31 Bible Reflection Tips

Carol Dowsett

“Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.”

Psalm 119:18

As we grow in faith and develop the practice of daily Bible reading, sometimes we can reduce the discipline into a less-than-meaningful habit. Here are a 31 refreshing ways to approach Scripture and gain deep, life-giving insights.

1. Emphasize: Pause on each word of a verse, emphasizing it as you read it, and unpack it. (“I have stored up your word …”: personally accountable, deliberate, not dependent on others. “I have stored up your word …”: habitually, ongoing.)

2. Pray, Read and Pause: Pray. Then start reading until the Holy Spirit causes you to pause and reflect.

3. Opposites: Consider the opposite of what the verse is saying. (“I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” Opposite: WHEN “I have [NOT] stored up your word in my heart, [ I find I more readily] sin against you.”)

4. Inclusive/Exclusive: When you find words like all, every, never and none, see them as yield signs and ponder what they include or leave out. (“I will never leave you or forsake you.” NEVER? Not even when I run away from you? NEVER? Not even when I feel alone?)

5. Various English Translations: Read in various translations to get a fresh or nuanced perspective.

ESV: “For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.”

ERV: “But we are the ones who have the true circumcision-we who worship God through his Spirit. We don’t trust in ourselves or anything we can do. We take pride only in Christ Jesus.”

MSG: “The real believers are the ones the Spirit of God leads to work away at this ministry, filling the air with Christ’s praise as we do it. We couldn’t carry this off by our own efforts, and we know it-even though we can list what many might think are impressive credentials.”

NLT: “For we who worship by the Spirit of God are the ones who are truly circumcised. We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us. We put no confidence in human effort.”

6. Other Language Translations: If you read in another language, read the Scriptures in that language.

7. Rewrite: Rewrite a verse or passage from your own thoughts and words.

8. Personalize: Read a verse or passage and put your own name in where there are names or pronouns. (Isaiah 41:13: “For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you.'” Personalized: “For I, the Lord her God, hold Carol’s right hand; it is I who say to Carol, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you.'”

9. Question: Ask yourself questions about the passage. (Who is involved in this story? Where else did Jesus say something similar? Who is this being said to?)

10. Threads: Find other verses that speak along the same lines. (What else did Jesus say to the Pharisees? Where else do the Psalmists recount God’s actions among his people? What is Paul’s salutation and closing in each of his letters? What does Proverbs say about what the fool does, thinks, says?)

11. Patterns and Rhythms: Look for literary or construct patterns. (E.g., what are common “triplets” or “couplets” in the New Testament? Faith, Hope, Love; Grace and Truth, etc.)

12. God-Man: In the Gospels, wherever “Jesus” is mentioned, read it as “God.” (Matthew 15:29-30: “Jesus went on from there and walked beside the Sea of Galilee. And he went up on the mountain and sat down there. And great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and many others, and they put them at his feet, and he healed them.” Read as: “[God] went on from there and walked beside the Sea of Galilee. And [God] went up on the mountain and sat down there. And great crowds came to [God], bringing with them the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and many others, and they put them at [God’s] feet, and [God] healed them.”)

13. Join the Cast: Choose one of the characters in the story and walk through that story as that person. (Zacchaeus: Why do you want to see Jesus? What do you feel when Jesus says he is going to your house? What might you be afraid of or excited about?)

14. Attributes: Tie what you are reading to an attribute or characteristic of God. (Matthew 19:14-15: “But Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.’ And he laid his hands on them and went away.” ATTRIBUTES: Kind, Humble, Generous, etc.)

15. Listen: Read the passage aloud or listen to it recorded.

16. Memorize: Learn verses and passages by heart. Tackle a longer section as a monthlong or annual goal. (Suggestions: Psalms 19, 23, 51, 103; the Ten Commandments; the Beatitudes, the Sermon on the Mount; the Book of Philippians; John 14-17.)

