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How can I get practical stuff out of the Bible that I can apply to my life today?


Sometimes when I read the Bible I come away feeling like I haven’t gotten anything from it—I don’t know any lepers, and lists of “begats” can be pretty boring. How can I get practical stuff out of the Bible that I can apply to my life today?

Steve Answers:

It sounds like you want to live your life by what the Bible says, but you haven’t found a way to make it work. Giving it a shot and coming away empty is frustrating. Many have given up on the Bible because they weren’t able to link it to their current lives. I’m glad you want the connection to happen. Try this: interact with the Bible. Let me explain.

The purpose of the Bible is to connect you with God, and connecting with God dramatically affects your life. It doesn’t mean your life will always be easy. In fact, at times it will probably be hard. But when you’re connected to God, you’ll have a purpose and peace and joy that will make living without Him boring and aimless.

Here’s how John ends his Gospel in the Bible: “Jesus worked many other miracles for his disciples, and not all of them are written in this book. But these are written so that you will put your faith in Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of God. If you have faith in him, you will have true life” (John 20:30, 31, CEV).1

In order for you to interact with the Bible, you need to mix what you read with prayer and our life. Some people pray before they read the Bible, and then they expect God to drop precious jewels into their mind as they skim over its pages.
That’s not likely to occur. Sure, pray before you begin reading your Bible, but use the Bible to launch an ongoing dialogue with God. The words of Scripture are God’s messages to you. Prayer is your way of sending messages to God. Prayer can become God’s way of sending messages to you, too.

To show you what I mean, let’s look at John 20:30, 31 again. This time I’ll put the verse in quotation marks and my prayer in italics as I interact with it: “Jesus worked many other miracles for his disciples . . .” Why don’t You work miracles today? Let me think of some that might have happened recently. Why don’t You do more miracles nowadays? I wonder why I don’t even pray for miracles. God, would You do a miracle for me?  “. . . and not all of them are written in this book.” I wonder what other miracles weren’t recorded. Did other disciples walk on water? Did any of Your disciples even make it all the way through a full night to pray with You (that would be a miracle!)? Do miracles happen today that I don’t know about?

Some people expect the Bible to be a manual for their lives, like an owner’s manual for a car or a computer. It can be helpful when people use the Bible like that, yet the Bible’s purpose is to connect you to God, not just help you choose whether or not you should lie, cheat, or help someone in need. This is one case where trying to live out what it says in an owner’s manual without being connected to the owner has lots of complications.

When it comes to reading the Bible, think of it as 66 books combined into one. The Bible’s 66 books contain a lot of variety, and they claim original, divine inspiration from the Holy Spirit. The Bible becomes divine once again when the same Holy Spirit is active in you as you receive the Bible’s messages. This is why your connection with God is so vital!

You’ll need to get a hold of a translation of the Bible that you can understand. Right now my favorite is the New Living Translation. I’m reading through the New King James Version this year, and I like the paraphrase called The Message. Ask some people around you what versions of the Bible speak to them, and try reading out of several different versions to see which one you like.

Actually, there are many different techniques for connecting with God through the Bible. When you have your own Bible, you can interact with God by marking it up—underlining it, writing questions or comments in the margins, color-coding it based on what’s important to you, and writing notes for quick reference in the back of it.

Here are five ways that I’ve interacted with God through the Bible that you may want to try:

• Classify a psalm. There are 150 psalms. Some sound happy and others sound sad. I’ve also found some that sound angry, desperate, full of praise, instructive, pitiful, and worshipful. Try reading a psalm and then classify it. Then, when you’re wanting a word from God, you can check what you’ve already noted.

• Read a proverb a day and wise up! Solomon, considered the wisest man who ever lived, wrote short proverbs (most are just one verse) that can give you 50 years of experience in just a few moments. Read a chapter of Proverbs a day—there’s one for each day of the month. And every day test one proverb that you read.

• Focus on one verse. For example, you can find Jesus’ sermon on the mount in Matthew chapters 5-7. Read it and pick out just one verse or one thought and try living it for a week. It’s not that Jesus’ sermon on the mount is hard to understand, but you’ll need supernatural power to put it into practice, which will point you back to prayer!

Here’s one verse to focus on from Jesus’ sermon on the mount: “Count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds” (Matthew 5:11, Message).2 There’s a challenge!

4. Put yourself in the story. After you read through one of the stories in the Bible, read through it again and put yourself in the story as one of the characters. Then do it again as a different character.

For example, John 9 presents the story of a man born blind that Jesus healed on the Sabbath. You can read it from the perspective of the man Jesus healed, from the perspective of the parents of the man, from the perspective of the religious leaders who got offended, or from the perspective of the disciples, who were part of the story at the beginning of it. If you think to yourself, I’m not blind, so this story has nothing to do with me, don’t be so sure! Read John 9:39-41!

5. Do a background check. Read one of the Epistles, the short letters toward the back of the Bible, such as Galatians, 1 and 2 Timothy, 1 and 2 Peter, 1, 2, and 3 John, etc. Then dig into the background of that Epistle to find out why it was written “back then.” After doing that, read it again and ask yourself how to live the input from “back then” here and now.

 Some people have Bibles that include a brief introduction before each book, which can give you valuable input to help you better understand the book’s original audience. If your Bible doesn’t, try digging for an Epistle’s background in a Bible commentary, or ask your pastor to give you some background information on it.

Here’s one example young people like to hear: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12, NIV).3

The experienced evangelist, Paul, wrote this advice to a young pastor named Timothy. It sounds like church members back then could look down on a young pastor. Is that still true today? If they do, will you stand up for that pastor?

Did you focus on the first half or the second half of that verse? If you’re looking for practical application, put into practice the second half of 1 Timothy 4:12. And here’s what 1 Timothy 4:15 says: “Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress” (NIV). That’s enough prayer material for at least a month!

Occasionally it’s beneficial to just glide through a quick reading of Scripture, sort of like running through the sprinklers on a hot day. But usually you’ll need a stronger connection with God if you take pieces of Scripture and interact with them so that you’re interacting with God—like a full-on shower with scrubbing, not just a run through the sprinklers.

Mark up your Bible, jot notes in it, memorize parts of it, pray about it, live it, question it, and repeat! You’re not doing this for a book report, you’re doing it for life.

1Scripture quotations identified CEV are from the Contemporary English Version. Copyright © American Bible Society 1991, 1995. Used by
2Texts credited to Message are from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.
3Texts credited to NIV are from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

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