How is Scripture Engagement Different from Bible Study?

Scripture engagement is not the same thing as studying the Bible. It is a complement to deep study of the Scriptures. In the process of promoting Scripture engagement, the last thing we want to do is detract from the importance of studying the Scriptures. Let’s be very clear here: Studying the Scriptures is absolutely essential to the Christian lifeSecond Timothy 2:15 tells us that we are to come to the Bible as a “worker who . . . correctly handles the word of truth.”

Teachers of the Scriptures are a gift to us from God (1 Corinthians 12:28). Jesus came as The Teacher (John 13:13). The Apostle Paul was a scholar (Acts 22:3). The inductive study of the Bible—the process of observing, interpreting, and applying the Bible—is how we understand what the Bible means. We must know what the Bible means if we are to have an accurate understanding of God as we meet with him.

Going beyond knowledge

But just studying the Bible is not enough. It is possible to study the Bible so that it becomes a mere academic exercise, studying in a way that ends up not impacting spiritual growth. You have probably met people who have head knowledge of a topic without heart or life change, a kind of empty scholasticism.

On the other hand, the goal of Scripture engagement is not to be overly subjective with the Bible, thus moving away from the original meaning of a passage. A basic tenet of Bible study is that the passage can’t mean something totally different to the modern reader than it did to the original writer. The sole question can never be, “What does the passage mean to me?” It is possible to engage or reflect on something that isn’t true and on what the passage doesn’t actually mean. Doing this is irresponsible subjectivism. We have all seen people base their actions on what they think is biblical but, in fact, is not what the Bible is saying.

Scripture engagement calls us to both analyze and apply the Bible—having knowledge of a text along with a personal insight about that text. Scripture engagement encourages us to listen with our minds and with our hearts. It is a process of discovery learning. The ideal process is to come to the Bible by first working hard to study what it means. The next step is to reflect, in the power of the Holy Spirit, on the meaning of the passage for your own life and community. Reflection will bring up more questions about the meaning of the text and drive you back to study, which will then lead to the need for more reflection. A cycle of study-reflection-study-reflection, which leads to a deepened relationship with God and a changed life, is the most powerful process for developing spiritually.

Does the reflective process need to be taught?

Few would disagree with the need to teach people how to study the Bible—learning the principles of Bible interpretation (hermeneutics), understanding the historical and cultural settings of the Bible, and learning the meanings of words in the original biblical languages are all critical in understanding the meaning of the Bible. But aren’t people naturally reflective? Once they understand what the Bible says intellectually, won’t they act on that understanding? The reality is, for the majority of us, it just doesn’t work that way. Understanding doesn’t equal spiritual growth. In some ways, understanding the Bible intellectually is the easier of the two processes. It is the reflection process, the place where we are mostly likely to meet God and be changed by Him, that we especially need to learn.

Why is reflecting on the Scriptures often so difficult?

One reason people avoid reflection is their natural tendency to avoid anything that will cause them to change. Meeting and knowing God is always a life-changing process and is always for our good. However, it involves a death to ourselves, which can be intimidating (Matthew 16:24). Studying the Bible for information can be done in the spirit of trying to master the text so that we are the ones who control the Bible instead of putting ourselves under the authority of God’s Word (think of the Pharisees). Meeting with God will change our lives. Being willing to admit that we need change (Mark 2:17) is a critical first step in Scripture engagement. Our sinful, prideful nature fights against yielding to God’s renewing work in our lives.

Scripture engagement is also difficult because reflecting on Scripture is a “whole person” process. To read the Bible spiritually, we are engaging our intellect and our emotions. As we reflect on a passage, we should contemplate personal and community life changes. Using our intellect, our emotions/attitudes, and our behaviors/actions together in the presence of the Holy Spirit is a powerful way to grow spiritually. It engages our whole person by exposing all areas of our lives to God’s Word. This is much more difficult than just using one corner of our brains to skim the surface of a Bible passage, preventing it from penetrating our lives.


We can learn about studying the Bible from good teachers and scholars; however, most of us have more to learn about reflecting on the Bible for spiritual growth. There are techniques and practices that the church has learned over the years that can benefit each of us. Think what it is like to play soccer (or “football” for much of the world). The basics of soccer are fairly simple: “Kick the ball in the goal.” Even children can play the game and, with practice and good coaching, those children can grow up to be brilliant World Cup–level athletes, masters of the game. It is the same with engaging Scripture. You probably already engage the Bible at some level, and with practice and coaching, you will grow in the life-changing skills of Scripture engagement.


