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Back to the Basics: Slow down. Slow down. Slow down.

By nature, I am not a very observant person. In high school, my brother once told me I was “stuck up.” I vividly remember that conversation. Evidently, on several occasions, I had walked past him in the hallways without acknowledging him. Yikes! I was horrified! I understood why he would feel upset. I, too, felt upset and was sure I was the worst human being- indeed, the worst sister- on the face of the planet! How could I not see my very own brother? 

With a clear conscience, I can say that I was not being haughty or pretentious. I would not pretend not to see my brother! 

The truth is this: I just plain didn’t see my brother. 

For some reason, that feels embarrassing to admit. I didn’t think I was better than my brother or anyone else in the hallway. My issue was being in my own little world. Carmen’s head runs rampant with thoughts that travel miles upon miles in mere seconds. Living in this wonderland of thoughts, imagination, ideas, and feelings, I often miss noticing things around me. The Bee Gees could have walked past me in high school, and I would not have noticed. Let me tell you, they were a big deal back then. I was simply not an observant person. 

Where others noticed details, I lived in the clouds with the big ideas, until seminary. Here, Dr. Henry Knapp, a pastor and professor of Systematic Theology, brought Carmen out of her reverie into the truth of Scripture. Each weekend of class, he would begin our time together with a devotional. I don’t have a solid word to describe how much I esteemed Dr. Knapp’s devotionals. Devotional was a bit of a misnomer, in my opinion, as these discourses usually lasted for an hour or more. He never rushed reading the Bible. As a maximizer, I was amazed by this! Shouldn’t we speed up to get to the “meat” of the class? I began to learn this was the meat. Dr. Knapp took time to notice the details. And every time, every single time, the Spirit moved, and the Scriptures came alive. My spirit soared to see God in ways I had never seen before! 

It felt like I had spent a lifetime walking past God in the hallway while reading my Bible. 

How can that be?

I can name three problems that led to this. One: I was in my own world. Two: I was ever in a hurry. And three: instead of reading to know God, I read to know myself and how I should live. Let’s unpack these problems, address the solutions, and then look at how careful observation can help us grow with God when studying the Bible.

First, even while reading Scripture, I can be in my own little world. I bring my own background, experiences, and preconceived notions about God into my study. I read the Bible through Carmen’s world. What happens? I read the Bible as if I already know what it means! 

The solution to this problem is to get outside of my own little world. Many of you have heard me say: We must relinquish our assumptions and presuppositions. This means we must let go of what we think we know about God and the Bible. It also involves seeking to understand the Ancient Near East culture, to get into their shoes and journey in their world. We seek to understand Scripture and the ancient world through their eyes.

The second problem is hurry. I have a lot of good excuses for why I am in the habit of hurrying, especially when it comes to Bible study. Bottom line, there is no excuse. Hurrying to know God through the Bible is like telling my granddaughter to hurry up with her story because Nana has things to do. 

Knowing someone and hurrying do not go together.

Every single weekend of class, every single devotional, Dr. Knapp would say, “SLOW DOWN. SLOW DOWN. SLOW DOWN. Dr. Knapp was serious. And I am so glad that he was. He got my attention—the repetition of his message stuck in my head. I can still hear him, “Slow down. Slow down. Slow Down.”

Let’s observe the details.

Finally, the third problem: I read the Bible to know myself and how I should live. In some ways, this relates to the first problem of being in Carmen’s world. I have the propensity- we all have the propensity- to make everything about me, about us.

This includes our approach to the Bible. We see the Bible as the help needed to live a good life. Indeed, the Bible offers help and instruction on how to live a good life and a life right with God. However, approaching the Bible as a life manual smacks of self-absorption. The Bible is not all about us. 

The Bible is about God. He is the Hero of the story.

We must approach the Bible to know the Hero, God Himself. This involves curiosity and slowing down to notice details and ask God questions. As George MacDonald would say, “Eager disciples of Jesus ask questions of the Bible!” 

In one of his sermons, MacDonald- a pastor, scholar, and author who inspired other authors like CS Lewis and Tolkien, categorized followers of Jesus into one of two categories.  He referred to the first type of disciple as “dull.” A dull disciple does not ask God questions about the Bible. Contrast this to the second type, the eager beaver disciple who longs to know God and asks Him questions about His Word.  

MacDonald says:

“Questions imply answers. God has put the questions in my heart; he holds the answers in His.  I will seek them from him…. I will seek until I find.”

