Have you ever watched an artist’s painting develop during a few days of work? At the first sitting he may sketch the bare outline of the picture: a pond, a fence, and an old barn. When you see the same picture a few days later, he has added a setting sun, some clouds, a split-rail fence, and an overhanging limb. Still later, the finished painting will have full color, fine detail and clear perspective. Bible study is somewhat like that. No subject is mastered, no sermon prepared, and no lesson completed in just one sitting. Study is cumulative: everything you learn is added to what you already know. Bible truth is such that our picture of it is never complete. As a student of the Word, you will come again and again to the Scriptures in your study and each time something will be added to make the picture of truth a little more complete.
In this lesson we will discuss ways to help you better read the Bible and understand it as you prepare yourself to minister to the needs of the people by preaching and teaching.
Reading for Personal Devotion
Bill Blase works for a large company in the city and teaches an adult Bible class each week in his local church. His work day begins at 8 o’clock, but Bill gets to his office by 7:15 to spend time alone in private devotions. “I begin with praise and prayer,” he says, “and when I have finished my Bible reading I sit quietly and think about what I have read. Sometimes I write something in my notebook. This time I spend in devotions each morning starts my day off right.”
Personal devotional activities are important to every Christian, and especially to you as you minister to others. They make you aware of God’s presence so that you reflect His beauty, His grace, and His character. As you develop this relationship with Him, your insights into ministering and human need will grow as your spiritual development is directed by the Holy Spirit. Your understanding of the relationship between personal devotions and ministering may be aided by the following simple analogy. A cow will search out and find grass in the early hours of the day. Then she will find water, and rest in the shade for a good while. Finally, late in the day, she will make her way back to the barn, grazing as she goes. Milk has never crossed her mind. She is not in the pasture to produce milk. She is there to eat grass, drink water, and lie in the shade. So it is with you and your private devotions: you are not in the prayer closet to produce sermons and lessons. You are there for your personal benefit and blessing. However, only as you nurture your spiritual life will you be able to strengthen others.
As one who ministers, you can only share with others those spiritual things that are truly yours. The Word you preach or teach must be living and real to you. Only when you have found a meaningful relationship with God can you lead others to Him.
The spiritual shepherd must search out the green pastures and still waters of God’s Word for himself and then lead others into those places of blessing. What you have you can give to others, and they will know when you have been in His fellowship (Acts 4:13).
Here are some suggestions for your private worship. Form a habit of daily prayer and meditation. Take time to be alone with God. Daniel made prayer a daily habit and continued it even when faced with death in the den of lions (Daniel 6:10). When God made Joshua leader over Israel, He promised Joshua success and prosperity if he would read and follow the whole law of God (Joshua 1:6–9). Your ability to faithfully fulfill the ministry to which God has called you will greatly depend on your relationship with God and your diligence to obey His Word. You may have to rise early or stay up late, but you need to take time for private fellowship with God every day.
Begin your devotions with praise and worship. Cultivate in your own heart a spirit of thanksgiving and praise to God. Think of His mercy, His goodness, and love as you give thanks to Him. Learn to express these feelings verbally. Talk to your heavenly Father on a conversational, personal, son-to-father level.
You can freely voice your innermost feelings in private prayer. By his psalms David expressed his emotions, whether complaint against his enemies (Psalm 28:1–5) or praise to his God (Psalm 30:1–12). Empty your heart of bitterness, anger, and frustration by prayer; then wait in His presence until you are filled with His grace and goodness. When your thoughts are right, your life will be right (Proverbs 4:23).
A systematic plan for reading will keep the Bible central in your devotions. If you read three chapters each weekday and five chapters on Sunday, you can read the Bible through in one year. Another plan suggests you read three chapters from the Old Testament each morning and two chapters from the New Testament each evening. Select a plan, one of these or another, and follow it. What food is to your body, the Word is to your spirit. You can miss a meal and survive, but if you quit eating you will die. So it is with your spiritual life; you must have the Word to live. Do not be discouraged if you do not understand or remember all you read.
When you read, let the Word speak to you. Do not hurry; tarry long enough for God to say something to you. Spend some time with God, and do not rush past the opportunity to let God speak to you by the Word.
You can use the Word of God in prayer and praise. When you find a portion of Scripture that expresses the prayer or praise of your heart, offer it to the Lord. For instance, Psalm 51 is a prayer for forgiveness. Ephesians 1:15–23 is Paul’s prayer for the believers at Ephesus. You can worship the Lord with Psalm 66, one of David’s many songs of praise. You will find other portions to use from time to time. They will bless and minister to you as you use them in prayer and praise to the Lord.
Commit some of your favorite Scriptures to memory. Write a verse on a card and put the Bible reference on the back side. Take the card with you and memorize the verse and reference. If the opportunity comes, share the verse with someone. As you fill your mind and heart with the Word of God it will add quality to every part of your life. A person who faithfully spends time with God in prayer and takes the Word of God as a rule of life ha taken an important step of preparation for the important task of ministering to others.
