One of the most common conversations I have as a pastor revolves around two statements:
I don't know how to read my bible.
I don't know where to start.
I run in to people who attend our church and who don't that both share frustration, feelings of disconnectedness, and what I call a dried up well of revelation. This is exactly why I put together an online series of blogs, an easy to follow reading plan, and devotional content designed to help our church become more biblically literate. There is no substitute for spending time reading your bible.
Regardless of how long you have been following Jesus there is something in this for you. Perhaps you have been a Christian for many years and you feel confident in your personal devotion time. If that is you, then you know the importance of keeping your skills sharp. Let this be a sharpening phase for you. Maybe you are new to this whole Christianity thing and you don't even know where to start. This will give you the direction you need to begin going further with God faster! Or, maybe you are reading this today and you wouldn't call yourself a Christian. If that is you, then prepare yourself. If you open up the bible looking for God you WILL find Him. This may very well be the first day of a new life for you in Jesus that you did not even expect to find. A little secret about that...you're in good company, most of us weren't looking for Him either. He found us.
SOAP is short for Scripture, Observation, Application, and Prayer. It is a simple way to approach your personal devotion time with God.
Here is what you do:
- Scripture: Take your time reading and allow God to speak to you. Highlight, underline, or place a mark in the margin of your bible next to words or verses that seem to stand out to you. When you have finished reading the section you planned to read for the day, go back and reread the verses that you marked. Look for the one or two things that seemed to speak to you and write them in a journal. I prefer to use the Evernote app on my phone, but there are many electronic journal options out there as well as the faithful pen and paper. Your paper notebook won't ever run out of batteries...so there is that.
- Observation: One of the most important things to keep in mind before trying to interpret what God is saying to you through scripture is to make sure that you are observing what the text actually says. What is the picture being painted by the words on the page? We can be tempted to mistake observation for interpretation. Try not to cross that line. The first step is to observe. Ask the Holy Spirit to teach you. Try paraphrasing the verses you wrote down in your own words.
- Application: This is where it gets personal. Personalize what you have read by asking yourself how it applies to your life right now. Perhaps it is instruction, encouragement, or correction for a particular area of your life. Write down how the text applies to you today.
- Prayer: This can be as simple as asking God to help you use this scripture or it may be asking for greater insight into what He is showing you. Remember that prayer is a two-way conversation so be sure that you stop to listen and don't just talk the whole time.
That's it! SOAP. It's as simple or as deep as you want it to be.
A few additional things that can make for a great addition to your personal devotion time:
- Worship music: Have your phone or computer nearby with some worship music ready to play. You can follow Journey Church Detroit on Spotify to keep up with the songs we sing on the weekend.
- Prayer List: Create a prayer list in your journal. Write down specific prayer requests and dates. Keep track of when God answers prayers on your list and go back to mark them as such. Celebrate God's faithfulness in those moments!
- Scripture Memorization: Pick a few scriptures from your journal that you feel God is calling you to commit to memory. Mark them, review them regularly, and pray them until they become automatic. Speaking the word of God over your life and in conversation with others is powerful. The more scripture you have IN you the better. Just remember that the highest level on cognitive scales is not memorization, it is application. In other words: You're not smart because you know stuff...you're smart because you know what to do with the stuff you know AND you actually do it.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Make sure that you have a bible translation that you can actually read. If all you have is some old dusty KJV bible that your grandparents gave you when you were 7, it might be time to invest in something that is easier for you to read (there is nothing wrong with the KJV if that is your preferance). The NLT, NIV, or MSG bible translations communicate in language that is much closer to the way that we speak today. You can use Bible Gateway to research different passages of scripture in different translations to see which translation of the bible reads the best for you. Don't let anyone try to tell you that one translation is better than another. It is a matter of preference. Having a bible you don't want to read does you no good. With technology like YouVersion you can have access to hundreds of bible translations in the palm of your hand absolutely free!
Now that we have covered the HOW. Tomorrow we will cover the WHERE.
Where is the best place to start reading? There really is no right or wrong answer. But, I have put together a reading plan that will take you on a journey through the book of Matthew. Why? To give you a chance to fall in love OR back in love with Jesus. You can follow along with the reading plan right here on our blog or via the Journey Church Detroit Facebook page.
Pastor Bill C.