memorization a lifestyle. For the most part, it is not because they don't want to, but because they have never been taught how to. While they may think they have bad memories, the reality is that they simply have untrained memories.
I am convinced that anyone, regardless of age or acumen, can memorize Scripture. God has called us to write His Word on the tablet of our hearts (Proverbs 7:1-3; cf. Deuteronomy 6:6), and with the call He has also provided the ability to do so. Your mind is like a muscle. If you exercise it, you will increase its capacity to remember and recall information. If you don't, like a muscle, it will atrophy. Here are a few practical tips to get you started:
- Set goals. He who aims at nothing invariably hits it.
- Make goals attainable. If your goals are unrealistic, you will undoubtedly become discouraged and give up.
- Memorize with a family member or friend. One of my treasured experiences was swinging back and forth on a hammock, memorizing Proverbs 2 with my daughter, Michelle. Memorizing with someone else is enjoyable and will also make you accountable.
- Use normally unproductive time to review what you have memorized, such as while waiting in lines, or falling asleep.
Remember, there's no time like the present to get started! A good place to begin is Psalm 119. In fact, committing verse 11 of that passage to memory - "I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you" - may well encourage you to make Scripture memorization part of your lifestyle.
While you're at it, you may also wish to consider memorizing Joshua 1:8. The wonderful words of that passage remind us that knowing portions of the Bible helps us meditate upon them. The text reads: "Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful." If you want true prosperity, there it is!
In Acts 17:11 we read that the Bereans examined the Scriptures daily to see if what Paul was teaching was true. For that they were commended as being noble in character.
There is an extremely important lesson to be learned here. The Bereans were not condemned for examining what Paul said in light of Scripture. Rather, they were commended. Ultimate authority was not placed in the revelation of a man, but in the revelation of the Word.
I cannot overemphasize the importance of examining the Word of God. Examination requires the use of our minds, and the Bible exhorts believers to use their minds to honor God and examine the teachings of men in the light of Scripture. Jesus taught that the first and greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:37). Peter beckoned believers to prepare their minds for action (1 Peter 1:13). Paul urged Christians to test all things (1 Thessalonians 5:21) and to be transformed by the renewing of their minds in order to discern the will of God (Romans 12:2).
Examining the Scriptures may take discipline and dedication, but the dividends are dramatic. The Bereans examined the Bible daily, and so should we. Here's how you can get going:
- Pray that Jesus Christ will become ever more real to you through the reading of God's Word.
- Read a chapter a day. You may wish to start with the Gospel of John. It is divided into 21 chapters, and experts tell us that if we repeat the same action for 21 days in a row, it may well become a habit for life.
- Read thoughtfully. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you understanding as you carefully reflect upon the meaning of God's words (2 Timothy 2:7). Buried in the texts are all sorts of precious gems. It is up to you to mine their wealth.
- Read Scripture systematically rather than using a "scatter-gun" approach. The Bible is one book comprised of 66 individual books. To fully understand the big picture presented by God, we must read not merely those individual books or sections of books that we find interesting. Rather, we need to read and carefully consider the entire Word of God in an intelligent and organized manner.
- Understanding the science of biblical interpretation will greatly enhance your ability to examine the Scriptures daily.
As wonderful and worthwhile as it is to memorize and examine Scripture, that's simply not enough! We also must take the knowledge we have gleaned from the Word of God and apply it to every aspect or our daily lives. Wisdom is the application of knowledge.
When Jesus got to the end of His Sermon on the Mount, He concluded with the following words:
Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice [or applies them] is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice [or does not apply them] is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash (Matthew 7:24-27).
James used irony to drive home the same point. In essence, he said that anyone who hears the Word and does not apply it is like a man who looks in a mirror and sees that his face is dirty, but doesn't wash it (James 1:23,24).
In God's view, obedience is better than sacrifice (1 Samuel 15:22). As James so aptly put it, "Be ye doers of the Word and not hearers only" (James 1:22 KJV).
In order for us to apply God's directions to our every-day lives, we must first listen carefully as God speaks to us personally through His Word. Like Samuel, we should say, "Speak, [Lord,] for your servant is listening" (1 Samuel 3:10, emphasis added).
One of the most amazing aspects of Scripture is that it is alive and active, not dead and dull. Indeed, God still speaks today through the mystery of His Word. The Holy Spirit illumines our minds to what is revealed in Scripture. The Holy Spirit makes us "wise up to what is written, not beyond it."
While we listen, we must also "test the spirits." As the apostle John warns, "Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1). It is particularly important to "test the spirits" because Satan's foremost strategy of spiritual seduction is to disguise himself as an angel of light (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:14). His slickest slogan is "Feel, don't think."
God's Spirit, on the other hand, illumines our minds so that we may understand what He has freely given us (1 Corinthians 2:12). Before I became a Christian, reading the Bible was like reading someone else's mail. Now, however, the Scriptures have become 66 love letters from God, addressed specifically to me. As Jesus so wonderfully stated, "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me" (John 10:27, emphasis added).
