Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Bible Application

Application: Why does it matter?

A 2016 LifeWay Research Study found that more than half of Americans have read little or none of the Bible. Of those who said they read it in the past week, just over half say they give a lot of thought to how it might apply to their life. Why do people read the Bible?  If you're honest with yourself, what is your reason?

The Bible is different from textbooks and history books. It is the very Word of God. Its intent is to help us for everyday life to know God and for Him to shape us to reflect Him. To be able to read it is not enough. We need to learn to make it practical. We need it for application.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, application is: 

The action of putting something into operation, often with practical use or relevance

We want to apply God's Word to our life and put it to use. We want it to help us live right with both God and man.

Application is two-pronged. 

  • Internal: for our thoughts, emotions, heart before God.
  • External: for our outward actions, relationships with others


All Bible studies should have application. God's Word is meant to be applied to our life. It is a foundational part of Inductive Bible Study.

  • Observation : What does it say
  • Interpretation : What does it mean
  • Application : Why does it matter


I was twenty three and in over my head! I lived in Manhattan. I got an eviction notice to raze my building, a court order on a car I no longer owned, was a new Emergency Room nurse in a busy New York City ER, and I was the lead organizer for a continuing education nursing workshop while my planning committee disintegrated before my eyes.

One night I read Psalm 42.

Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.  By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me— a prayer to the God of my life. Psalm 42:7-8 (NIV).

I was in deep and overwhelmed. I put the verses on a post-it note to dwell on. It seemed my sole comfort. I felt God had put me in this situation. I was honest with Him. It was He who let me get swept over like Jonah in the big fish. What comfort was there in that? Should I be angry with Him? I imagined that those waves were God but though turbulent, they were also His presence. "I've got you," He whispered.

This verse showed He loved me day and night. At nights everything seems worse than reality. Yet at night He was with me giving me comforting songs to sing. He was the God of my life. That is application. Holy practicality in everyday life. He brought me through those days learning about God, and clinging to Him.


The word APPLY will help usremember how to apply the Bible.

  • Alive
  • Practical
  • Profitable
  • Lord based
  • You


God's Word is from the eternal living God. It is dynamic and active, not in the respect that it changes, but rather that it is relevant in multiple situations, crossing time and culture. It was inspired by the Holy Spirit, and so it is expressed well. The Holy Spirit continues to help us apply it today. This is different from other ancient works that are static and merely an interesting time capsule.  

For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. Hebrews 4: 12 NLT



More blessed are all who hear the word of God and put it into practice. Luke 11:28 NLT

The Bible gives guidelines for how we should live. It helps us deal with our emotions, interact with others, make sound decisions, and represent all that is right in what we do.  It is designed to not just teach us, but coach us in the way we should live.

An old hymn, "Trust and Obey," tells us that trust and obedience to God and His Word are the foundations of our happiness. It is not a giddy giggling happiness, but rather a rest, joy and a peace in God for all we say and do. 

Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you. Phil. 4:9 NLT

Profitable. So how specifically can it help us in life? Check out this list! 

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 2 Timothy 3: 16 (NLT).



To teach us what is true. It teaches us attitudes, actions towards others in family, in business, in conflict, in principles of work and ethics, and so much more.


To make us realize what is wrong. It touches the heart and helps us examine our motives. It pricks us when we have been behaving badly.


To correct us when we are wrong. It shows us the better way to act. It shows us how to remedy a bad relationship. It guides us how to respond when we are angry or have made poor ethical choices. And it also helps us to respond well when others have wronged us.


It teaches us to do what is right. It is the coaching we need for learning to live out our actions, and respond right when our emotions run amuck. Remember when life got overwhelming for me when I worked in Manhattan? God's Word on a post-it note, and in my wallet, and in my journal was a continual reminder to find my peace and rest in God. It was like training wheels on a bike. It trained me to adjust my anxiety and turn my anxious thoughts to Him for strength.

Lord based

We apply the Scriptures to our lives to act more like we belong to God. The aim of application is to reflect Him in as we interact with others. However, it is also to cultivate the relationship we have with Him. He is our Lord, the reigning God of the Universe. But He is also our heavenly Father, our Friend, our Counselor. He has given His Word to us to help us know Him better. He communicates we us through His Word. He comforts us. He gives us peace. Sometimes I have laughed seeing God's sense of humor as I read.

He will keep you strong to the end so that you will be free from all blame on the day when our Lord Jesus Christ returns. 9 God will do this, for he is faithful to do what he says, and he has invited you into partnership with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. I Cor. 1:8-9 NLT

What God says is what we read in His Word. This brings us into the partnership, the relationship, with Him. It is not static, it is dynamic and ongoing.


