Here are the tools I discussed:
1) A commentary. Study Bible's have these built into them. A Life Application Study Bible has commentary on the bottom of each page. You'll see a line. Above the line is the Bible, below the line is the 'commentary'. Remember, the commentary is someone's interpretation of the Bible and important background information. I try to read the Bible, then - if I don't understand what's happening - read the commentary for help.
2) A concordance. This is a 'look up' tool. It's usually in the back of your Bible, and functions kind of like an 'index'. I can look up a word (for example: love, heaven, hell, Jesus, Jerusalem, Peter, healing...) and it will tell me where those words appear in the Bible. So, when I think, "I know the Bible says that God will give us rest, but I don't know where," I can look up the word 'rest' and it will tell me.
3) A plan. There are lots of Bible reading plans you can use. An unlimited supply of daily devotional guides are out there. A few I like are by Max Lucado and I also highly recommend The Life Journal. Warning: If you do a 1-year through the Bible plan, you will spend a good bit of time reading every day. I would love for everyone to do this, but I think it would be better to take 3 years and do it consistently than to attempt 1 year and quit after a month. The point is that you spend time in the Bible every day, or at least 5 out of 7 days a week.
If you don't have a plan, you might start in Matthew, read 1 chapter every day (there are 28 chapters). Use the SOAP method I spell out below.
4) A journal. I highly recommend a journal because it will help you focus and not wander. Use the following acrostic that spells the word SOAP:
- Scripture. As you read, some verses will jump out at you. Write those verses down or some key words, etc.
- Observation. Write down your questions. Ex. "God, why would you want the entire town wiped out? Why did you tell them not to eat... Where did David go... How did Peter feel..." I write down my questions. I also write down my observations. "That's odd... Wow - look at how God provided for them... I never saw that promise before... "
- Application. How does this text apply to my life. Some days, this is easier than others. But there is always an application. Sometimes it's direct. Proverbs 12:18 says, "Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing." I can apply that directly. Other text have to interpreted through time. But I'm not doing this on my own. All the while, I'm asking, "God, how do YOU want me to apply this to my life?" I'm hearing God speak through the pages, words, story, and teaching of the Bible."
- Prayer. I write out my prayer. This is a short prayer, sometimes a list of people I'm praying for, and often includes the scripture and application for the day.
A more complete explanation of SOAP can be found through the Life Journal or by going to www.lifejournal.cc.
I hope this helps you. Now, go meet with God!