Which verse in the Bible – or maybe it’s an entire book – do you find difficult to understand? What parts of the Bible do you feel you have to wade through every word trying figure out exactly what’s being said?
The reality is that there are some things that our human minds simply cannot grasp – such as the true grandeur of heaven – until we pass from this life and into eternity and we are able to see things as God sees them. But the Bible is God’s letter to us and his instructions for how to live. He wants us to understand it.
The good news is that because God is the one that created us, he understands the limitations of our understanding. So when we get frustrated with trying to understand something in the Bible, we can first remember that God is our creator and that He already understands that we are struggling. The same God that fashioned and created us with His own hands, paying attention to every minute little detail even to the point of every human being having different fingerprints, is the same God who understands our weaknesses and frailties. (click to tweet)
But God did not leave us alone to figure things out. At the moment we became a Christian, the Holy Spirit moved in and took up residence within us. Part of the job of the Holy Spirit is to help us understand the Bible. In Psalm 119:73, the psalmist is asking God to give him understanding so he could learn God’s commandments. In essence, he is saying, “God you are the one you made me, now help me understand.” Any time we open God’s Word, we should begin with a prayer before reading the first word – a prayer asking the Holy Spirit to help us understand. 1 John 2:27 says, “The anointing you received from Him remains in you, and you don’t need anyone to teach you. Instead, His anointing teaches you about all things and is true and is not a lie; just as He has taught you, remain in Him.” 1 Corinthians 2:10 tell us, “Now God has revealed these things to us by the Spirit, for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.” So when you are having a difficult time understanding the Bible, stop where you are and ask the Holy Spirit to help you.
Another element to understanding God’s Word is that we must have a heart that is willing to do whatever God is saying to us. We don’t just read it so we can check the box on our daily Bible reading plan. We should be reading with the expectation that God will reveal something new to us – whether that is something about His character, the way He expects us to live as His children, or He uses His Word to convict us of sin. Whatever He reveals, the purpose is to make us more and more like Christ and to grow us as Christians as He prepares us to do His will. James 1:22 tells us, “Be doers of the word and not hearers only.” John 7:17 says, “If anyone wants to do His will, he will understand whether the teaching is from God or if I am speaking on My own.” So be sure you are willing to do whatever God might reveal to you as you are asking the Holy Spirit to help you understand.
We also have to be willing to give up our own ideas. In Isaiah 53:6, we find that “we have all turned to our own way.” We can’t take a single verse out of the Bible and make is say what we want it to say to fit what we want to do. Proverbs 16:25 teaches, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” Satan is called the “deceiver” in the Bible. From the very beginning of the Bible we find Satan deceiving Eve and he continues to deceive all the way through to Revelation. 2 Corinthians 11:14 says, “And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.” And in Revelation 12:9, the Bible tells us what will happen to Satan: “The great dragon was hurled down – that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray.” Satan knows that because you have been saved, that you do not belong to him. But if he can trip you up so that you don’t understand the Bible, then you may not live the victorious life God intends for you or perhaps it will keep you from winning someone else to Christ. He wants to deceive us so that we do not have a good understanding of the Bible. Rather than bringing our own ideas to the table when we open God’s Word, we should have a desire to understand God’s Word His way and depend on Him to reveal it to us.
If we expect to truly understand God’s Word, we can’t just sit down and read it – we have to study it. You might say, I go to church on Sunday and listen to the preacher and I’m part of a small group too. But how do you know if what they are teaching is Biblical truth if you are not studying it for yourself? 2 Timothy 2:15 teaches, “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of the truth.” If you want to truly understand the Bible, you have to study it in depth so that you can understand it accurately. Don’t just depend on your pastor to do the study work. Study it for yourself.
As we are studying God’s Word, we need to compare spiritual things with spiritual (1 Corinthians 2:13). In other words we use the Bible to interpret the Bible. Let’s say you wanted to put a complex puzzle together or a modeled car. With all the pieces lying around you, how do you know what the finished product is supposed to look like? You look at the picture on the box. Studying God’s Word is much like that. When we come to a part we don’t understand we need to take the main topic of what we are studying and search the entire Bible for everything it has to say about that topic. There are many online helps for this. One of the easiest ways to see verses all on a single topic is to go to openbible.info. The search bar will say, “What does the Bible say about” and you type in the topic. The website will pull up all the verses that pertain to that topic. You can then begin to study each verse in it’s own scriptural context. We can then get a full picture about what God has to say on the topic you are studying.
