Don’t open your bible … … until you’ve asked yourself these three important questions.
Before we can understand what the Bible is saying, learn its timeless truths, and make personal applications, we have to be ready. We must be prepared to make applications.
Most Christians want to apply the Bible. They aren’t actively opposing God’s Word or intentionally rebelling against what God wants them to do. But there’s more to application preparation than a vague desire to do what is right.
To prepare to apply God’s Word, it is important to answer the following questions.
Am I ready to meet God?
Suppose you received word that the most interesting, powerful, influential person in the world was in the next room and wanted to talk with you. Would you do it? Of course you would.
The truth is that God Himself, the Creator and Ruler of the universe, wants to meet you in His Word. But you must be in a frame of mind to hear Him and to respond.
While it is true that when we give our lives to Christ, we become God’s own children (Ro. 8:15–17), this doesn’t mean we can take Him for granted. Prayers used as punctuation (to begin and end religious meetings) or done out of habit (as before meals) betray this tendency. The first step toward applying God’s Word is to realize who is speaking to us—Almighty God—and to enter His presence with deep reverence and gratitude.
This means laying aside your concerns, preoccupations, and pursuits to focus your mind on Him and His message. As you read the Bible, remember that you are talking to an Almighty God who loves you.
Am I truly open to God’s Word?
For the Bible to meaningfully impact your life, you must first believe that it contains God’s message for you, today. Often we keep the historical figures trapped in history, thousands of years removed from us and our experiences.
The “theologically educated” are especially prone to this. In seminary I learned a truckload of knowledge about the Patriarchs, Moses, the judges, the kings, the prophets, the captives, the apostles, and the Savior. I value that education, but it has often taken me on intellectual tangents. While I am analyzing history and culture and dissecting Hebrew or Greek, I might miss the point. If we are to apply God’s Word to our lives today, we must go beyond the facts, context, and principles we read.
This means believing that the Holy Spirit used people to write God’s Word to us—to you and to me. Does what happened thirty-five hundred years ago to wandering Jews in a desert relate to what happens to me today in the computer age? Yes. Is there a connection between the ancient despots, captivities, and slaves and modern capitalism, communism, and democracy? You bet. Do God’s great movements in history affect me in 1990? Definitely. Because the Bible is timeless, it is always true.
Being open to God’s Word also means being willing to do what God says, even when it goes against my desires. When you take out your Bible, ask yourself, “If I open it and understand it, will I do it?” If you are closed to God, reading His Word will be a waste of time.
Have I expressed my needs to God?
Because God knows all your needs and sorrows, you may wonder why you should bother to tell Him about them. God does know everything about us, and the Holy Spirit prays for us (Ro. 8:26–27). God understands. And yet He wants us to engage our minds as we pray: “I will pray with my Spirit but I will also pray with my mind” (1 Cor. 14:15). And as you pray, you will be more sensitive to the areas that need application.
If you stop to take a simple spiritual diagnosis before opening the pages of Scripture, you will be more likely to find help. Before you read, ask:
- What conflicts am I facing at home, work, school, or church?
- What resources do I lack (e.g. time, energy, money, supportive relationships)?
- What difficult situations am I facing?
- What personal shortcomings am I struggling to overcome?
A while ago I was praying about my discouragement with my work. It seemed as if no one cared about what I was doing. Then as I read Hebrews, this verse seemed to jump out at me: “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them” (Heb. 6:10). Immediately I was encouraged to know that God takes notice of all of my work for Him. I had read that chapter many times but had never noticed that verse. Because I had prayed about my need, I was sensitive and open to God’s message.
By expressing your need to God, you will prepare your heart to receive His truth. Verses will seem to leap off the pages, and you’ll find more applications. Being alert and focusing your attention will help you respond to the directions God gives in the Bible.
If you are open to God and His Word and express your needs to God, you will be ready to apply the Bible. Of course, preparing your heart is just the first step in studying, understanding, and obeying God’s Word. In future articles, we will discuss what to do next to discover how to make specific applications and action plans from any part of the Bible.
This article was written by Bruce B. Barton and originally published in issue 55 of Discipleship Journal. Bruce was president of The Livingstone Corporation and one of the senior editors and designers of the Life Application Bible. He holds a doctor of ministry degree from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and served for twenty-six years with Youth for Christ, U.S.A.