The real question of applications is, what does it matter to you? How does what we read in the Bible matter for you, for your day to day experiences and your relationships with family, friends and co-workers? Are you one who sees all kinds of application for a friend, your spouse or you kids? Avoid that and force yourself to bring the attention of the passage back to YOU. God may eventually give you the forum to share the insights to someone else, but the purpose is for us to individually grow. At the core those timeless truths help you have an amazing, fulfilling life.

I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. John 10:10 NLT


The whole process of Inductive Bible Study hinges together and flows from one to the next as a continuum. Observation flows into Interpretation. Interpretation is critical to Application and applications may be jumping out at you as you are in process. Application is a sort of examination of your heart. It moves from the head knowledge to heart integration. The real question becomes, do you intend to obey what you discover in God's Word?

Take a moment to ask the Holy Spirit again for guidance. Meditate a bit more if you still need to let it soak in.


Application standard operation. This applies to application of anything even in science experiments. Think S.M.A.R.T.  It is always good to ask yourself, is it… 

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time sensitive (make a plan to address it)

Every passage is different so the questions you ask yourself will be varied. For some the application is

very obvious. For others, like genealogy lists, it may take some more guidance and reflection to work through it.  Difficult passages for application will be a future topic at this blog. 

Here is a good rubric for application. You may have seen this before in one form or another. These are great questions to ask. It follows the anacronym, S.P.E.C.K. Is there a…

  • Sin to admit/confess
  • Promise to claim
  • Example to follow
  • Command(s) to obey
  • Knowledge about God

Be sure to write down how you think the Holy Spirit is leading you to apply this. It may be useful to memorize a verse, or put a verse on a sticky note to post on your mirror or fridge. Perhaps you want to share it with someone you ask to be your accountability partner. Make sure it is not just a thought in your head that you never intend to follow up on.

Christian Author, Jerry Bridges, puts it this way. "As we search the Scriptures, we must allow them to search us."

Cultivate Holy practicality in your everyday life. 

Up Next: How I got this way

Previous Post: Bible Interpretation


For reflection: Try to apply a question in today's blog or an approach to your Bible reading. You can start with a short verse or passage. Run S.P.E.C.K. through the verse and see how it leads you. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Bible Interpretation

The Big idea: Interpretation is not every individual's opinion, but rather systematic examination of the text. The Holy Spirit will guide us to the Bible's intent. 

Interpretation: What does it mean?

"Well, that's just YOUR interpretation!" 

Or, "You can interpret that however you'd like."

Ever heard this? It gives the idea that interpretation is up for grabs, relative to the person. The Oxford dictionary definition of the word means the action of explaining the meaning of something. There may be alternative explanations of the significance for some verses in the Bible but we can be confident that the timeless truths and core of who God is and what He seeks to communicate is sound, true and good. Controversy is human based not God based. God, by His Holy Spirit, will help us find him and know him through our sincere study of the Word.

God's intention is not related to our subjective thoughts, current mood or pet projects. It is grounded in the entire work of God through the Bible with Christians from various times and places in sync. That synchronization is the work of the Holy Spirit.

In Inductive Bible Study there are three parts to the sincere study of the Bible.

  • Observation (What does the Bible passage say)
  • Interpretation (What does the Bible passage mean)
  • Application. (Why does the Bible passage matter)

So here we go!


Always start with prayer. Ask the Holy Spirit for guidance. This is God's work from the Holy Spirit and that same Spirit works in our lives and the lives of other believers to guide us into all truth (John 15:26). Christians may have differences on a few complex or obscure passages in the Bible, but it will not derail everything we know about God and his relationship with us. The timeless truths, the core message of God to man, will remain the same.



The work you did in observing the text will be the foundation, the groundwork, for interpretation. Differentiating what the author said, who the audience is, and observing the time and place are a couple factors to good observation. All of these should be looked at first and primarily in the Bible, not external commentaries, devotional guides and study Helps. This sets the stage for the Interpretation phase. Often the transition between making observations and the interpretation phase merges a little. It gradually becomes a focal shift when you interpret. Check out my blog, Observation: What does it say here.



Imagine running into the same friend two months apart.  You ask how they are doing. The first month the word "lousy" comes out of their mouth and two months later, "amazing." The first month they had a stuffy cold, had a fight with a family member and just scraped up their car. Two months later they had just gotten engaged and got a bonus at work. Though you asked the same person the same question their answers were totally different. The difference? Context.

