Spiritual Transformation – The Discipline of Study

April 2009

As we consider another discipline this month, I thought it beneficial to keep in mind why we ought to consider spiritual disciplines at all. To this, I turn to the Apostle Paul. “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18). There isn’t anything magical about the disciplines, but they do help guide our focus to be set on our Creator. Clearly, it is the Holy Spirit Who guides us into all truth, yet our hearts must be open to allow the Spirit to do His transforming work. Here, the disciplines may be helpful in our having a well-kept heart.

“The purpose of the Spiritual Disciplines is the total transformation of the person. They aim at replacing old destructive habits of thought with new life-giving habits. Nowhere is this purpose more clearly seen than in the Discipline of Study” (Foster). We began our consideration with the Discipline of Meditation, but there is a difference here. While meditation has a devotional and applicational nature, study is more about analyzing, interpreting and determining the meaning of the text. With that in mind, I’d like to suggest two thoughts in our practice of the Discipline of Study.

First, let us do all we can to truly study and learn what God has revealed in His Word. I must agree with Foster here – “I have discovered that the most difficult problem is not finding time but convincing myself that this is important enough to set aside the time.” It IS important that we study and understand. The Lord speaks through Jeremiah saying, “let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me” (Jer. 9:24a). We must take time to study His Word until we understand it. Many of us fail here because we find certain passages too difficult. I was convicted by Bonhoeffer’s words on this.

In truth, however, there lurks in this attitude a grave error. If it is really true that it is hard for us, as adult Christians, to comprehend even a chapter of the Old Testament in sequence, then this can only fill us with profound shame; what kind of testimony is that to our knowledge of the Scripture and all our previous reading of them? If we were familiar with the substance of what we read we should be able to follow a chapter without difficulty, especially if we have an open Bible in our hands and participate in the reading. But, of course, we must admit that the Scriptures are still largely unknown to us. Can the realization of our fault, our ignorance of the Word of God, have any other consequence than that we should earnestly and faithfully retrieve what has been neglected? And should not ministers be the very first to get to work at this point?

If you are convicted on this as I am, then we must begin somewhere. Let me commend to your reading a good study Bible. Not one that is simply a pastor’s commentary on the Scriptures, but one which will assist you in understanding words and meanings and come to your OWN conclusions about the text. The New Inductive Study Bible and The NET Bible are great tools in this area, but you should take the time to look through one that works for you.

The other thought I’d like to present is that we consider the Scriptures in their context. What I mean here is to learn to “hear” God’s Word the way the Apostles heard it. Think through the meanings of the text they way the Prophets may have thought about it. Put yourself in the setting of Scripture. After all, the Bible record is TRUE. It is REAL. These things really happened to real people. Dallas Willard suggests the following:

…if we are really to understand the Bible record, we must enter into our study of it on the assumption that the experiences recorded there are basically of the same type as ours would have been if we had been there. Those who lived through those experiences felt very much as we would have if we had been in their place. Unless this comes home to us, the things that happened to the people in the Bible will remain unreal to us. We will not genuinely be able to believe the Bible or find its contents to be real, because it will have no experiential substance for us.

My favorite tool here is the recently released Archaeological Study Bible. Extensive notes on cultural practices, people groups, and archaeological finds help provide more of a picture of life in the Scriptures. My readings through this study Bible have been exciting and “colorful.” Perhaps it will be of interest to you as well.

In the end, Foster reminds us that “the key to the Discipline of study is not reading many books, but experiencing what we do read.” Don’t read just to read. Take time with it. Work with it until you understand. Enlist the perspective of a mature follower of Christ. Take time to study. And remember that whatever you do, “do it all for the glory of God.”

 

Bibliography:

Bonhoeffer, D. Life Together

Foster, R. The Celebration of Discipline

Willard, D. Hearing God

 

Suggested Reading:

Archaelogical Study Bible

The New Inductive Study Bible

The NET Bible (www.bible.org)

Arthur, K. How to Study Your Bible

Fee & Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth

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