I am a big fan of using a structure for your devotional time. Following a structure inherently helps you overcome common problems people have keeping a consistent devotional time. I recently encountered a bible journaling model known as the SOAP method. This easy approach is very similar to the daily practice I followed in college. I just lacked the acronym. Before I break down the SOAP method, I want to interject a word about the benefits of adopting a structure for your bible reading time.
BENEFITS OF FOLLOWING A METHOD
First, a method helps you focus. A method offers you a pattern to come back to when your attention wanders. Having a structure is a bit like having an agenda for a meeting, or a grocery list for a trip to the market. A method helps you set and keep an intention for your time with God.
Second, a method creates greater faithfulness. I just listened to an interview with a psychologist whose research revealed that when people have a ritual around an activity it can help them complete the activity even when it’s difficult. Let’s face it — sometimes bible study is hard work and you aren’t excited about it. In those moments, a method can get you over the hump of resistance.
Third, methods broaden your experience of God. People report to me that one of their devotional struggles is that they tend to fall into just thanking God or only asking God for things. A healthy bible study and prayer life will be well-rounded.
THE SOAP METHOD
To follow the SOAP bible journaling method you need three things:
- A Bible
- A Journal
- A Pen
S – Scripture
Read a passage and write down a verse or two that stands out for you. Following a bible reading plan will help you be more consistent and you won’t waste time trying to figure out what to read. That’s just one more simple reason to not get around to reading. One of the downloads I have prepared, “The One Year Bible Reading Guide” offers multiple plans for you to choose from.
O – Observe
Record your observations. In a journaling process that I have followed which is closely aligned with this method, I use to record three things:
- Initial Impressions. These notes don’t even have to be full sentences. Just bullet point observations upon your first reading of the passage.
What would this passage have meant for the original audience? This question pushes you to think about the context of the passage. It pushes you to explore the biblical world more deeply. Most misunderstanding and misapplication of text is rooted in failing to consider the context.
- What does this passage mean for us today? God seeks to instruct us through his Word. He wants to teach us about Himself and about how to live our lives as disciples. With that in mind watch for truths you need to know, principles you should implement, tasks you should accomplish, or changes you need to make. You can learn more about the latter three in my post, “Are you hearing these three calls to action in scripture?”
A – Application
God calls us through his Word to grow as disciples. If you have identified in a passage a principle, task, or change, then ask yourself how it personally applies to you. In my own journaling practice I found one of the simplest and most effect ways to do this was to complete the sentence. “Right now I believe God wants me to….” Complete that sentence with the action you need to take to apply the scripture.
P – Prayer
Through prayer thank God for teaching you, express what you have learned, and ask God to help you apply this truth in your life. I would also highly recommend that you begin your time with God in prayer. Before you even open His Word, take a moment to realize you are in the presence of the living God. Pause and ask for His Holy Spirit to illuminate what you read and open your heart and mind to understand. Follow the example of the Psalmist who said,
Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes;
and I will keep it to the end.
Give me understanding, that I may keep your law
and observe it with my whole heart. (Psalm 119:33-34)
What I personally love about this method
This will sound cliché’ but it is so true – This is a life changing approach to praying and reading God’s Word. The journaling method I followed in college was very similar and it complete transformed me. What I didn’t realize is that every day when I completed the sentence, “Write now I believe God wants me to…”, I was setting a miniature spiritual goal (http://thepracticaldisciple.com/bible-study-and-application-setting-spiritual-goals/) . So ever day I was taking micro-steps toward being a more faithful disciple.
One critical thing I would add
In my own journaling process, I also always completed the sentence “One thing I don’t understand is…” Or, sometimes I would include at the end, “Questions I have about the text are:” The practice of completing this sentence or recording questions pushed me to find the edge of my own understanding. I have no doubt that it also dramatically accelerated my learning and growth. It did so because it created a conscious vacuum of knowledge that I then wanted to fill. The questions I had about the text were now consciously before me. God would often answer those questions in future reading. In short, I learned more because I was primed to look for more.
A secondary benefit of recording your lack of understanding is that it keeps you humble. I have seen a lot of people leap into bible study and become very arrogant as they learn. They begin to feel that they know much more than others. The more they feel this way the less they have a teachable Spirit. They also can become unknowingly condescending and quench the Spirit of others striving to grow. With that said, I cannot encourage you enough to stay humble by recording the holes in your understanding or list the questions you still have when you are reading God’s Word.
One last success tip that will help keep you going
It’s okay to keep your answers short. You don’t have to write a prolific essay for every answer to be meaningful. In fact, my experience has been that the newbies who right lengthy entries when they start out full of excitement, often flame out early. Many times I don’t even write things in complete sentences. Particularly, when I am just capturing observations.
FREE Downloads to help you
To make this ultra-easy I have bundled two free resources together that will ignite your Bible reading:
The One Year Bible Reading Tool Kit. This helpful guide contains access to thirteen proven Bible reading plans, plus five easy to use strategies that have helped me successfully read the Bible everyday for over thirty years.
The SOAP Bible Journaling Cheat Sheet. Use this printable PDF with writing prompts to help you easily understand the Bible more quickly.
Click below to get your copy of both resources.