It can be hard to know how and where to start with studying the Bible. There are resources out there, but they still don’t always lead to a deeper relationship with God, or a deeper understanding of His Word.
I was blessed to have a Christian mum growing up and she did a great job at getting me to read my Bible most days, unfortunately I absorbed it as a ‘have to’ thing to do rather than a ‘want to’ thing to do, and as much as I loved the Lord, I struggled a lot in early days approaching my Bible from a legalistic ‘have to’ point of view rather than with joy and anticipation, and therefore I often missed out on getting the most out of spending time in the Word.
You may have had a similar experience, or a very different one. It may be that you used to love spending time in the Word, but the busyness of life and it’s circumstances have got in the way, making spending time in the Word more of a chore, something you don’t feel you have the time for, or maybe you just don’t know how to get back into it again.
The SOAP method is a simple way of spending time in God’s word. It not too full on that a beginner couldn’t do it and you can go much deeper with it if you’re looking for something more.
But before we get into the ins and outs of the SOAP method of bible study lets take a look at why we spend time in God’s word and why we study the bible.
We want to make sure we are not approaching it from some legalistic point of view, as we probably won’t get much out of it, and it more than likely won’t be something that brings us joy.
What stops me from spending time in the Word and why should I spend time in the Word?
The first question will possibly take a little soul searching on your part.
Only you can answer that one, it may be that you don’t know how to study God’s Word, it may be you don’t know where to start, it may be you don’t think you’ll get anything out of it, it may be that you struggle to find the time, you may not see the importance of it, or there may be another reason that stops you.
Whatever the reason, if spending time in God’s Word is something you want to do more of then the thing that stops you needs to be addressed. What follows may have answers for some of those things that hold you back.
Why should I study the Bible?
It’s a way of getting to know God Better
John 15:15 says that He (God) has called us friends. That’s a pretty amazing statement, think about it, friends, with God!
Take a few moments to think about your friendships, the people in your life who you are close to, who have your back, and you have theirs. How did those friendships start, how did they grow? Usually friendships grow by spending quality time with each other, getting to know each other, talking, listening, sharing interests.
As our friendships in the natural grow, so our friendship with God in the spiritual can grow. Spending time in His presence, getting to know Him and His character through the Word, communication through praise, worship and prayer, listening for His ‘still small voice’ (1 Kings 19:12).
As we get to know God better, and spend more time with Him, we will learn to hear His voice.
For Guidance, truth, right thinking and wisdom
God’s Word is alive and active, not dead and motionless (Hebrews 4:12).
God’s Word reveals truth (John 17:17). In a world where there can be untruth, confusion, deception and lies, its good to have a reliable source of truth, a yard stick to measure life against. The Berean church in the book of Acts knew that it was important to test everything, even the teaching of the great apostle Paul, against the Word of God to ensure that what was being taught was true. (Acts 17:11)
God’s Word provides guidance (Psalm 119:105). It can illuminate our path and give us direction. When we are not sure what to do, or which way to go, God’s Word can give guidance and help us in our choices.
God’s Word offers teaching, equipping and right thinking (2 Timothy 3:16). It teaches us about God, His plans for us, for His people, and for the world. It provides us with the necessary knowledge and understanding that, if appropriated, can equip us to tackle the things that life throws at us.
God’s Word brings wisdom (2 Timothy 3:14-15). Proverbs 2:6 says that knowledge, wisdom and understanding come from the mouth of God, God’s Word.
Wisdom, guidance, truth, knowledge, understanding…
Who doesn’t want these things, right?
Ok, so, now I’m going to answer the question of ‘what does SOAP have to do with studying the Bible’.
SOAP…insert drumroll…is an acronym!
I hope that’s not an anti-climax, and don’t give up on me yet, the SOAP approach to studying the Bible is worth looking into, it’s simple, straight forward, and you don’t need to buy any expensive books or study tools.
This is not just reading the Bible and then getting on with your day but rather taking a little time to dig a little deeper and get to know God, your Friend, a little better.
What will I need?
It’s simple, all you need to get started is a Bible, pen and paper, and a quiet space and time where you won’t be distracted, about 15 minutes should be enough to start with.
How do I do it?
As I said before SOAP is and acronym which stands for Scripture, Observation, Application and Prayer. Let’s break each one down.
Scripture – read a passage of scripture and then write it down. If it is a long passage then just choose a few verses that stand out to you and write them down. Writing things down enables a higher level of thinking which can result in a more focussed action.
Observation – think about the scripture and ask yourself, what stands out to you, what do you observe, who is the audience, is there something you see that you haven’t seen before, is there repetition, are there comparisons or contrasts. Write down your observations.
Application – now it gets personal. Ask yourself, how can I apply what I have read to myself, my life, and my walk with the Lord, is there something I need to do, or change. It may not always be something you need to ‘do’ or ‘change’ but it may be something you learn about God that changes your relationship with Him, or that you want to add to your praise and worship. Write down how you will apply what you have learned.
Prayer – pray through what you have learned, ask God to work in your life through what you have learned, it may involve praise, it may involve confession, it may be asking for help to act on something. (Matthew 13:23)
Example of a SOAP bible study
Let’s try an example of the SOAP method, I’m going to use Psalm 46 verses 1 and 2. (I’ve used the World English Bible)
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we won’t be afraid, though the earth changes, though the mountains are shaken into the heart of the seas. Psalm 46:1-2
As I read this scripture, wrote it down, and meditated on it, I noted the word ‘is’. It doesn’t say might be or may be, it says is. It is a truth statement, a statement about God’s character that I can count on and depend on. He IS my refuge and strength.
As I go through the troubles and testings of the day, and there’s always something that comes up in a day, I can KNOW that GOD IS my refuge and strength. Someone to go to when I need a safe place, someone to talk to who loves me unconditionally, and by turning to God as my refuge it can change my perspective on things and I know that He will give me the strength to face whatever the challenge might be.
Lord, as I go through my day today may I be aware of your presence with me. When things get tough help me to remember what I have learned here, that I don’t need to be afraid, that I can come to you with my problems, no matter how big or small, that you will be there to keep me safe and to give me the strength I need to move forward.
And that’s it. Simple to remember, easy to do, and an effective way of spending time in the Word. If you’re not sure where to start the Psalms and the Gospels can be a great place to begin.
Remember, this exercise is not about your ability to write well, or whether or not you think you’ve done it ‘right’. It’s about you spending time with God and His Word, interacting with His Word and allowing it to change your life, and your relationship with Him.