The Abide Bible: Engage Scripture, Engage God.

Do you yearn for life-giving, intimate communion with God? The Abide Bible is designed to help you experience the peace, hope, and growth that come from encountering the voice and presence of God in Scripture. Every feature in Abide is designed to teach and develop Scripture-engagement habits that help you know the power and spiritual nourishment of abiding in Christ.

Abide: Journaling Scripture

Journaling Scripture is distinct from journaling to record daily life. A Scripture journal is not meant to be primarily a diary or a log of daily events. Though all journaling is useful for general mental health and spiritual growth, journaling can become richer when integrated with Scripture.

Journaling Scripture helps you to reflect on a passage, focusing your mind and helping you concentrate. Writing often helps us clarify our thinking. Most of us, when we take notes for a class or during a sermon, engage with the content at a deeper level and remember it more completely—and, as a result, the content has more impact on our lives. This same principle holds true when you journal Scripture. Writing down your thoughts about a passage helps you to engage the Bible more deeply.

Journaling Scripture is not just about a better understanding of the content of the Bible; it can also help increase your expectation of meeting God in His Word. In Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian LifeDonald Whitney writes, “By slowing us down and prompting us to think more deeply about God, journaling helps us feel more deeply (and biblically) about God. It provides an opportunity for the intangible grays of mindwork and heartwork to distill clearly into black and white. Then we’re better able to talk to God with both mind and spirit.” A Scripture journal is a conversation with God. It is meant to be a place where you can safely record and reflect on your raw thoughts and feelings, ask questions, search for patterns, and develop your own thoughts with the Holy Spirit as your guide. Being candid with God and yourself deeply enhances spiritual growth. Confession to God results in an open and honest relationship with him that allows the Spirit to continue to shape and mold you into Christ’s image.

One of the blessings of Journaling Scripture is that years later, when you reread your journal entries, you will be able to see more clearly God’s work in your life. You’ll be able to rediscover a passage of Scripture that was important to you. You’ll remember that God answered a prayer that was prompted by Scripture you wrote in your journal. You’ll realize that questions that weighed on your heart for years have been answered by God. Remembering all that God has done for you on your spiritual journey is one important aspect of spiritual growth. Journaling Scripture can help you remember God’s faithfulness.

How do you journal Scripture?

After reading a passage of Scripture, basic Scripture Journaling could include the following steps:

  • writing verses that stood out to you
  • jotting questions about the passage
  • writing a truth from the passage
  • writing action steps for yourself based on your reading
  • writing a praise to God for a promise that was meaningful to you
  • writing prayers for yourself or others that were prompted by the passage
  • writing a confession because you’ve fallen short of an action in the passage
  • asking God for help in living out a passage

Methods for Scripture journaling are varied, and there is not one that is universally “correct.” Your method is appropriate if you notice God using your journaling to develop spiritual growth in your life. Be honest in your journaling; search your soul and be open to God’s voice. Eventually, your journaling style will become personal and unique, which is exactly as it should be. The goal is not to follow a strict pattern but to express yourself, seek clarity, and most importantly, to experience growth and new depth in your relationship with God.

Some tips for Journaling:

  • Consider your options when choosing a journal. You may wish to write directly in the margins of your Bible, on a blank sketchpad, or in a lined or unlined journal.  You could even use a 3-ring binder.  Carry a few sheets of loose-leaf paper wherever you go so you can jot down any thoughts or insights you gain throughout your day.
  • Make sure you are free to be totally honest with yourself and God in your journaling. Also, be sure that others around you are willing to respect the privacy of your journal.   Hide your journal in a safe place if you need to.  It is important that you are able to write without worrying about who else might read it.
  • Choose a time and place for journaling that is comfortable and free of distractions. Your physical space and posture can greatly affect your ability to learn and focus!  Simple things like a comfortable chair, sitting up straight and good lighting can all make a difference in your journaling experience.
  • Use your journal to clear your mind of distracting thoughts before diving into Scripture. Write down any worries or distractions, perhaps as a prayer, as a way of giving them over to God before you begin reading.
  • Express your heart to God and interact with His Word in whatever way best suits you. Journaling is not just about writing!  Perhaps you are a visual learner who responds to colors and pictures.  Try using artwork to depict a Scripture passage to better understand the story.
  • Don’t become overly dependent on your journal. Sometimes we need to simply enjoy being with God in His Word and allow him to speak to us without the aid of pen and paper.  If you are prone to over-journaling, set a time limit for yourself before you begin.


