By Jamie Harms
The help of my Grandma — and being willing to give gardening a try in Baltimore — bred in me a love of gardening. I enjoyed getting my hands in the dirt, putting starts in the ground to watch them grow, and, in the cool of the evenings, watering my starts, checking for new leaves, and harvesting colorful fruit off the vine. My little adventure in gardening was now a much-loved hobby.
When we moved into our Ferry Street house in Eugene, we knew we were in for a treat, for we now had a big backyard with sun! But before we could reap the benefits of this prime garden space, we had to deal with about 2,000 square feet of dense bamboo growth.
Naively, we took a hand saw and a spade to the bamboo, thinking that we would just dig it out. Those tools did work a bit, but it would have taken a lifetime to get all that bamboo out. So instead, we hired a crew of men with chainsaws to come in, level the area, and then bring in a stump grinder to go over the space for about 8 hours to take out the root system.
We could have used a spade for a lifetime or a stump grinder for an afternoon to get out the root system. There was obviously the right tool for the job. The same is true with Bible study. We have tools to study God’s Word that help us till the soil and plant seeds of truth, so it can be fruitful. And while we would not use a stump grinder for all of our gardening needs, having it available when needed is worth it — just like having a toolbox of tools available to read God’s Word.
For the next few weeks, we are going to take a look at specific tools that will help in our study of Jude. Some of them Jackie uses in our study guide but can be applied to any study we do in the Bible. We will not use every tool each week, but we’ll have them available when the need arises.
As every gardener knows, it is super important to prepare the soil before planting. The same is true as we approach God’s Word. The soil of our hearts must first be prepared with prayer to connect us with our God as we walk through the Bible with Him. As Jackie mentions, while we read and make observations or have questions about God’s Word, we do so as in a conversation with Him. We ask Him to go before us as we read, to open our eyes to the truth that He has for us, and converse with Him about it. The tool of prayer guards our heads from just consuming knowledge as we read and our hearts from making God into who we want Him to be instead of who He really is.
As we approach any text, we have to remember high school English class. We start by evaluating the work as a whole and asking those famous Five W questions (who, what, where, when, why) to set the stage. We can use these same questions in the book of Jude. Jackie even started us off with this in our homework as we looked at the who (sender and recipient) and started to look at the why, which we continue to develop in this coming week. These Five W’s will not be present in every verse but are helpful for seeing what is in the verses and the book as a whole to give context for what is being read. Thus, the Five W’s are a great start when jumping into any book of the Bible.
Another handy tool when reading the Bible is a dictionary. If you are like me, you don’t know Hebrew or Greek. Thus, we cannot read the Bible in its original language. However, we do have many experts who took great care in translating it for us, ones who picked specific words to convey the meaning and ideas of the text. So, when we run into repeated words or ones that we do not understand, a dictionary is quite helpful. We used one a bit in this week’s homework and will do so again throughout the rest of the study.
One more handy tool for Bible study is a timer. This may sound silly, but with a lengthy study, it is easy to feel like there is too much to get done. If you find yourself overwhelmed with the amount of work or number of questions, remember that it is better to be in God’s Word than not at all. One of our ladies mentioned that she sets a timer for 20 minutes in the morning and does as much as she can. She has learned to be satisfied in the discipline of daily being in God’s Word rather than in finishing every problem. I agree with her. We are not about checking off a list of all the questions or fretting over whether we get the right answer, but we are about being with our Father through His Word every day. If you find yourself stressed about not finishing, or find there is too much to complete, set a timer and be with your Father in His Word.
Tuck these Bible study tools of prayer, the Five W questions, a dictionary, and a timer into your tool box this week as you study, and pull them out as needed. May God bless you richly as you saturate your minds and hearts in the truth of Jude 3 and 4.