Exploring Spiritual Disciplines: Study

Seth Garcia   -  

We tend to think of our own understanding of things as the most objective possible view. Because we see the world through our own lens, we don’t perceive the biases that we have formulated throughout our lives that come from our age, gender, ethnicity, economic class, and so much more. This is one of the reasons why education in general is so important: through education, we expose ourselves to new ways of thinking, new worldviews, and new perspectives. Through this, we can begin to discern what is true beyond our own biases.

The spiritual discipline of study stands as a sort of foil to the discipline of meditation. In study, we attempt to learn, to gather information, to expand our knowledge. What this does not mean is that the Spirit is absent from the discipline of study. We still rely on the Spirit to help us synthesize and discern our studying.

When we study, there are a few tools that we can use to ensure that we are getting the most out of our effort. When we study a passage, the first tool of study we have is our own experience. As I said above, our view is not the most objective.  Everyone’s views are subjective based on their life experiences. But when we study, we can use this to our advantage. What do we know is true because of our own lives?

The second tool we can use is other books. Things like word dictionaries, concordances, and commentaries can all provide insight into Scripture that would otherwise pass us by. Most of us are not experts in Judaism, history,  or Near Eastern, Greek or Roman culture, but there are plenty of people who have written a great deal who are. Using these people to help us understand Scripture is immeasurably valuable. Additionally, reading commentaries from a number of different perspectives can help us synthesize just how profound Scripture is. Reading a Latin-American or African-American liberation theologian can help us see God’s heart for justice; reading a Greek Orthodox theologian can help us reclaim the mysticism of God that we have too often forgotten; the rich tapestry of the Christian world can teach us so much we may otherwise never know.

The last main tool that we have for study is each other. Sometimes, the meaning of a passage eludes us. But in times like this, the best thing to do is discuss it with others within our community. When we discuss is such a way, the collection of all of our experiences and knowledge can help us discern things that individually, we would never be able to figure out on our own. In this way, we are able to elevate our own knowledge and also inspire the knowledge and growth of our churches.

When it comes to this spiritual discipline, I am lucky. Being a minister means that I am able to practice this discipline daily as a part of my job. However, there are still many ways that we can all ensure that we have the resources to study. While you may not be able to buy commentaries by the truckload as ministers often do, there are plenty of commentaries that are sold as individual books. Additionally, one of the great things about the internet is that the accessibility of these things has increased significantly. Many websites that house the Bible such as “Bible Gateway” have several free commentaries, dictionaries, and concordances available for reading, and offer a very reasonably priced subscription service to access many more.

As you study, remember that knowledge is important to our journey, but it isn’t the end-all-be-all of our journey. We must, as Paul says, let ourselves be transformed by the renewing of our minds. And that transformation leads to action.