Examining the Biblical context for a passage is also critical to understanding it. You cannot isolate one verse to determine the full meaning. You need to be like a scripture spy, gathering information about the book of the Bible, the author, the setting, the historical context and the culture. Ask yourself how the text mattered to the audience in their context.

Think of the verses of the Bible like a puzzle. Each one is a piece that fits into the full picture. There are numerous sub themes and many key words through the Bible. However together all of them form the glorious picture of God and His relationship to mankind.


We should always make the Bible our primary source. Your first observation work is with the text. But the rest of the Bible is important for background, common words and themes, and so on.

You may find a key word study helpful for your text. You will ask yourself how this word is used in other parts of the Bible. A concordance or electronic Bible word search is helpful. A dictionary in your language is useful. Another blog post will address how to do a key word study.

Another relevant focus may be a character study. In Galatians 4 we learn about Hagar and Sarah from the book of Genesis. In that case it is helpful to find all mentions of each woman throughout the Bible. Ask if there is a person to explore in your text. Again, how to do a character study will be a future blog post.

Make an outline of the chapter or the text you are studying. Is making a list useful for this particular passage? Consider charting comparisons and/or contrasts if that is relevant to the text. A drawing is useful sometimes such as with the armor of God. I made an interesting drawing once from the Gospel according to Luke chapter 16 about Father Abraham and the rich man.


This is not complex. I like to ask myself  two questions whenever I study a text.

  • What do I learn about God here?
  • What do I learn about human beings here?

These two questions may prompt you to other observations. Is this talking about Satan, the influences of the world, about men, women or children? Does it talk about how we should treat people?

Other questions will also direct you toward the meaning of the passage.

  • Why did God include this in the Bible? 
  • Why did the author say it the way he did?
  • Why did the people respond as they did?
  • How can this move me more toward who God wants me to be?
  • What universal principle, belief or value is in this passage? What might it's timeless truth be?


You may have been asked this question in a Bible study. Every person in the group does not give new meaning or separate truth to that verse. If a ball is red, but someone says it means yellow to him, or represents granite to him, does that make the ball red no more? Of course not. The ball is still red and does not change.

In the same way the Word of God does not change. It reflects God and His intent, coupled with the words the Holy Spirit moved a human being to write. We must believe God is behind the Word and in the Word. We must believe God's intention is to communicate well with us. We seek God's intent for us when we seek the meaning, the interpretation, of the Bible.

"…knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation." 2 Peter 1:20 (ESV) 

I love how the Passion Translation expresses this verse. "You must understand this at the outset: Interpretation of scriptural prophecy requires the Holy Spirit, for it does not originate from someone’s own imagination." I Peter 1:20 (TPT)

Significance is the understanding of the meaning in various contexts, and it will vary. Thirty years ago a verse in Isaiah became special to me and inspired me while I was going through a very difficult time. Years later when I was working in West Africa as a nurse, the verse took on a completely new significance. Now it still brings great comfort to me, but I feel it's weight deeper still. It is like a diamond that has multi-facets, and I keep discovering more uses for it. Does this mean God's Word changed? Does this mean I missed the correct interpretation at the beginning? Not at all. It is about the change the verse has on me in significance and personal experience.


Sometimes interpreting God's Word seems scary. You might feel afraid to make a mistake and misinterpret the Bible. If you keep God at the center of your studies and have the core belief that it is true and reliable, you do not need to worry. Keep close to the Holy Spirit and find yourself in fellowship with other believers. God will guide you and you can be confident His Word will make a difference in your life.

Up Next:  Bible Application

Previous Post: 5 Steps to Finding Biblical Timeless Truthes

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Five Steps to Finding Biblical Timeless Truths

The Big idea: How can we find the essential truth that the Bible is saying when the culture is so different from ours today?

Do you have a favorite Bible verse? One where the Bible really connects with your time of need?  You know God loves you. You look to it for inspiration and guidance. You know there are moral absolutes in it such as the Ten Commandments. Yet the Bible was written in a historical time period and culture totally different from ours. Though the Bible contains 66 books written over a period of over 1000 years, there are consistently a couple of main themes and a central message. These are timeless truths that transcend time. The central message is that God loves you and wants a relationship with you.

A timeless truth is a big idea. But it is more than that. It is the core value stripped down to the simple basic principle. It transcends time and place.


