A note from Pastor Jake:
I am thrilled you’re looking into Grow Tools. We have designed them to help you with a core part of our faith – reading the Bible. Because it is easy to feel intimidated and questions are bound to pop up, our desire is to provide you with a tool box stocked with the necessary tools to build a solid faith foundation. Even if your tool box is well-stocked and you have been reading your Bible for years, we think you may enjoy this classic approach to your time with God.
Growing in faith together, Jake
We will be walking you through the S.O.A.P. METHOD. It is designed to cultivate our relationship with God and not turn into another “check-list” item. After all, isn’t that how solid relationships are formed? We spend time with friends and family because they love us and we love them. When we read God’s Word, it should be in response to God’s love for us and not out of duty or obligation.
Before you get started, you will want to find a reading plan. Good news… there’s an app for that! We recommend downloading the “Bible” App (YouVersion). From there, you will be able to choose a plan that works for you.
Let’s unpack the “S” of S.O.A.P and answer the question: “WHAT AM I READING?” The Bible is a collection of 66 different books written by about 40 different authors all culminating in one message… God’s story. And that story is told using all types of literature throughout the pages of scripture. Now it’s absolutely crucial to know what type of text we’re reading before we even start reading! Why? Because we read text differently depending on what it is. For example: You would read a love-letter from your valentine differently then you would read an email from your boss! A shopping list is not viewed the same as a historical textbook. So we need to first answer the question “What type of scripture am I reading”, and then interpret what is written accordingly. Below are different TYPES OF SCRIPTURE scattered throughout God’s Word:
NARRATIVE: This tells a story about an event, person, or nation. These are historical accounts... things that actually happened. EXAMPLE: The story of creation in Genesis, the exodus of the Israelites in Exodus, or the life of Jesus in the gospels. LOOK FOR: How God chooses to magnify his glory.
EXPOSITION: A type of argument or explanation of an objective truth. These are timeless principles, often pulled from cultural and temporary situations. EXAMPLE: Paul's letters. LOOK FOR: The question being answered.
POETRY: Words designed to relate emotions, experiences or ideas in a powerful or imaginative way. Usually expresses deep feelings of praise, joy, pain, or grief. EXAMPLE: Psalms and Song of Solomon. LOOK FOR: The heart of the author's message.
WISDOM: Instruction given by a person with insight. This advice can range from the use of time or money, relationships with others, the value of work, how to deal with struggles, or reactions to birth and death. EXAMPLE: Proverbs & James. LOOK FOR: The tension being resolved or pondered.
PROPHECY: Words spoken directly from God through a prophet. Typically this is a reminder of God's commands and a warning to repent. EXAMPLE: Jonah. LOOK FOR: The act of faith-obedience being demanded.
APOCALYPTIC: Describes cataclysmic events about the end of the world. EXAMPLE: Revelation. LOOK FOR: The types of trials to overcome before heaven comes.
Once we’ve nailed down the type of scripture… we need to answer the “WHO QUESTIONS". Who wrote the book? And who was he writing to? Understanding the identity of the AUTHOR and the circumstances of the AUDIENCE gives us insight to intension and a better overall perspective of the text. We suggest using a commentary or the book intro of most study Bibles.
Lastly… choose a Bible translation you UNDERSTAND. (NIV or NLT) And if reading isn’t your thing… the “Bible” app (YouVersion) comes with an audio option. Remember… what matters is how much of the Bible we take with us. Simply reading is not enough. We need to tear into it, devour it, and chew on it until we begin to understand it!
After the first step in the S.O.A.P. method (Scripture), you are on to step number two… Observe. This is where we read through the passage with open eyes. Go slow and ask the question “WHAT DO I SEE?” Look for what stands out, pops out, or leaps off the page… and then write it down! Don’t worry about making it all fit together, that will come later. Your primary task is to look at the text and write down what you see. The key to this step is making as many observations as possible. Spend as much time here as you can. These observations are the foundation of a correct understanding of text. So be thorough!
You will probably need to read and re-read the text multiple times. As you do, look for the obvious stuff first. Begin by writing down what is easy to see, and then look for things that aren’t readily apparent. Remember to let the text speak for itself. You’re not looking for what is “cool” or interesting to you personally. What you’re looking for is the repeated emphasis of the author. Our ultimate goal is to find what God originally intended, or was thinking, when the words were first written. Here are some specific things to LOOK FOR:
STORYLINE: Every story has a message. To determine that message, we must pay attention to the storyline. Who are the people in the story? What's the story about? What action is taking place? Is there conflict? And most importantly... what's God's part in the story?
EMPHASIS: Look for words, phrases, or ideas that are being emphasized. Pay attention to the amount of space dedicated to a specific topic or person. Sometimes you can even find a statement of purpose within that space. Also... take note of the order and placement of a topic or example. This will often point to its value and importance or lack thereof.
REPETITION: Watch for terms, characters, or incidents that are repeated. Take the time and look for patterns! What is repeated is remembered. And if the author took time to repeat something... that means it's significant and meant for us to remember.
ASSOCIATION: Pay attention to things that are contrasted or compared. These are similes: Word pictures in which two things are compared using the words "like" or "as." Metaphors: A comparison or contrast made between two things without using "like" or "as." And let's not forget the "but." This word often sits smack-dab in the middle of a contrast. TERMS: When you come across a word you don't know... don't skip over it or try to understand it in the context of the sentence. Look it up! Take the time to learn the actual definition. This will give you richer more meaningful understanding of the text.
