The Word of God instructs us. It gives us the knowledge of God. It teaches us about who God is, what He is like, what He requires of us. It teaches us about Christ and His Gospel and Kingdom. It teaches us about the way and benefits of salvation. The Word teaches us how to live together as the body of Christ (that’s what the epistles are about). The Word of God teaches us wisdom for living. The Word of God is truth and needs to be read and studied and heard in order to learn and grow.
The information that God’s Word gives us is also for the transformation of our minds, learning to think biblically; the transformation of our affections, having new loves, desires; and the transformation of our wills, learning to act biblically. Our actions come from a renewed mind; we will never act in a way that we don’t first think. Our actions are motivated by a renewed heart and affections, we will never act in a way that we don’t preeminently desire.
In order to learn the Word, to gain the information it has for us, we need to read it. Read it for both breadth and depth. The broader our knowledge of the Word, the more informed we will be when go for depth. In other words, daily Bible reading helps you with the sermons and your own personal study.
Tools for Information
Have a plan! There are plenty of plans out there. We put plans out every year. If you didn’t start on Jan. 1, don’t sweat it. Pick up a plan and use the off days to catch up. Remember the six “Ds”: Determination sustained by dependence, devotion inspired by desperation, and discipline empowered by delight.
Have a good study Bible. This is not necessarily your reading Bible (I personally prefer a Bible without notes for my daily reading). For basic information, a good study Bible, like the ESV Study Bible, the Reformation Study Bible, ESV Systematic Theology Study Bible, The NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible and The NET Bible with the notes are all excellent choices. There are new study Bibles being released all the time. I wouldn’t worry about niche study Bibles that focus on an issue (E.g., an apologetics study Bible) I would use one that helps give a basic understanding to the backgrounds of Bible books, and basic explanation of passages.
Have a good basic commentary or two or three. The New Bible Commentary is a good one volume work. John Sailhamer’s NIV Compact Bible Commentary is a gem. The old classics like Matthew Henry and Matthew Poole are valuable. The Tyndale Commentary series is very good. I am never short on commentary recommendations, so just ask me about specific books!
Have a concordance in the version that you use. If you use the ESV, then use an ESV concordance. These are very helpful when looking to see how and where words are used.
Bible Handbooks or OT or NT Introductions are always helpful to have around too.
Utilize the times when the Word is taught at church. Christ has given you pastors as a gift to equip you (Eph. 4:11-13). We prepare, using the gifts and education God has provided, in order to help you grow. Our preparation is a service to the Lord and to you, to build you up in your most holy faith (Jude 20).
Tools for Transformation
Pray before you read the Word, hear the Word, or study the Word. I have used this acronym for years, which I learned from John Piper
I. Incline my heart to your testimonies. Psalm 119:36
O. Open my eyes to see wonders in your word. Psalm 119:18
U. Unite my heart to fear your name. Psalm 86:11
S. Satisfy me with your steadfast love. Psalm 90:14
Meditate on what you read. Turn the text over in your mind. Ask questions of the text. Pray the text. Cathy Madraso gave me a copy of Don Whitney’s Praying the Bible, I am looking forward into digging into this. (It looks so good that I ordered 20 for the church!). Luther’s little booklet, A Simple Way to Pray also teaches how to pray the Scriptures. Nothing gets the Bible into our blood stream like meditation and prayer.
Obey what you read. Obedience is a prerequisite to deeper understanding and discernment (John 7:17).
Come to the ministry of the Word ready to receive what God has prepared for you. Pray for an open heart, a hungry heart, an open mind, and a willing spirit. Pray for the preacher/teacher and come ready to meet with the Lord through His Word and Spirit.
God speaks to us through His Word. He teaches and transforms through His Word and by His Spirit. Are we doing our part? Do we want to learn and grow? Do we want to be changed? If so, God has granted all that we need through Christ.