Some of the Biblical writings are descriptive and some are prescriptive. At times it describes people of the Bible,  their setting or story. It describes life. There are lessons to learn from them. But descriptive writing is different from prescriptive sayings such as commands to follow, promises of God and ways to think and act. Some of it is also predictive, telling us what to expect and what will always be true.


As Christians we believe the Bible is the Word of God. We are convinced that God the Holy Spirit moved godly people to write down the very words we read. People sometimes say, "I don't get that."  A friend who has gone to church and loved Jesus for a long time recently sheepishly asked me why the Bible seems to say different things, or how two different Bible translations can appear to say something somewhat different. What about you? Have you ever wondered how to get to the heart of the matter in a passage? What about if it seems to contradict other things said in the Bible? 

The Bible has core values and principles consistent throughout the Bible. But it is written by human beings in a given time period and a specific cultural setting. Often the same theme is reviewed in a later time frame. For instance, Moses may have introduced a concept, Jesus expanded on it, and then the Apostle Paul explained it to non Jews. So we may have a basic idea given in the Old Testament that is further explained. At times when the audience is totally different in two places, a concept or command is given and we need to dig a bit to understand the context. We have the job to find the timeless truth in a given setting in the Bible: the basic message that transcends time and culture, and applies to our world today. This is the work of interpreting and understanding God's Word so it applies to our life.

So how do we find these timeless truths in a passage? I propose five steps you can take.

On a passage way in the old part of Jerusalem today


The Holy Spirit moved the Bible to be written. "For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." 2 Peter 1:21 (NIV) It makes sense to ask this Holy Spirit for wisdom to understand what we read. Prayer should be our first work for finding timeless truths in Scripture.


As you read the passage in question remind yourself what you already know about God. He is almighty and powerful. He loves us and desires a relationship with us. He is righteous and true. Yet He is holy and just. He is always with us, He knows all things and will always be. God never changes and we can count on Him. And so on.

What is the central message of the Bible? What are the subthemes? How does the passage you are looking at fit? Do not take one verse isolated and build a whole new truth or doctrine from it. One verse is not going to negate everything the Bible says and contradict all the other Christians in the church. Consider discussing a difficult passage with a seasoned Christian, and reading what a commentary or two have to say about that passage. A favorite go-to book for me is Hard Sayings of the Bible, published by Intervarsity Press. 


One verse cannot be interpreted in a vacuum. You must observe the whole chapter, the theme or central message of the book or epistle. Is there a key theme stated? Is a key word found throughout the Bible in that verse? What other passages address this idea? A good study Bible is useful with an outline, the author, audience and overall theme of the book broken down for you. Read my earlier blog on Study Bibles here. You will also find a concordance useful to check on other places in the Bible that talk about this.


What was the original setting when this was written. Consider the culture of the author and audience.  Is this in the Old Testament or New Testament?  Is it about the formation of the Jewish people or their disobedience? Is it about the life of Jesus or is the Apostle Paul writing to a cross cultural church he started in another cultural land? Is the audience well versed about God or are they newbies? Step back and look at the full picture. Imagine you are a fly on the wall in Bible times or someone in the crowd trying to hear Jesus.


What is the passage showing or telling us?  Is the passage a description/illustration? Is there background information being given? Is it giving a lesson to learn, a command, a sin to avoid, a promise? Does it say what to do or what not to do? What do you see about God in this verse? What insights are there about mankind and God's relationship to man?  Does it indicate how we should treat each other? Is there a truth about a future time? A truth for eternity?


"This is how we pray with the white lady," a Maninka woman said. "We lift our hands like this and bow our head." I had a good friend, when I worked in West Africa, who was a Muslim. When one of her co-wives was ill (Muslims can have up to four wives) , I prayed for her in Jesus' name. She got better. Having seen Muslim women pray in Guinea I noticed they began their prayers by raising hands. I figured it was a good posture of petition to use with her. I visited my friend a few weeks later. Her co-wife wanted me to pray for a sick friend. "This is how we pray with the white lady," she said as she lifted her hands and bowed her head. I smiled, lifted my hands too and prayed with them.

Visiting with my friend at her place.
It is easy to picture cultural relevance when studying to work overseas.  In my School of Nursing I had cultural sensitivity training. This was the ability to understand how culture effects a patient's understanding and give patient teaching that will be understood and applicable.  In classes on international church ministry similar principles were discussed to apply Biblical principles to another cultural setting. We were not carrying an American gospel message to another land, we were sharing the life of Jesus, culturally relevant and applicable to a world totally different from our own.