THEREFORE: When you encounter this word, stop and ask "What's it THERE FOR?" It often connects cause and effect; questions and answers; decisions made and the consequences or results that follow. "Therefore" is a helpful indicator for us to pay closer attention to the verses just before and after the word.
Lastly… don’t forget to WRITE DOWN what you observe! This is so important for a couple reasons. (1) What we write down, we remember. (2) We will be using these observations in the third step of S.O.A.P. There we will begin to process our observations to an understanding… or timeless truths. In the meantime… take your time and don’t rush this step. Like we said earlier… it really is foundational.
In the third step of S.O.A.P we begin to make sense of our observations by identifying the timeless truths and then practically applying those truths to our lives.
First we need to identify the TIMELESS TRUTHS. These are biblical principles tucked away within the words of scripture that still apply to us today. Because time, customs, situation, language, and hairstyles have changed since scripture was first written, we need to interpret or rediscover the principles behind the passage. For example, most of us don’t wear a robe, carry a staff, and watch sheep all day. Therefore we do not directly understand what it’s like to be a shepherd. However, we can understand the meaning or principles behind serving like a shepherd. And those are the principles or “timeless truths” we’re to apply today.
Now keep in mind, we’re not looking for what you or I think the principle of a passage should be! We’re searching for what God originally intended when the words were first written. We do not create meaning out of the text. Instead, we seek to find the meaning that is already there. Below are THREE C’s that help us to rediscover these truths.
CONTEXT: What did the passage mean to the original audience? To answer this question we must take into account the entire context of the passage, the "before" and "after." If you're studying a specific verse, then it's important to also read the entire chapter surrounding that verse. This will give you a bird's-eye view of what's really going on. A verse isolated from its context can often be taken to mean something it was never intended to mean. This is known as taking scripture out of context. But a verse read in context will help us discover the original meaning of the passage.
CULTURE: What are the differences between the biblical audience and us? Cultural practices and historical conditions influence what writers write. Often a more thorough understanding of ancient customs, geographical locations, and surrounding circumstances give us insight to what the writer is saying. You can find this information in study Bibles and commentaries. By understanding cultural differences, we begin to see similarities as well. These differences and similarities provide the framework for us to identify timeless truths.
COMPARISON: Is the principle you've identified from the passage in alignment with the rest of Scripture? The Bible is one cohesive document that does not contradict itself. In fact, it often repeats themes and principles throughout its entirety. So compare and consider how the rest of scripture can give meaning to the particular passage you're studying. If the principle you've pulled out of the passage is kept in context, relevant in all cultures, and lines up with the rest of scripture... chances are you've rediscovered a timeless truth!
Now comes the actual APPLICATION. Take the rediscovered truth and scan your life to see if there’s an area for which this principle is needed. Is there an example to follow, a command to obey, a sin to avoid, a promise to claim? If so, apply it! This is obviously easier said then done. But this is the whole point of Bible study. It’s more than obtaining knowledge. It’s life change, to become more like Christ. Otherwise we’re completely missing the point. So ask God for strength, develop a practical plan of application, and then practice, practice, practice these timeless truths in your personal life.
The final step of S.O.A.P is to take time to TALK WITH GOD. Prayer is the vehicle for daily dialogue with the One who created us, and it is so important that it is mentioned over 250 times in Scripture! Jesus gave us a prayer in Scripture as an example which can be broken down into four parts: Praise, Repent, Ask, and Yield.
PRAISE: "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name..." prayer gives us the chance to express how great God truly is and our gratitude for the things He provides. His goodness and loving kindness towards us should be recognized on a daily basis. In 1 Chronicles 16:34, we are commanded to "give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever." The psalmist tells us in Psalm 9:1, "I will praise you, O LORD, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonders." Start off by acknowledging His faithfulness, goodness, and abundant provision in your life.
REPENT: "...and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors..." Let's face it, we all sin daily whether we know it or not. Psalm 32:5 makes it very clear, "Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD'-- and you forgave the guilt of my sin." Tell God what He already knows and unburden yourself from the debilitating effects of sin. So often we walk around with unconfessed sin that hinders our personal relationship with Him. Instead, ask God to give you the strength to repent, then humbly submit yourself to Him and ask for forgiveness. This ought to put you in a place of peace and trust that you stand before God with the righteousness of his own Son -- Jesus himself. This will allow you to continue with confidence in prayer to the next part.
ASK: "Give us this day our daily bread... And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." Life's circumstances change on a daily basis. In fact, things can go from good to bad to worse in a very short time. God calls us to bring our concerns to Him. In fact, Jeremiah 33:3 states, "Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know." God wants us to call on Him so that He can answer our prayers. He also wants to share with us incredible blessings that we might otherwise have missed had we not reached out to Him through prayer. James 4:8 tells us to "Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you." God wants us to be close to Him at all times. Ask God, with both humility and boldness.
YIELD: "Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." God is our great King and as such He should be in control of every aspect of our lives. We might pray a perfect prayer with perfect motives, but the decision is still up to Him, and his decision is always best. Each day we should acknowledge His proper place in our lives humbly and with a reverence reserved for such a great and awesome King who desires the very best for us. We should long for His will to be done not only in our personal lives, but in our community, our nation... on earth!
Prayer is THE best way to speak to God. Imagine not speaking to a loved one or a close friend. How long would the relationship last? Daily prayer is a vital part of a growing relationship with your Heavenly Father. He wants you to talk with Him!