I’ve been doing a lot of reading over the years, but only recently (maybe the past year or so) did I actually start marking up my books. I wanted to keep my books as pristine as possible, and this was also true for my Bible. So for a long time, probably about 3 years, I had an ESV Journaling Bible sitting there with no notes. It kind of defeats the purpose a bit doesn’t it?!
I’ve written a blog on how to remember what you read, which includes a section on how I take notes in books; but I approach the Bible differently.
As 2020 is underway, as many of you probably started a yearly Bible reading plan (here are some suggestions if you want), my wife suggested that I write about taking notes during quiet times. So, here goes…
Quiet times, spending time, devotional life, these are all names for the same thing; the time taken out of your day to read your Bible and pray to the Lord. This is valuable time and it is the very lifeline for every Christian. Quiet times are the moments we set aside to sit under the authority of the Bible and learn, which should then result in prayerful and joyful obedience.
But how can we ‘structure’ a quiet time, especially if we would like to include a study of God’s Word and Bible journaling? Here’s a little template for you; when spending time with God apply SOAP (Scripture, Observations, Application, Prayer). My wife and I have found this hugely helpful over the years.
1. Scripture – after praying that God would help you learn and understand His word and will, read a passage from the Bible, it can be a verse, a paragraph or a chapter. The important thing is that God’s Word is the foundation of your learning because God speaks to us through His Word.
2. Observation – write down things from that passage that caught your attention. Maybe it is something that you’ve never seen before, maybe a pattern of repeated words, maybe a central theme of the passage, maybe something that reminds you of a different passage in the Bible, or maybe it’s a characteristic of God. Whatever it is, write it down so that you don’t forget it. This is where the note-taking column in a journaling bible comes in handy.
If you would like to do a more in-depth study of a passage open up a Study Bible alongside, to help you understand more about why a passage was written, what it meant for original readers and the meaning of specific words.
3. Application – think about how this passage is applicable today. Remember that the Bible isn’t all about you, so you’ll need to put in some work. Think more about what the original readers would have understood from the passage. If you’re reading in the Old Testament, think about how the passage relates to Jesus. Think about how the passage applies to the church and to your personal life. Again, write some thoughts in the column of your journaling Bible or a note book. This will help you guide your prayer.
4. Pray – pray through the passage that you’ve read, that way the focus will be God and His Word. Praise God for what you have learnt about Him in the passage and pray that the observations and applications would impact your life and that the Holy Spirit would continue His work of sanctification in you.
So there’s a little template for you, but what about actually marking up your Bible?
First of all you need to know that it’s OK to write in your Bible! The most encouraging thing for me to see as a pastor is someone walking around with a worn Bible or someone who has to buy a new one every few years because it’s so full. If someone isn’t using their Bible, it’s a sign that their life remains unaffected by God and that they aren’t investing in their relationship with Him.
Here are a few little tips that you can use to wrestle with the text and to meditate on the Word of the Lord.
! – this can indicate that something is important and you want to remember it. It may be a command, it may be a word or theme, whatever it is you realise is important.
? – this means that you need to think about it or invest more time researching a particular aspect of the text. For example, why does Peter want to build tents for Moses, Elijah and Jesus in Mark 9:5? If you don’t know the answer, research will help. Having a mark next to a point you want to keep thinking of is helpful for you to come back to again at another point so that you’re not distracted or take a trip down a rabbit hole.
Colours are helpful because they immediately get our attention and change our focus. If you do use a system like this, make sure to be consistent so that you don’t confuse yourself. Here are a few suggestions of colours and how to use them in your Bible reading.
About God = purple.
Underline or highlight passages that speak to you about who God is in purple. This can be about God’s character, names and attributes, or His will and salvation plan. Remember to include the whole Godhead in this (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). I chose purple because it was the colour of the wealthy and often worn by royalty. God = King 👑
About humanity = red.
Underline or highlight verses or words that describe humanity, and often yourself, in red. That may be things like our sin and identity pre-Christ, but it is should also involve our identity now (Rom. 5:1-4, for example).
Application = green.
Underline commands, instructions, laws and principles for the Christian life that you can apply. Look for parts that require obedience and that are about spiritual growth. I chose green because it gives the impression of growth. We should all want to grow in our submission to and obedience to God’s Word.
In addition, you can choose one colour for the verses you want to (and will) learn by heart. This will draw your attention to them as you go back to them again and again to memorise them. Scripture memorisation is an incredibly important (and often forgotten) discipline in the Christian walk.
When you use colours my tip would be to use coloured pencils. These don’t print through the thin pages of the Bible, are erasable in case you make a mistake, and you can even use more than one colour on a word or verse.
Margins are really helpful, if you’re keen at taking notes I’d encourage you to get a journaling bible. If you don’t already have one, you can find one here.
Margins are a great place for sermon notes, commentary quotes, insights from books or others, for your own observations or drawings. Trust me, the minute you actually start studying a passage, you’ll run out of space. I’d encourage you, if at all possible, to consider getting a study Bible too or finding trustworthy online commentaries. Some of the Bible is difficult to understand, but thankfully the Lord has equipped many people to study the Word and write books for us.
Again, I would encourage you to write in your Bible with a pencil. This doesn’t print through the pages and is erasable in case you need to make a change.
Lastly, you can choose to add a date to the passage or book you are studying. E.g. if you are studying James in January 2020, write this in the top corner of the book. You will enjoy looking back and seeing how God has used a passage in a particular time of your life, and it also help you to keep for focus of completing the study of a book within a month.
Hopefully these few tips will help you be a better reader and student of God’s Word. If you use other tips or have other ideas I’d love for you to drop a comment below so that I can learn from you guys!
And remember… all of God’s Word is inspired and profitable for teaching, rep roof, correction and training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16), not just the parts you underline.