Avoid saying this mattered in Bible Times but doesn't apply to us. Remember the Holy Spirit saw fit for everything that got into the story of the Bible. We can learn from those ancient examples given as we pray and reflect on what is there for us.  Remember too, that the Bible is God based, not man based. It is words from the heart of God given to us. One person's interpretation that does not gel with anyone else, and contradicts the rest of the Bible must be suspect. It is not for interpretation in isolation from who God is and the whole story. This might sound like work, but it is worth it.

The Word of God is God. We learn in John 1:1 (NIV) "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Know the Word, know Jesus. It's as simple as that.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

My Top Five Favorite Places for Bible Study

The Big Idea: 5 suggestions for a fresh place to study the Bible. Different spots are useful for different times.

When life is chaotic, how do you find a quiet moment to study the Bible and focus? I am a mom with grown children so my life is less interrupted than a mom with little kids. Working men and women have their own challenge to find quiet time to study the Bible.

It is hardest, I think, for the mind to wander. Distractions. Stray thoughts. So many things in our head whispering for attention. Other times, even a blinking LED light can distract our attention from the Word.

So where are my favorite places to dig in to God's Word with minimized distraction?


I enjoy sitting in a swivel chair in the living room. If I want to concentrate on the Word, or on a lesson, I turn the chair completely around with my back to the room. It is a message to my husband - do not interrupt. Serious business is being done. It reminds me, too, that I am cloistering for a reason. I can hear conversations in the background and the phone rings. But I tune all that out, because I am turned around for a purpose. If you don't have a swivel chair you could turn a chair around to face a corner or a wall.

This location seems best for my longer, meaty studies.


I have fond memories of meeting God under a tree. If there is a spot with running water like a brook, or sea waves, in the background, even better!  A retreat lends itself to time studying the Word. Find a picnic table or a spot by the lake for study!

Even at home, consider the front or back porch, or under a tree. Some yards in suburbia are not conducive to that. Perhaps you could go to a park. Walk for exercise. Bring the kids to the playground. Then take your Bible out, or your phone eBible and stop under a tree, at a bench, or some other spot.  Dwell on the Word for a bit. The fresh environment might bring a fresh thought of the Word. God's nature inspires me at times like this. God speaks to my heart as I watch the ant at work, hear the birds, or even watch kids interacting together in the distance. God's Word becomes animated with illustration before my very eyes.

This location seems best for meditation on a passage or chewing on a memory verse.


When on vacation we like to find old cathedrals or famous churches. My husband and I will split up for a little while and explore on our own. At times, prayer in an empty pew is what I need. I might check out a passage on my eBible, or review a memorized passage. Other times I will see a verse on the wall or a piece of art and meditate on it.

This location seems best for me when on vacation.


I have gone to a church on an off day and brought my devotional journal and Bible. It might be for and extended personal retreat time. It might be when I stay after a church event to be still with God. It might be just to spend time in an environment conducive to meeting with God. 

Depending on the church you may need to clear it with the pastor or church secretary so they know you are there. Your familiar pew or seat in the empty church might be the best place for you. Perhaps a children's classroom might be your special place to meet God. Try it. Sometimes it might not work, but other times you may find a powerful time of purpose with God.

This location seems best for me for a retreat time.


My first year in college I was introduced to the Advent candle at the church I attended. My adopted family for the year used it for Sunday dinner devotions during the month of Advent. When I went as a missionary to Africa, I carried on my personal tradition of the Advent wreath. Our electricity went out every day at 10 pm, and it happened during my evening devotions one night. I discovered using the candles for my devotional time was powerful. I spent a lot of those days thinking of God as light sending light into the world. Also thinking about the flame in my heart for God.

Since those days, I have found it very special to have devotions by candlelight during advent with favorite instrumental Christmas carols in the background. We have had family devotions around the advent candles too.

I have never used a lit candle for other devotional time. But why couldn't I? How about weekly during Lent? Could I use it when I wish to spend some quality time in scripture and prayer? It truly helps me focus and find calm.

This location is best for me for preparing my heart before God and focusing on him.


OK, this is one for my husband. He has a small antique roll top desk with Bible resources on it. For him, sitting at this desk, dedicated to Bible study, is a way for him to focus. He does serious study with all his Bible helps here. It is for him what my swivel chair is for me.

I hope you have gotten some fresh new ideas. Just like a married couple needs to come up with new, fresh ways to spend time together, so we need new, fresh ways to focus on God and relish time with Him.

Invest in spending time with God. Enjoy Him! He is worthy of it!