When we are saved, we receive the Holy Spirit, who gives us desires to love God and others, and we want to find real change in our lives. So, first of all ask if you have a hunger for God’s Word — that starts with salvation (see my article “Am I Saved”). What I mean here is when you do love the Bible, but you are not finding your studies fruitful. This is about studying in ways that draw you closer to God rather than simply gaining head knowledge with no fruit.
1. Learn with purpose
What comes to your mind when you think of Bible study? Many times, we learn trivia or something obscure about the Hebrew language or culture. We gain knowledge, which is good, yet there is more than that — to worship God and obey Him. That’s where the substance is.
When you read about God, stop and meditate on truths about His character. Apply what you read to your prayer time. He is seeking those who worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23), so don’t wait until meeting with other Christians to worship, but also worship when you are alone at home. Look for truths about God’s love and power, and praise Him. And when we take that step of drawing closer to God, He draws closer to us (James 4:8).
When you read about people, think about sin vs. righteousness, and use it as reinforcement for your own choices.
In John 14:21, Jesus told us that he would make himself known to the one who keeps his commands. Matthew 28:19 speaks of observing all things that Jesus commanded. So read the words of Jesus and think of any ways you can improve in following Him. Maybe focus on one command every day.
Another study to focus on 2 Peter 1:5–7, which is a perfect pattern for spiritual growth, one that we should not overlook. See my 2 Peter 1 challenge here.
2. Know how to apply what you hear
James 1:22 says not to be only hearers, but to be doers of the word.
How do we get from hearing to doing? By planning.
Sometimes we go to church and hear a good 3-point sermon. Then what? We hear about things that we should change, then we think, “I’ll try to do better.” But “trying” in that sense is wishful thinking, not intentional action. Hoping to do better isn’t enough. Without preparing in practical, concrete ways, we most likely will stay the same for the rest of our lives.
We know that Jesus wants us to be peacemakers, and we hope to act on that in our relationships, but it’s not enough to know and hope to do better; we have to prepare.
Think about the armor of God in Ephesians 6. We don’t wait until a battle starts to put on our armor. By that time, it’s too late and we are already losing the battle.
2 Peter 1:5 says, “Giving all diligence, add to your faith,” and in order to give all diligence, we need a plan for implementing changes in our lives.
So, here are some ways to create change by preparing yourself ahead of time.
1- Include a reminder in your planner, something you can either meditate on or act on every day.
In my daily planner app (Google Tasks), I have a recurring reminder to apply the principles in those verses. Of course, it helps to apply each one at a time, building on top of the previous. When I did a search for the roots of the word “godliness” in that verse, I found the meaning is being devout. So part of your growth is including worship in your every day life, remembering that humility is essential. Have a time when you kneel down and focus on God’s greatness (Psalm 95:6).
Another recurring reminder in my planner is to pray over my prayer list, and that is set for each morning. So every day I pray for the people on my list, mostly for their relationship with God.
2- Imagine yourself in a situation where you normally slip up, and visualize it, and prepare in some way.
This can be kind of hard to implement unless you get the visualization out of your mind and put it into practice, so write out a scenario where someone or something triggers you, and then write out what you’re going to say and do. Then say your words out loud that way you can practice having the right response to situations.
For example, children do things that are annoying, and we should write out the scenarios where the most often annoy us, and then right a better response than we usually have. Along with that, you might want to write in some kind of bigger perspective on the situation, to anchor you in your purpose- because in the moment when you’re annoyed, you might only want to vent. So include some kind of thought that you want to think to yourself in that moment, for example: “I choose to deny my flesh right now for their sake, because I love them and I know that this will be worth it and I will be rewarded in heaven.”
3- Have a plan for what to do during the times that you may lack motivation.
Have something pre-written where you can check yes or no; for example, “Will I deny my flesh and respond with kindness? Do I want an eternal reward or not? How loving will I choose to be?”
Bring those things out to the open. I’m not using the word temptation because in the times when we are caught up in the moment, we might be acting totally subconsciously and not even feel that there’s any temptation. We’re not literally thinking “oh yes, I’m going to rebel against God.” It’s more like there’s a wave of feelings, while not feeling conscious temptation. That’s where this helps, because it can bring awareness of what you’re doing, so you can consciously make the right choice.
Sometimes however, the problem lies in not knowing a better action. For example, we know that we should be sharing the gospel, but not everyone knows how to communicate it effectively or where to find opportunities to reach many people. In those situations we have to take time to pray and think, rather than simply going on with life and pushing it to the back of our minds, hoping to stumble across answers someday. Schedule a time when you’re going to pray and think about it, so you come away with a plan. (See “What Jesus Wants You to Do” for ideas, and then pray and consider what you can do.)
Don’t go on living the same way, but change for the better as you really take God’s Word to heart and apply it in practical ways. Right now, what can you add to your schedule, so you can start making changes?
For help, try my worksheet here: Applying the Bible