17. Pray: Transform the passage into a prayer. (For Psalm 23: “Lord, thank you for being my Shepherd and providing all I need. When you put me in places of refreshment and rest, help me to enter into them fully. Help me remember that it is your righteousness, not my own, that guides me, and it is your name alone that deserves any glory. …”)

18. Sing: Sing Scriptures that have been made into praise choruses, or make up your own tunes to passages.

19. Dos and Donts: Reframe teachings of Proverbs, the Psalms, Jesus, Paul or others into lists of things to do and things to avoid doing. (Ephesians 4: DO: walk in a manner worthy of calling; bear with one another; maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. DON’T: walk like people who don’t know God; become callous; be given to sensuality or greed.)

20. Define: Use a dictionary or thesaurus to look up words in a passage, even if you already know the definition, to help expand your understanding of the meaning.

  1. compassionate or kindly forbearance shown toward an offender, an enemy, or other person in one’s power; compassion, pity, or benevolence: Have mercy on the poor sinner.
  2. the disposition to be compassionate or forbearing: an adversary wholly without mercy.
  3. the discretionary power of a judge to pardon someone or to mitigate punishment, especially to send to prison rather than invoke the death penalty.
  4. an act of kindness, compassion, or favor: She has performed countless small mercies for her friends and neighbors.
  5. something that gives evidence of divine favor; blessing: It was just a mercy we had our seat belts on when it happened.

Synonyms: forgiveness, indulgence, clemency, leniency, lenity, tenderness, mildness

21. Jot: Read a passage and jot down the key or main thought. Reflect on what you captured.

22. Meditate: Review a passage over and over in your mind throughout the day or as you go to sleep.

23. Word Study: Use a concordance to look up all the passages where a word is used, then look for patterns or how the various passages expand your understanding. (“Wisdom” is used in 211 instances in the ESV. Below is a selection.)

1 Kings 4:30: “so that Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the east and all the wisdom of Egypt.”

Acts 6:10: “But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.”

Colossians 2:3: “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

1 Kings 4:34: “And people of all nations came to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and from all the kings of the earth, who had heard of his wisdom.”

Proverbs 4:7: “The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight.”

1 Corinthians 2:5: “that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”

Proverbs 8:1: “Does not wisdom call? Does not understanding raise her voice?”

Proverbs 24:3 “By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established.”

Ephesians 1:8: “which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight.”

24. Diagram: Take a passage apart, and diagram it according to parts of speech. What are the sub-clauses? What is dependent on what?

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. … For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

26. Journal: Read a passage and write your personal reflections, prayers, questions, insights, etc.

27. Commentaries: Read what Bible teachers and scholars have said about the passage. Classic commentaries are found free online, including those by ancient saints, Calvin and Luther.

28. Greek and Hebrew: Look up the meaning of words in a Greek or Hebrew dictionary (for example, those offered by Lumina or Bible Study Tools).

29. Poetry: Write a passage as a poem.

30. Dialogue/Contrast: Read a page that has various characters with voices from the characters. (John 11: Jesus said. Mary, Martha responded; Psalm 78: God did. The people of Israel responded.)

31. Themes: Follow a specific concept, term or person throughout a book or passage. (Read all accounts of the birth of Jesus. Where do you see the Holy Spirit? Read Matthew or Luke and write down every accusation the scribes or Pharisees mutter about Jesus.)

Carol Dowsett served with her husband, Jim, as missionaries with Wycliffe Bible Translators for more than 25 years, living in Nairobi, Kenya for three years. She led international corporate communications with the mission for over 10 years. After retiring from Wycliffe, Carol worked with Bible League International and Christar U.S. before starting Habari Communications to provide communication services for faith-based nonprofits. Carol assists with AMiA communication efforts and attends All Saints Dallas, where she is active in discipleship and prayer ministries. Carol and Jim have four adult children and six grand-darlings.

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