Over the years I have come to realize that, for me, words are nothing but a mishmash, incomprehensible and unmemorable, if I don’t organize them somehow. My mind needs graphics. If I can see a list or make a chart, everything suddenly makes sense. Otherwise, it’s hopeless. So I read and read and read, and always keep a half dozen pieces of scrap paper next to my Bible.
For example, I was studying John 8:12-59 one time, and though I figured out that this was a pivotal time in Jesus’ relationship with the Jewish rulers, I still saw nothing but a bunch of words. So I read it about 5 times. The second time I began to see a few things. The third time I saw a few more. About then I started my lists. By the fifth time I was ready to complete them. When I finished I had a four lists: questions the Jews asked Jesus; accusations the Jews made about Jesus; accusations Jesus made about the Jews; and, personal claims Jesus made about himself.
I had written them verbatim out of the Bible, so my final task was to put them in everyday language—something that would resonate with me about what exactly was going on. Then I went back and read the chapter again. Oh my! I had never realized the tension in the crowd and the danger Jesus was in. And I had never realized his audacity either. Suddenly that passage came alive for me. It was easier to comprehend and easier to apply. And isn’t that the point of study?
A word of encouragement here that you will need: Sometimes you make some amazing discoveries when you do this. But sometimes you will work like crazy making a list or a chart or a progression or however it is your mind works, only to see no amazing discoveries at all.
For example, I was studying the oracles of the nations in Jeremiah 46-51. After only a couple times through I realized I had an easily chartable bunch of facts there. So I made my three column chart: the nation, its sins, and the judgment God was sending. It took a couple of hours to wade through that poetic and highly figurative language, but I made it and had a two page chart, in longhand, to look through. What astounding things did I find in it? Not much. But I did see this: several sins were listed again and again. This is what I learned from that chart: God has absolutely no truck with nations (or individuals for that matter) who are proud, arrogant, self-satisfied idol worshippers. Tell me that doesn’t describe what this country has become. And tell me we don’t have the same failings in ourselves at times, especially relying on things and people other than God. We need a strong army, we need insurance policies and IRAs and huge portfolios. Then we will be secure. No, not so much. God is still in control. For all that work, though, it wasn’t a huge dividend to come up with. But I did know for sure what was in those chapters.
So take some time now and decide how you learn, how you remember, how you process information. Sooner or later I will share some of the charts and lists I have come up with as examples, but let’s not get the cart before the horse. Just because it works for me doesn’t mean it will work for you. You know you best. Find out what works and use it.
In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches. I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word. (Ps 119:14-16)