Yerr Out!


by Clark Cothern

My father gave me a great example of character when I was a boy watching a church-league softball game. Dad was forty-three at the time and very active. Though he wasn’t known for hitting grand slams, he was good at placing the ball and beating the throw. Singles and doubles were his specialty, and he did the best he could with what he had.

This particular dusty, hot Phoenix evening, Dad poked a good one right over the second baseman’s head, and the center fielder flubbed the snag and let the ball loop between his legs.

My dad saw this as he rounded first base, so he poured on the steam. He was five feet ten inches, 160 pounds, and very fast. He figured that if he sprinted for third and slid, he could beat the throw.

Everyone was cheering as he sent two of his teammates over home plate. The center fielder finally got his feet under him and his fingers around the ball as Dad headed toward third. The throw came as hard and fast as the outfielder could fire it, and Dad started a long slide on that sun baked infield. Dust flew everywhere.

The ball slammed into the third baseman’s glove but on the other side of Dad—the outfield side—away from a clear view by the ump, who was still at home plate. Our team’s dugout was on the third base side of the diamond, and every one of the players had a clear view of the play.

Dad’s foot slammed into third base a solid second before the ball arrived and before the third baseman tagged his leg. But much to the amazement—and then dismay—and then anger—of the team, the umpire, who hesitated slightly before making his call, yelled, “Yerr out!”

Instantly, every member of Dad’s team poured onto the field and started shouting at once—Dad’s teammates were intent on only one purpose: They wanted to win, and by golly, they knew they were right!

The two runners who had crossed home plate before Dad was called out had brought the score to within one. If Dad was out—and we all knew he wasn’t—his team was potentially robbed of a run.

With only one inning left, this one bad call could cost them the game.

But just as the fracas threatened to boil over into a miniriot, Dad silenced the crowd. As the dust settled around him, he held up a hand. “Guys, stop!” he yelled. And then more gently, “There’s more at stake here than being right. There’s something more important here than winning a game. If the ump says I’m out, I’m out.”

And with that, he dusted himself off, limped to the bench to get his glove (his leg was bruised from the slide), and walked back into left field all by himself, ready to begin the last inning. One by one, the guys on his team gave up the argument, picked up their own gloves, and walked out to their positions on the field.

I’ve got to tell you, I was both bewildered and proud that night. My dad may have been dusty, but I saw a sparkling diamond out there standing under the lights, a diamond more valuable than all the runs his team might have scored.

For a few minutes that evening I was a rich kid, basking in my father’s decision to be a man, to hold his tongue instead of wagging it, to settle the dust instead of settling a score. I knew what he showed me at that selfless moment was worth more than all the gold-toned plastic trophies you could buy.

Dad held court that night, and everyone on the field and in the crowd was a member of the jury. When the verdict came in, their decision was unanimous: This was a man of character.

Looking ahead…

Webster’s dictionary defines a person of character as possessing “moral excellence and firmness.” Words such as integrity, honor, and honesty also come to mind. There is something intangible about these qualities in a man or woman, yet we know character when we see it. A little boy saw it in his father in the story above. Your children see it when you apologize after an angry remark, or turn off a lewd television show, or resign from a company involved in questionable practices.

We are reminded repeatedly in Scripture that the way we conduct ourselves is important to the Lord: “The man of integrity walks securely” (Proverbs 10:9); “Set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12); “Live holy and godly lives” (2 Peter 3:11). It is vital that we pass this biblical truth on to our children.

Does character count in your family? Let’s talk more about it in the days ahead.

– James C Dobson

  • From Night Light For Parents, by Dr. James & Shirley Dobson
    Copyright © 2000 by James Dobson, Inc. All rights reserved.

“Yerr Out!” by Clark Cothern. From At the Heart of Every Great Father by Clark Cothern (Sisters, Ore.: Multnomah Publishers, Inc., 1998). Used by permission.

