4 Steps in Application
Many Christians are like poor photographs - overexposed and underdeveloped. They've had plenty of input from the Word of God, but what difference has it made in their lives? Spiritual growth is a commitment to change. And yet, the human heart resists nothing as strongly as it resists change. I want to suggest a means over overcoming the bias toward spiritual inertia. Four principles reduced to four words that are a four-step process to apply Scripture in any circumstance. Not to oversimplify things, but to provide some handles to work with if you want to apply the Bible.
Step 1: Know - First you've got to know the Text. The application is based on interpretation, so if your interpretation of a passage is erroneous, your application will likely be as well. The text doesn't mean one thing today and something else tomorrow. Whatever it means, it means forever. But you will never cease the process of applying that Truth to your life.
Second, you've got to know Yourself. In your personal life? Family life? Church life? Work life? Community life? As 1 Timothy 4:16 warns, "Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching." Notice the order: yourself first, then to the communication of that truth. If you don't know yourself (your exaggerated or distorted viewpoints) it's difficult to help other people apply the Bible to their lives.
Step 2: Relate - Once we know the truth of God's Word, we must relate it to our experience. When you become a Christian, Jesus Christ moves into your life - right to the center. Once there, He affects every area. Once you realize that Jesus Christ wants to impact your life in a profound way, you need to look for areas in which to relate the Word to your life. Relate it to God's image of you? Relate it to your self-image? Your relationship with other people? To the enemy? Relate it to your sin? Relate it to God's promises for your life? To His commands in your life? Relate the Word to examples for you to follow?
Use the Bible as a 'working Word' and God will produce life-change in every area of your life. A good test is this: If someone who has known you very, very well over a long period of time can't say, "Hey, you're not the same person I used to know? Things are different in your life (for the better)!" - then you're not or haven't been applying God's Word to your life. His Word as it relates to you ought to make things different in and for you.
Step 3: Meditate - I'm talking about something completely different from mental gymnastics that seek to empty the mind. True meditation is pondering a truth with a view of letting it help and readjust our mind and life. Since most of us are active busy people, we're likely to conclude that meditation was a nice thing for earlier generations of believers because they didn't have as much going on as we do, so it really has no relevance for our day and age. Wrong.
Meditation is useful in the concept of Observation of scripture, but it is absolutely essential to the concept of Application of scripture. We're to weave Scripture into the fabric of everyday living. "But I have a hard time thinking or concentrating, " someone will say. No, the problem is you're starving your brain. You're not providing it with any fuel. There's a direct link between meditation and memory. Memory provides our mind with the fuel it needs to make meditation profitable. Get a program or system to help you memorize Scripture! Highlight your favorites. Write them down. Post them around. You will find that only one thing will sustain you during periods of life - the Word of God that you commit to memory and meditate on.
Step 4: Practice - The ultimate goal of Bible study is to practice the Truth. Scripture was not written to fatten geese, but to train athletes and equip soldiers. "Run to win." "Overcome." "Stand firm." Those are the messages of the Word. So you want to always ask yourself, "Is there some area of life for which this truth is needed?" God has given the Word to transform your experience, and your hunger or practice of the Word will be in direct proportion to your obedience of it.
In fact, there is a cycle: the more you understand God's Word, the more you use it - and the more you use it, the more you want to understand it. In the end, you'll always find these same two sides are for Christian living: you need food and you need exercise. Both have to happen to have a healthy life.
Dr. B's Personal Perspective
I love a quote by famed 19th century Englishman Frederick W. Robertson: "It is not the number of books you read, nor the variety of sermons you hear, nor the amount of religious conversations in which you mix. But it is the frequency and earnestness with which you meditate on these things 'til the Truth in them becomes your own and part of your own being. That is what ensures your spiritual growth.'
As such, I think of meditation as thinking about what God is saying to me through His Word, then writing it down. But I have also learned to look for ways to apply what I've mediated on. In conversation, when praying, when writing, when managing...et al. Truth is, there are more ways for me to apply God's Word to my life than I actually have time or means to do so!