1. My Study Bible
I have an Zondervan NIV (1984) Study Bible. Recently, some editorial changes were made to the NIV translation. I *personally* am not as fond of the newer edition as I am of the old one, but that is primarily because it is not what I am used to. Choose whatever version "speaks" to you. But invest in a quality study Bible because it will be the quickest shortcut to footnotes, commentary and cross-references. My Bible has cross referenced verses in a center column with footnotes that provide commentary at the bottom. It is leather-bound, another recommendation if you have the extra money to spend, just because it is more durable. This is one thing you should not be afraid to spend a little more one. You can definitely get good deals with coupons and shopping online, but don't buy the cheapest you can find, only the cheapest you can afford! This is something worth saving for, because it will end up being a huge investment in your spiritual growth.
2. My Chronological Bible
I LOVE this Bible! A sweet friend introduced me to the concept of a chronological Bible, and it changed my life. It is all the words of the Bible, but organized by how the events happened historically and it provides an amazing perspective. I have read through this Bible a number of times because it is just so easy. The readings are organized into 365 portions that will only take you about 15-20 minutes a day. If you have never read the entire Bible, this is the way to go. I have the "One Year Chronological Bible-NIV", and it is available for Kindle for only $9.49! I was amazed to find that, if you are reading the books in order, that the story of Job actually happens around the time of Abraham. And it is so neat to read David's Psalms along with the stories that inspired them. Even the "boring" parts, the laws, and genealogies, are interspersed with the more fast-paced parts, and grouped together. This makes them feel much more manageable! I cannot say enough good things about reading the Bible this way. I frequently turn to it as a "tool" to remind me of the historical sequences and settings for whatever passage I'm studying. It really increased my understanding and appreciation for the Word, which is always valuable!
3. My journal
I have to say, as a "writer" that this method speaks to me. Writing down my thoughts and questions about what I am reading is one way to internalize it. That is because of how I learn. If you aren't one that is prone to journaling, give it a try for a little while. You might be surprised! Even just copying Scripture can be very meaningful. I don't journal with a particular rhyme or reason, but more as a "flow of consciousness". It isn't pretty and it isn't organized. But it works for me. I do recommend that you date your writings-it is always great to look back and remember what the the Lord was teaching me during a particular time in my life. I also take my journal to church, so that I can keep my sermon notes and Bible study thoughts all in the same place- I am constantly amazed at how a certain verse will pop up all over the place (definitely a sign the Lord wants me to pay attention!). Your journal does NOT need to be expensive, but it should be easy to use. Mine is a basic school notebook with a cute cover- back to school clearance for $1. But even a $0.17 college ruled one will do the job! Challenge yourself to journal for a set number of days, and see if it makes a difference. I don't even do it every day-but I make an effort to do it more often than not.
My phone is pictured for a reason. I do my Bible study in the morning, in my bed. I can grab my iPhone and quickly use it to access amazing online tools. I love it! But even if you have a "dumb" phone, no worries. You can get to any of these things from the regular 'ol internet. I snapped a screen shot of Biblegateway.com (It's free!) so you can see a little better how I use it. First, it is really easy to type in a few words from a verse that you can't quite remember all the words or the reference. They have dozens of different translations available from which to choose. I frequently use it to look up words related to what I am studying (like "first fruits of creation") to see what other verses come up. Also, they have a great parallel feature. Shown above, I pulled up a parallel of Ephesians 1 in NIV and KJV. This is such a great study tool because it helps you to have a better understanding of whatever passage your are studying. I love to look up verses in more "modern" translations, like the Message or the Voice, it helps me feel like the Scripture is in my language. Sometimes what doesn't seem to make any sense in one version suddenly "clicks" in another!
5. Blue Letter Bible.org
This is another excellent *free* online tool. This one is much more "scholarly" feeling than Biblegateway, but don't be scared. The best way that I have found to use this site is to enter the verse or passage that I am looking for. Then it will bring it up, and there will be a little blue box on the left hand side of the verse marked "tools". If you click on it, it will bring up the options above. One of my favorites to use is the commentary. There are so many great choices! And if you aren't a "reader" there are also lots of audio (and even video) options, too. When you look at the initial options in the screenshot above, you can listen to the words being pronounced in their original form, and click on the word to view it in the lexicon. You can also use the dictionaries and tons of other tools. I could get lost for hours reading commentaries... Don't be afraid of them! They are one person's explanation of Scripture, so don't be overwhelmed. Sometimes, they will even conflict on minor details, but that just reassures me that they are a *human* perspective- I have to rely on the Holy Spirit to lead me to the truth.
Not a "Christian" tool, but a great one for deeper understanding. I use it to look up key words for definitions and synonyms. It is really easy and quick.
This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it is the things I use the most frequently. Don't be discouraged or overwhelmed- start small! Don't make yourself use these things (or any other for that matter) unless you feel led to. If you are curious or confused, that is a good time to make use of one or more of them. But before you do anything- your greatest tool is prayer. Ask the Holy Spirit to answer your questions- it's what He is there for!
Be sure to check out my "31 Day Reading Guide to Ephesians" if you are looking for a place to start with your Bible reading!
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