HOW TO STUDY THE BIBLE REALIZING POSITIVE LONG-TERM RESULTS
If there are no positive results from reading God's Word, no real benefit has been realized. A "positive benefit" is one that is productive. It is the fruit that grows for you to eat. God-blessed activities always yield God-blessed results! It is never pointless to willingly subject your mind to God's Word in faith. It is never fruitful to handle God's Word in a state of general disinterest, or out of a sense of obligation. The results that are realized must be "long-term." You are being readied to spend eternity with God, and the Word of God is designed to work in you to that end.
Praying for understanding
In some circles, praying for wisdom is considered foolish. Great stress is placed upon human wisdom, disciplines of learning, and hermeneutics (the science of interpretation). Whatever place there may be for these things in spiritual life, it is certainly not the preeminent place. It is to your advantage to place all contrary views aside, and learn from the Word of God to pray for understanding. The Lord can open your understanding, and it is proper for you to ask Him to do so. Our situation is much like that of Elisha's servant. There are things to be seen that require Divine intervention if we are to see them. You recall the incident, do you not. The enemies of the prophet had surrounded Elisha and his servant. Beholding the large and hostile army, the servant cried "Alas, my master! What shall we do?" What the servant did not see, was a larger circumference of angelic hosts around the enemy, there to protect the man of God. They were there, but the servant did not see them. Thus it is written, "Then Elisha prayed and said, 'O LORD, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.' And the LORD opened the servant's eyes, and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha" (2 Kings 6:17). There are wonderful things to be beheld in God's Word--things that will buoy up your spirit in a troubled world, bringing you joy and peace beyond measure. But they must be seen, or understood, to produce the benefit. If you have been discouraged in your reading of Scripture because it seems over your head, do not despair. There is a God in heaven that can give you understanding!
The example of David
David had the Law. He did not have the Scriptural advantages we have, but he did have a Bible. It was something with which he saturated his mind. He meditated on the statutes of the Lord, wrapping his mind around those sacred sayings. Yet, there was a dimension of understanding he could not attain on his own. Hear his plea, and determine to follow in his steps. "Make me know Thy ways, O LORD; Teach me Thy paths. Lead me in Thy truth and teach me, For Thou art the God of my salvation; For Thee I wait all the day" (Psa 25:4). God can lead you in His truth. Do not doubt it for a moment. He can show you His way, and teach you His paths, or manners. He will do it through the Word of God, but it is He that does it. Ask Him to do this in you. Pray for understanding when you read the Word of God. I can personally attest to the effectiveness of this approach.
The 119th Psalm
There are several similar expressions in the 119th Psalm. They will help mold our thinking to reflect Divine priorities. "Open my eyes, that I may behold Wonderful things from Thy law . . . I shall run the way of Thy commandments, For Thou wilt enlarge my heart . . . Give me understanding, that I may observe Thy law, And keep it with all my heart . . . Thy hands made me and fashioned me; Give me understanding, that I may learn Thy commandments . . . I am Thy servant; give me understanding, That I may know Thy testimonies . . . Thy testimonies are righteous forever; Give me understanding that I may live . . . Let my cry come before Thee, O LORD; Give me understanding according to Thy word" (Psa 119:18,32,34,73,125, 144,169). Do not hesitate to join the saints of ages past in asking for understanding. As you read the Word of God, accompany your reading with an earnest prayed for discernment. You will not be disappointed!
The opening of the heart
Spiritual understanding can also be described as the opening of the heart. Again, this is something accomplished by the Lord. One of the outstanding incidents of this grace is found in the book of Acts. There, Paul preached to a devout lady named Lydia, as well as her companions. The occasion resulted in the belief and obedience of Lydia. Going behind the scenes, the Holy Spirit tells us how this was accomplished. "And a certain woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul" (Acts 16:14). Lydia's will was not violated, and God's nature was not compromised. Her heart was opened by a Sovereign God so she could respond to the glorious message. It is perfectly in order for you to ask the Lord to do the same for you. In fact, if you have obeyed the Gospel from your heart, the Lord enabled you to do so!
Opening the eyes of the heart
The Apostle Paul was acutely sensitive of the Divine role in spiritual understanding. Too frequently, this perspective is missing in the contemporary church. Men are depending upon humanly- devised strategies and an appeal to the flesh to waft people into a state of spiritual stability. It is all wasted effort! That is not the way spiritual growth is accomplished! Hear this fervent pray for a body of people that had faith in God and love for the people of God. "That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe" (Eph 1:17-19). If the Lord does not open the "eyes of our heart," we will not be able to understand the things of the Spirit of God. It is really just that simple! These people had heard and believed the Gospel. They had responded in heartfelt obedience, and had been sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise (Eph 1:13). However, the Kingdom of God was larger than their perception. Divine involvement was needed, and Paul prayed that it would occur. The "eyes of the heart" involve the capacity to comprehend the mind of the Lord. These eyes have been shut by sin, and can only be opened by the Living God. The "spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him" is the apprehension of things reserved for those that love the Lord.
