In my first year of college I was consumed with understanding the Bible. I tried to get my hands on anything and everything that would help me to “get it.” I remember being at a bookstore and spotting a little booklet called “How to Study the Bible” by John MacArthur. I had to buy it. Among a number of other things in that little paperback booklet was one of the most valuable suggestions for knowing and understanding the Bible I have ever come across.
MacArthur said to choose a portion of text of about 3-5 chapters and to read that text for 30 days straight. Just read it and re-read it, again and again. So I did. I started with James. I read it once. And then again. After five days, nothing magical happened. After ten days, still nothing. I wasn’t arriving at the deep insights I was seeking to gain.
After about 18-20 days, I noticed that I was walking to class with a question running over and over in my head: “Who is wise and understanding among you?” It just kept repeating (James 3:13). And then the answer: “Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom” (I was reading the NIV my parents had given me).
I wasn’t intentionally “memorizing” the passage, but the cadence of the words and the flow of thought were running through my head. After about 25 days I noticed that I felt I knew James in a thoroughgoing way, and after those 30 days felt like James was an old friend.
I then moved to 1 John. After five days, I didn’t like it. It wasn’t James. I liked James better, after having gotten to know his way quite well. After 10-12 days, my feeling didn’t change. But after about 15-18 days, I was getting a handle on 1 John, seeing how he reasoned and how he walked his readers through his argument.
I remember feeling after those 30 days that I had gotten to know two new friends really well. Phrases from those two letters came up regularly in my mind during conversation, or while walking to or from class. Words used regularly would play themselves over and over in my mind.
I did that regularly for several years, moving throughout the Scriptures. I’ve learned much more in my studies about handling texts, and there’s much more that goes into faithful study than just that, of course. But that basic insight about becoming saturated with the text of Scripture itself has never left me, and it’s the first bit of advice I tell people who want to know and understand the Bible.