Sometimes, we just need a sounding board to so we can process the thoughts that are revealed as we study. So we can make and appointment with our pastors or another Godly saint more spiritually mature than us and talk with them about what we are studying. God can use these people to help us connect all the dots so that we can understand what He is saying to us. Again, we should not just rely on their understanding. We have to do our own study work.
There are many Bible study tools available to help us. Concordances, Bible dictionaries, commentaries and reliable online study resources such as Biblegateway.com, Logos or GotQuestions.com. But these are tools to guide us. They cannot replace the hard work of studying the Bible for ourselves and they cannot be our sole source of truth. Only God can be our source for truth. Nor can Bible study tools be a substitute for the Holy Spirit’s role in guiding us to understanding.
We need to follow the teaching in Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him and he shall direct thy paths. Understanding God’s Word requires us to trust God with all that we are, to set aside our own biased and faulty thinking as we acknowledge God and His truth. Then he will direct our paths and bring the understanding He wants to reveal to us. (Click to tweet)
Lastly, remember that God’s Word is “living and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Because it is living, each time we come to study it, we can learn something new from it. So never think you’ve reached the point of fully understanding God’s Word. As we move through life and face different problems or seasons of life, God will reveal to us just what we need for that moment – then in the next moment, He will show us something new.
So, if you find yourself praying like the psalmist, “Give me understanding” remember:
- Because God is our creator, He understands the limitations of our human minds.
- God didn’t leave us on our own to figure it out – He gave us the Holy Spirit to guide us into truth.
- We must have the heart to do His will as He reveals His truth to us.
- We must be willing to give up our ideas and trade them for understanding it God’s way
- We must be willing to study it – in depth – not just read it and we need to study it for ourselves rather than depend on what someone else is saying.
- When trying to understand God’s Word we must compare spiritual things with spiritual by seeing what the entire Bible has to say on a topic rather than a single verse.
- We can discuss what we are studying with spiritually mature Christians who can help us process our thoughts – but we should not depend on them to give us the answer
- We can utilize Bible study tools to help guide our study, but they should never replace the hard work of study or work of the Holy Spirit in our lives and they should not be our sole source of truth – only God can be our source of truth.
- We need to trust God to bring us to the understanding He wants for us rather than leaning on our own understanding.
- Remember that God’s Word is living and active. We can never stop studying His Word for each time we study it, he will reveal something new.
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Julia is CEO of Wellspring Christian Ministries, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping people and couples develop a passionate relationship with God. A public speaker, conference trainer, event planner, and blog writer, Julia is a two-time graduate from Grand Canyon University with a bachelor in Psychology and a masters in Professional Counseling. Saved as a child and raised in church and in a Christian home and private Christian School as a Pastor’s kid, Julia has taught Sunday school, led music, played the piano, served as Children’s Director, and engaged her gifts in many other areas of church life. Previously employed with the Florida Baptist Convention, Julia organized events and led conferences for church ministry assistants.
Julia enjoys sharing her journey as a growing Christian with others looking for a deeper connection with God. Through Bible study and her own life experiences, God has given Julia a passion to help couples understand God’s design for marriage while they learn to place God first in their marriage, cultivate meaningful relationships, build intimacy, and address the tougher issues that come in every marriage so that they can experience a marriage that honors and glorifies God. Julia also loves mentoring, teaching, and working with women to help them learn to live as Godly women.
With her history and experience growing up in both small and large churches, Julia enjoys bringing top level quality events to churches of all sizes. Her father largely pastored small churches and therefore she understands that these vital parts of the believing community need to be good stewards of the resources God provides them with. This knowledge inspires her passion for being available with a fresh perspective for those who want to provide their congregations with meaningful spiritual growth opportunities.