Things that are to be seen
Observe the matters to be illuminated. They are pivotal to the growth and stability of the believer. Only God can enable you to see these things, so ask Him to do so. "The hope of His calling." Why did God call us? To be social reformers, political strategists, or domestic gurus? Indeed not! He called us to "inherit a blessing" (1 Pet 3:9). The "world to come" is our destiny, and we will be given charge over it (Heb 2:5). "The riches of the glory of His inheritance" refers a most blessed aspect of redemption. Salvation is what we received, we are what God will receive? If that seems like a trite thing, it is not. God does not buy garbage! The glory He will realize in the saints transcends the limitations of human reason. If God does not open our hearts to behold the glories of this truth, we will not behold it. What is more, until we see it, we will not pour much of ourselves into the work of the Lord. The absence of this understanding accounts for the mediocrity that has pervaded churches across the land. "The surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe" confirms there is more in salvation than is realized at first. Paul is writing to saved and sanctified people, yet they needed to realize how great the power was that belonged to them. It is the same power that raised Jesus from the dead, and now it is reserved for the saints of God! It is tragic that much of the work in the present church requires little Divine power. Prayer requests are often small, as well as religious programs. Content to dwell in the lower climes, multitudes stumble along, blissfully unaware that God has dedicated transcendant power to them. If only they were aware of it, they would do "great exploits" in the name their God. As it is written, " . . . the people who know their God will display strength and take action" (Dan 11:32).
There are exploits to be done
The Word of God contains the record of people that saw more than the masses, and accomplished great feats. Noah built an ark to the saving of his house. All Israel came out of Egypt in a single night, without leaving a hoof behind. Samson slew a thousand Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey. David defeated the mighty giant Goliath. Daniel stood against the king, praying to God, and surviving the den of lions. The three Hebrew children withstood a fiery furnace, coming out of it without the smell of smoke on their clothes. Think of the mighty deeds performed by the saints after Christ's return to heaven. After a single proclamation of the Gospel, the very people that murdered Jesus repented, and were baptized into Him. One man, Paul the Apostle, was the only Apostle to the Gentiles, and he did his job well. How were these mighty deeds accomplished? The people saw the power that was available to them, and capitalized upon it for the glory of God. O, that the church would rise up in the power of the Lord today. Are we not commanded to "be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might" (Eph 6:10)? If our eyes are opened by the Lord, we will be able indeed to fulfill this word! Pray for understanding! Ask the Lord to open the eyes of your heart, and those of your brothers and sisters.
Strengthened with all power
One more example of this kind of prayer will suffice. Again, Paul prays for the Ephesian brethren. "For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man; so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fulness of God" (Eph 3:14-19). There is more to be seen than you have seen! There is more to be experienced than you have experienced! You must be persuaded of that in your heart. You want to be "rooted and grounded in love," but you cannot be if you do not understand something of the magnitude of your salvation! You must be "able to comprehend," and God can bring that to pass!
The love of Christ has breadth, extending to all peoples of all time. It has length, extending into eternity, and reaching backward to less fortunate ages. It has height, able to give you access to God Himself. It has depth, able to retrieve the lowest sinner. You can know what is unknowable. The love of Christ reaches beyond the perimeter of human knowledge--yet you can know it!
Filled with God's fulness
A most remarkable statement is made here; "that you may be filled up to all the fulness of God." Do you dare to imagine your capacity for the Living God? Did you know He can "enlarge" your heart, giving you a greater capacity for Himself? No wonder David prayed, "I shall run the way of Thy commandments, For Thou wilt enlarge my heart. Teach me, O LORD, the way of Thy statutes, And I shall observe it to the end" (Psa 119:32-33). If you will pray for understanding, God will enlarge your heart, giving you the ability to receive more of Himself!
Satan snatches away the Word when it is not understood
The criticality of understanding is seen in the response of the devil to those without it. Jesus expounded this matter in the parable of the sower, and His words are arresting. "When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is the one on whom seed was sown beside the road" (Matt 13:19). This is a text to be taken seriously. It depicts the manner of the Kingdom. The "word of the kingdom" is the word announcing the salvation of God through Christ Jesus. If that word is not understood, it will not be retained. It will bear no fruit. It will, in fact, be taken from us by the devil himself. Those that allow Scripture to lie on the surface of their minds, without permitting it to permeate their heart, will not be able to profit from it. It will not be there when they need it--perhaps not even when they want it. We have the word of the King on this matter! "When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart." Do not imagine that you are the exception to the case! Pray that you will understand the Word when you read it! Pray that you will understand when you hear it! Pray you will understand when you ponder it! Human resources are marvelous, and are to be employed energetically. Yet, they are not sufficient to uncover the mysteries of the Kingdom. We live in a day when the wisdom of men is highly exalted, but it has not yielded a spiritual harvest, nor can it do so! It is time for the church to cease its insistence upon worldly credentials, and begin to insist on spiritual ones. No person should be allowed in leadership that has no understanding of the things of God. Pray for understanding when you read the Bible. Pray for your brothers and sisters in Christ to have understanding when they are exposed to Scripture!