Scripture exhorts us to study to show ourselves approved to God, workmen who do not need to blush with embarrassment, correctly handling the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).
In examining Scripture, it is typically best to start with one good translation and then to stick with it. This will provide you with consistency as well as help you in the process of memorizing Scripture. In studying, however, it is best to use a number of good Bible translations. Since there are so many translations available today, let me point out some of the more notable differences.
An example of a good word-for-word translation is the New American Standard Bible. Although it is sometimes stilted, it is excellent for the purpose of study. A great thought-for-thought translation is the New International Version. It is extremely reliable as well as extraordinarily readable. To preserve the majesty of the English language, there is no better translation than the King James Version.
It should be noted, however, that due to recent manuscript discoveries, the Greek text from which the KJV was translated (the so-called "Textus Receptus" or Received Text) doesn't take into account some of the texts on which the NASB and NIV are based. There are also a number of paraphrases on the market today, such as the J.B. Phillips paraphrase and The Living Bible. While these are both readable, I do not recommend them for close study.
A number of Bible translations should be avoided at all costs. Among them are the New World Translation, which reflects the cultic concepts of the Jehovah's Witnesses, and the Lamsa translation, which is doctrinally biased and highly esoteric.
To aid in your study of Scripture, here are some other practical tools I recommend.
- Study Bibles. There are some excellent study Bibles on the market today, including the Student Bible, the NIV Study Bible, and The International Inductive Study Bible. There are also some terrible study Bibles. Notable examples include the Word Study Bible, with contributions by 13 leading Faith teachers; the Holy Bible: Kenneth Copeland Reference Edition Bible; and Dake's Annotated Reference Bible.
Perhaps the worst collection of false teachings is found in the popular Dake's Annotated Reference Bible. "God ... goes from place to place in a body like all other persons," says Dake, and He is just "an ordinary sized being." "He wears clothes ... eats ... rests ... dwells in a mansion and in a city located on a material planet called Heaven."
On the very first page of the New Testament, Dake writes that Jesus "became the Christ or the 'Anointed One' 30 years after he was born of Mary." Even a biblically illiterate person who has watched the "Charlie Brown Christmas Special" (1965) or has sung Christmas carols should be familiar with Luke 2:11, which says, "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord" (KJV, emphasis added).
- Study tools. The toolbox of every serious student of Scripture should include:
- Chain-reference Bible
This is one of the most powerful, compact tools around. A good chain-reference Bible such as Thompson's will help you find every parallel passage on the same topic or even the same word or phrase every time it is used. A large topical numbered section in the back, plus a selective concordance, maps, and charts help round out this excellent reference work. A word of caution about both chain-reference Bibles and concordances: Always study the full context of passages and don't get steered into a narrow interpretation; a good commentary, Bible dictionary, or systematic theology can help you avoid such problems.
A Bible commentary serves as a system of checks and balances through which you can evaluate your insights by the insights of others. There are a variety of good commentaries available today, such as the International Bible Commentary, edited by F.F. Bruce and based on the NIV translation.
- Exhaustive concordance
An exhaustive or complete concordance is an indispensable tool. With it you can find every citation of every word used in the Bible, along with a half-sentence excerpt to help you recognize the verse. With most editions, such as Strong's, you can also compare English words with the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.
- Interlinear translation
An interlinear translation will provide you with the Greek text and its word-by-word English equivalent. Some interlinears such as Green's (look for the inexpensive paperback edition) will also give you the Strong's numbering system. A good interlinear with the appropriate lexicons can help give you direct access to the Word of God in the original languages even if you have no training in Hebrew or Greek.
- Bible dictionary
A good Bible dictionary will give you access to information about the history, culture, people, places, and events in Scripture. One of the best conservative volumes is the New Bible Dictionary, edited by J.D. Douglas.
- Systematic theology
Systematic theology simply refers to systematizing Scripture to provide a clear understanding of the foundational doctrines of the historic Christian faith. A grasp of systematic theology will enable you to understand, defend, and mature in the faith. Bruce Milne's Know the Truth is a good introduction to theology and recommends several more comprehensive systematic theologies.
- Additional tools
Some worth considering include: a handbook on Bible difficulties, such as When Critics Ask, by Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe; language aids such as An Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, by W.E. Vine; and introductions to the science and art of biblical interpretation, such as R.C. Sproul's Knowing Scripture or James Sire's Scripture Twisting.
Jesus said, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty" (John 6:35). It is my passionate prayer that the acronym M-E-A-L-S will remind you daily to nourish yourself with the Bread of life.
---- Hank Hanegraaff
Copyright ©1993 by Hendrik Hanegraaff
P. O. Box 80250
Rancho Santa Margarita, CA 92688