Hi There!


by Nancy Dahlberg

One year our family spent the holidays in San Francisco with my husband’s parents. Christmas was on a Sunday that year, and in order for us to be back at work on Monday, we had to drive the four hundred miles back home to Los Angeles on Christmas Day.

When we stopped for lunch in King City, the restaurant was nearly empty. We were the only family, and ours were the only children. I heard Erik, our one‐year‐old, squeal with glee: “Hi there. Hi there.” He pounded his fat baby hands—whack, whack—on the metal tray of the high chair. His face was alive with excitement, eyes wide, gums bared in a toothless grin. He wriggled, chirped, and giggled. Then I saw the source of his merriment—and my eyes could not take it all in at once. It was a man wearing a tattered rag of a coat, obviously bought eons ago, and dirty, greasy, worn pants. His toes poked out of used‐to‐be shoes, and his shirt had ring‐around‐the‐collar all over. He had a face like none other—with gums as bare as Erik’s. “Hi there, baby,” the disheveled man said.

“Hi there, big boy. I see ya, buster.” My husband and I exchanged a look that was a cross between “What do we do?” and “Poor devil.” Our meal came, and the cacophony continued. Now the old bum was shouting from across the room: “Do you know patty‐cake? Atta boy—do ya know peek‐a‐boo? Hey, look—he knows peek‐a‐boo!”

Erik continued to laugh and answer, “Hi there.” Every call was echoed. Nobody thought it was cute. The guy was a drunk and a disturbance. I was embarrassed. My husband, Dennis, was humiliated. Even our six‐year‐old said, “Why is that old man talking so loud?”

As Dennis went to pay the check, he whispered for me to get Erik and meet him in the parking lot. Lord, just let me out of here before he speaks to me or Erik, I prayed as I bolted for the door.

It was soon obvious that both the Lord and Erik had other plans. As I drew closer to the man, I turned my back, trying to sidestep him—and any air he might be exhaling. As I did, Erik, with his eyes riveted on his new friend, leaned far over my arm and reached out with both hands in a baby’s “pick me up” position.

In the split second of balancing my baby and turning to counter his weight, I came eye‐to‐eye with the old man. Erik was lunging for him, arms spread wide.

The bum’s eyes both asked and implored, “Would you let me hold your baby?”

There was no need for me to answer because Erik propelled himself from my arms into the man’s. Suddenly a very old man and very young baby clutched each other in a loving embrace. Erik laid his tiny head upon the man’s ragged shoulder. The man’s eyes closed, and I saw tears hover beneath his lashes. His aged hands—roughened by grime and pain and hard labor—gently, so gently, cradled my baby’s bottom and stroked his back.

I stood awestruck. The old man rocked and cradled Erik in his arms for a moment, and then his eyes opened and set squarely on mine. He said in a firm, commanding voice, “You take care of this baby.”

Somehow I managed to squeeze the words “I will” from a throat that seemed to have a stone lodged in it.

He pried Erik from his chest—unwillingly, longingly—as though he were in pain.

I held my arms open to receive my baby, and again the gentleman addressed me.

“God bless you, ma’am. You’ve given me my Christmas gift.” I could only mutter, “Thanks.” With Erik back in my arms, I hurried toward the car. Dennis wondered why I was crying and holding Erik so tightly and saying, “My God, my God, forgive me.”

Looking ahead…

Imagine for a moment viewing the world from a baby’s perspective. Everything would fascinate you: the bright colors, the strange noises, and most certainly, the people. You’d want to touch, taste, and explore each one. Would you avert your eyes at the sight of a friendly bum? Of course not—even if he was toothless. Curious and trusting, you would return the bum’s smile, then hold out your hands to give him a hug.

Babies see the world in a different light, don’t they? They don’t worry about what others think, and they don’t prejudge others on the basis of appearance. Unfortunately, as adults we tend to go “blind”—to each other and to those around us—to what God is doing in our world. This week we’ll talk about how we can learn to see in a fresh way— through God’s loving eyes.

– James C Dobson

  • From Night Light For Couples, by Dr. James & Shirley Dobson
    Copyright © 2000 by James Dobson, Inc. All rights reserved.
  • “Hi There!” by Nancy Dahlberg. Taken from American Baptist, December 1981. Used by permission.