Reading for Understanding
Read for Total View
It is hard to say where personal preparation ends and preparation to minister begins. Perhaps there is no end of one and beginning of the other, but for our consideration let us make the reading of the Scriptures the beginning of preparation to minister.
Everyone who ministers the Word in preaching or teaching needs to draw from an overflow of Bible knowledge. To be familiar with the Bible as a whole requires reading it from cover to cover to know the content and understand its teaching. Reading to provide background knowledge must be done on a regular basis and not just for each sermon or lesson you prepare. Ministering out of a mind and heart filled with the Word of God will be a blessing to your listeners and a rewarding experience for you.
To gain full pleasure from a painting it should be viewed twice, once from a distance and again up close. If you prefer, you may get a close-up view and then move to a distance for a second look. Either way, you enjoy the picture better when you can see it as a whole and in its detail. In a similar way there are two ways to view the Bible. One approach, the synthetical method, gives a total picture of the Scriptures. In this method of study, the many parts of the Bible are put together to make one book and the details are seen as parts of the whole revelation. This total picture shows unity of the many parts of the Bible and their relation to one another.
Read for Overview
The boy stood at the window and listened to the thunderstorm raging outside. Rain had fallen for hours and with the lights off it was dark both in and out of the house. Suddenly, light flashed and a clap of thunder rattled the windows. In one brief instant his eyes took in the whole scene: torrents of rain, puddles of water, trees bent by wind, a swollen stream-all in black and white. The total picture was pressed on his mental vision.
In a similar way your first reading of a whole book or portion of Scripture will give you its total picture. (This is the synthetical method mentioned earlier, as it applies to the study of a single book or an extended passage.) Details are important only to help give the general impression and major outline. Read rapidly to avoid mind wander, and get only what you can without great effort. This first rapid reading is important for the next readings.
Read for Meaning
The next morning the boy stood by the same window and looked at the rising sun in a clear sky. Except for the falling rain and the blowing wind, the same things were there. The second look added detail and color to everything.
The same kind of thing happens when you read a passage of Scripture a second or a third time. The general outline of the first reading is filled in with the details gained in the second reading. Color is added to the general impression. You may need to go over the same portion several times before all the details are in place, but as you do the passage will press itself on your mind and in your heart. At this point you will begin to get the content and meaning of the Scripture.
The analytical method of Bible study, then, requires careful study and reading of the passages. This helps you to break down, dissect, and divide the whole into parts so that you discover more meaning. You can see, too, how the parts relate to one another and to the whole. Reading the Bible in this manner, book by book, chapter by chapter, verse by verse, and word by word will help you gain thorough knowledge and understanding of the Scriptures. Obviously, this is a pattern of study that extends over many years, even a lifetime, but it is worth the effort to gain knowledge of God’s Word. Systematic, careful, and thoughtful reading is a necessary part of preparing to minister the Word in preaching and teaching.
Continuing Personal Development
Living things grow. Your relationship with God is an experience of spiritual life. As such, there should be development and fruitfulness. Peter challenges us to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). Undoubtedly, the reason for challenging us to continue to grow is the natural tendency to let up.
Sometimes those who minister do let up on personal development and growth early in their ministering. For some this tendency appears when they receive their first official recognition. For others it occurs when they have the first opportunity to preach or teach regularly. Some who minister develop in the early years of their serving and then in later years lose interest in further maturity.
There is no place for such an attitude in the Christian experience, most certainly not in the life of one who ministers. Each level of development has its own reward, but no accomplishment brings full satisfaction. There are other heights to be reached, for the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ cannot be exhausted.
Several areas of your life need constant attention for you to reach balanced maturity. The Word and the Spirit provide the framework within which you develop so that you can be balanced, mature, and productive. Let us consider the intellectual, spiritual, social, and physical development areas of human life in which Jesus set a pattern of growth (Luke 2:40–52).
You can never presume you have gained full knowledge of the Scriptures, for the Word of God is an unending source of truth, inspiration, and instruction. The same passage and lesson texts will yield fresh insights through diligent study. This will add a dimension of personal satisfaction that will make your Christian experience deeply refreshing, as you develop even greater knowledge of Jesus Christ.
It would be well to compare your need for intellectual development to school experience. For example, the first time your child goes to school and learns at the primary level, you are excited. But if his knowledge, reasoning ability, and skills never advance, wouldn’t you be concerned? And if your understanding of things in the spiritual realm does not increase, those who hear you minister will have good reason to be concerned also. Certainly the one who gives to others must have food for his own intellectual stimulation.
When you can, add helpful study books, beginning with a good concordance, a Bible dictionary, another version of the Scriptures. Consult with someone whose judgment you respect, and ask for suggestions about which books and study helps would be most profitable to you.
