Observation Interpretation Application
The study of God’s Word is kind of like learning to fly. It takes a lot more than just handing the controls to someone and shouting, “Have fun.” Rather it’s a process that can’t happen overnight. Yet that’s exactly what we do when we hand people a Bible, tell them to get into the Word, and expect them to take it from there. No wonder so many people give up in frustration? Instead, effective Bible study involves taking certain steps in a certain order to guarantee certain results. Not just any steps; not just any order; not just any result. The following is a three-step approach for life-change—three crucial steps to carry out in a particular order.
Observation — In this step you ask and answer the question, “What do I see?” You assume the role of biblical detective looking for clues. No detail is trivial. For instance, in the gospel of John, the word ‘believe’ appears no less than 75 times, always a verb and never as a noun. Do some investigation and you’ll discover that John uses ‘believe’ very purposefully. It’s a term that unlocks his meaning.
Interpretation — Here you ask and answer the question, “What does it mean?” Too often Bible study begins with interpretation and furthermore, it usually ends there. Your central quest is so if you want to understand a Biblical text, you’ve got to bombard it with questions. The Bible is never embarrassed to be asked questions. That doesn’t mean it will answer all of them. But you still need to ask.
Application — Here you ask and answer the question, “How does it work?” (not, ‘Does it work?’) People often say they’re going to make the Bible more relevant, but if the Bible is not already relevant, nothing you or I do will help. The Bible is relevant because it is revealed, and for those who read it and heed it, it changes their lives. It’s easy to study the Bible and say, “Oh wow! That’s just what (they) need.” But by taking that approach, you ignore the personal question, “What does this have to say to me? How would this work in my life?” If the Bible isn’t working in my life, then what authority do I have to share it with someone else? Start with yourself, and go outward from there.
Dr. B’s Personal Perspective
“Every day I call it my First Word—the first thing God says to me that day. I always begin there, presuming that before I wake up God already knows what I need to hear for that day and where I’m going to find it. If my Spirit is restless or my devotional book doesn’t seem on point, I ask God to speak to what I’m feeling or needing. Then I take His Word from there.”