Tomorrow night we will study John chapter 21. This will be the last study in John, and we began a year ago almost to the day. That means we’ll be beginning to study a new book together, and we’ve decided on the Letter of James. (For all this, of course, we say: if the Lord wills it, we’ll do it–see James 4:15).
Have you ever noticed how Pastor Joe regularly says, “Read ahead,” as he finishes a study? It’s a great thing to make a habit: studying yourself what we are studying to gether in church. So before we get started in the next couple of weeks, here are some ideas to help you do your own self-study, either to get prepared before we begin or to study along as we go.
1. Visit a Bible website like http://mobile.biblegateway.com/ and use it to copy, paste, and print out the book of James for yourself. Make wide margins on the page, put your print-outs into a binder, and then grab a pencil and start studying along by making notes in the margins, circling (squaring, starring, etc…) things and drawing lines to connect ideas, blocking or underlining main ideas, making visual outline notes, and anything else that helps you see things in the letter. The idea is to be able to mark it up without worrying about having trouble reading that page in your Bible later. You can get the whole letter in the New King James Version here.
2. Get a journal to take notes in, and as you read give yourself questions to answer. For instance, you could read the letter all the way through and write out the main message of the letter in one sentence. Then try to rewrite the letter into one paragraph in your own words.
3. Look for any quotations from the Old Testament or from Jesus. Where are they from? Why does James use them?
4. Create your own outline of the letter. Making an outline is always a good way to help yourself understand a book of the Bible as a whole. (A hint: James is especially challenging because his organization isn’t always clear. I made an outline and then looked at one in a commentary and saw one that was completely different. I was a little worried until I read a note that said that most people come up with different ideas for the organization of the letter.)
5. If you never have before, check out one of these free online Bible websites: Blue Letter Bible or Great Treasures. They both take a little practice to use well, but they are both pretty powerfule study tools. And they’re both free.
6. If you’ve never used a commentary before, maybe you’ll want to go to the bookstore and pick one up to read along with. A cheap commentary that won’t overwhelm you with its word count is Guy King’s book on James called A Belief that Behaves. His books are very helpful, and you can get it in the commentary section of the bookstore.
6. Pick key passages and memorize them. This is one of the most fruitful ways for you to study and meditate on scripture. And, while you’re at it, why not consider something that you may think is impossible, but isn’t? Why not try memorizing the whole letter? If you think you can’t, check out our resources pages for ideas on how you might do it, and if you really want to try it, come talk to us for help.
Have you got any other ideas? Let us know and we’ll share helpful things with the group.
James’ letter is intensely practical and challenging. Let’s take this winter to seriously seek God in His word together and let Him shape our lives on wednesday nights.