As you continue to develop intellectually, you will profit from other correspondence courses. Perhaps you will consider entering short-term Bible school sessions or even a longer-term Bible school program. In any event, the important thing is for you to continue to grow in your knowledge and understanding of the Bible. Many who engage in ministering also read the inspirational biographies of great Christians. These books can expand your knowledge of people, like yourself, who have given themselves to Christ and have grown in the faith. Their testimonies of God’s grace will inspire and provide good illustrations for your lessons and sermons in days to come.
Spiritual growth is a continuous process. When you minister to others you assume some responsibility for them as they look to you for instruction and guidance. As you grow spiritually you can give them the care they need. Our spiritual goal is Christlikeness. It is God’s will for each of us to be changed into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). As we commune with our Lord and grow in the knowledge of His Word, we become more like Him.
There is always something more of the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus to be learned and experienced (2 Peter 3:18). Paul never lost this consuming desire. After years of ministry he reflected: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:10). Your own experience in Christ will develop knowledge of Him, and this will develop spiritual character in you. You will grow progressively more compassionate, understanding, patient with the weaknesses of others, and filled with His love. This is the process by which God develops the shepherd’s heart in us.
The experience of the apostle Paul gives an excellent example of spiritual development. Early in his missionary career, Paul held a very rigid standard for Christian life and service. When John Mark left Paul and Barnabas during their first missionary journey, Paul interpreted this as desertion, and would not give him another chance to prove himself (Acts 15:36–41). However, as Paul learned to live according to the Spirit’s direction (Romans 8:4–11), he softened in his attitudes toward others. Through the gentle discipline of the Spirit, his old attitudes, which were controlled by the human nature, were displaced by Spirit-controlled attitudes that brought life and peace. We see the practical change wrought in his life as a result of spiritual development in his comment to Timothy: “Get Mark and bring\ him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11).
As we see our old attitudes, prejudices, and values change through the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit, we recognize that the changes the Spirit has called upon us to make have produced (and are producing) true spiritual development.
Even as a mature believer, a proven apostle, and a faithful minister, Paul sensed the need of pressing on toward the final goal (Philippians 3:12–14). He warned against falling short or lessening the effort (1 Corinthians 9:24–27) saying of himself, “I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (v. 27). God’s displeasure is voiced against anyone who draws back from His provisions for spiritual life and maturity (Hebrews 10:38–39).
Difficult times are opportunities for spiritual growth. The things that happen to you can be used to minister to others when you have found God as your own source of help. Heavy loads strengthen you; hard times teach good lessons. God has given every member of Christ’s body some ministry or service. As you use the ministry it will develop; if it is neglected, it will be lost. Spiritual growth will expand your influence and effectiveness in ministering.
Jesus was sociable. He attended weddings, dinners, and other social gatherings. He visited fishermen at the seaside, walked the cities, preached in the synagogues, and taught on the seashore. Crowds followed Him to the mountains and the villages to hear His words and His blessings. Wherever people were, Jesus was. Wherever Jesus was, people were. Jesus said, “‘The field is the world’” (Matthew 13:38), and John Wesley, one of the great
revival leaders in England said, “The world is my parish.” This should give us some indication of the need to be involved in the life of our communities.
As you become involved with people, you can minister to them. Lessons and sermons that grow out of personal contact will help meet the needs of people. Jesus ministered to individuals; some of the greatest truths He uttered were given to one person. Sometimes people open their hearts and reveal their needs only on personal contact.
Opportunities to minister are everywhere. People need personal care and love. Determine to leave people feeling better about themselves than before they met you. Make thoughtfulness of others a habit of life. Every personal contact can be an opportunity to minister.
Successful ministry requires you to get along with other people. Each person is but one part of the body of Christ, the church, and we must learn to cooperate. Each person needs the other; none of us is independent.
Some opportunities to serve will come as you are involved in your community. You can show your concern about the moral and spiritual conditions where you live if you are involved.
People may criticize you for social involvement as they did Jesus (Matthew 11:19). But He served humanity that way and you can too. Christians are the salt of the earth, and to be effective we must mingle with and bless the people of the world by our contact. But this contact has as its goal ministering to the needs of people, so that they may come to know Christ and the joy of His salvation.
Paul referred to the care of the physical body in these words to Timothy: “Physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:8). The Scriptures teach that the body is not superior to spiritual life. However, the Bible is equally clear in teaching that the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16). It is obvious that each of us is responsible to care for his or her own physical body. Proper care, good health habits, and exercise are necessary. If you care for your body, you honor it as the temple of God. If you neglect or harm your body, the physical laws of life will demand full payment. Here, as in other things, balance is needed; you must neither abuse your body by too much activity, nor indulge it by too little exercise. When you keep your body in good condition, you will feel better, think better, and your whole attitude toward life and ministry will be improved.
Each of these areas of growth is important to a well-balanced life and ministry. However, you need not focus undue attention on growth itself. If you do the things that cause growth, it will occur naturally.