SIMPLY BIBLE workbooks are set up to help us become eager disciples and then provide simple tools to understand and answer our questions. Oftentimes I walk through the detective questions by asking: who, what, where, when, why, and how? Who is in this passage? Where are they? What are they doing? When is this narrative happening? Why and how are the characters doing what they are doing? Asking questions makes interpretation a piece of cake! We simply answer the questions we asked. More importantly, asking questions helps us slow down to observe.

The ultimate or golden question to ask is: What does this passage say about God? This question keeps us from walking right past God in our Bible study.

So, three foundational pieces to good observation include:

  1. Walk in the Ancient Near East world. 
  2. Slow down. 
  3. Ask questions, including, “What does this passage tell me about God?”

In every SIMPLY BIBLE workbook, the introduction details the step-by-step process of inductive study. The first step is observation. 

To observe is to see. 

To observe is to see people, places, and things. To see thoughts, words, and actions. To see heart attitudes, whether wrong or right. And ultimately, to see God. Truth be told, to observe well takes practice. It also takes time. 80% of good Bible study happens here. If you do nothing else but observe well, you may likely do the very best Bible study you have ever accomplished in your life. Good observation is that potent. 

Because we are in the habit of scrolling and taking in mountains of information at our fingertips as quickly as possible, the challenge becomes slowing down to notice everything in the Bible. 

To help me read carefully, I use several tricks. Whenever using one of the SIMPLY BIBLE study guides, it can be helpful to bookmark the Quick Start guide. You’ll find reminders to read and observe a Bible passage effectively here. The goal is to find the system that works for you. 

Number one is to read. You can laugh! Yet, believe it or not, it is easy to skip right over reading the passage. Because of our habit of skimming through mountains of information, we must learn to SLOW DOWN, SLOW DOWN, SLOW DOWN when reading the Bible! I’ve known many to be stunned by what they learn about God, even in a genealogy passage, because they slowed down to notice things. 

Some tricks include:

  • Read more than once.
  • Read the passage out loud.
  • Read the passage in another version.
  • Listen to someone else read the passage.
  • Underline, circle, and highlight repeated words, unfamiliar words, or anything that catches your attention.
  • Write out a verse or a passage.

Write your observations in the observe and keyword columns as you read or re-read:

  • Write down people, places, things.
  • Write your questions about who, what, where, when, how, and why.
  • Draw a map or a picture. 
  • Make a list.
  • Compare and contrast.
  • Ask, “What does this passage tell me about God?”

Before moving on, ponder and ask God if there is anything else He wants you to notice. This allows Bible study to become a conversation with the One we are getting to know.

Remember: To observe is to see what the Bible has to say. 

I know. To observe seems so primary, so elementary. Observing can lead us to feel like we are at a standstill and not making progress with filling out our study book. In our goal-driven, fast-paced world, to observe- and observe well- is very difficult. As technology progresses, we all become less observant. We meander in our own little worlds, rushing to do and looking for help to live well. 

Hurkle-durkling has become a social media trend. TikTok user Kira Kosarin is credited with helping popularize it when she first posted about it as her “word of the day” in early January. “Just thought you guys should know that the Scottish have a word for laying around in bed after it’s time to get up, and it’s called hurkle-durkling,” Kosarin says in her post.

Observation might be the hurkle-durkle of Bible study. 

Bible study is not merely about doing a task and gleaning information. Bible study is about relationships. The Bible is a gift for knowing and enjoying God. Resting in Him. Observation can even become meditative. Delightful.

When we think of Mary and Martha, we understand that people’s tendencies have not changed much. Martha was busy and distracted by many things. She was stressed, and her mind was going a mile a minute such that she even accused Jesus of not caring about her. Mary chose the good portion. Mary sat down to observe Jesus. She sought to know and enjoy Him, to be His friend. Imagine how Martha’s day and attitude would have been transformed had she done the same. 

In our serving and doing, we can easily walk right past God in our Bible study. Observation is prescriptive. When we take time to slow down, be curious, sit, and observe God and His heart, we will see and be assured of His grace, mercy, steadfast love, and faithfulness. We tuck those truths about Him into the pockets of our hearts for the rest of the day.

Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. 

Acts 17:11

Lord God, Thank You that You see and know us. There is nowhere we can go where you will not observe and understand us. Thank You for Your Presence. Thank You, too, for the gift of Your Word. As we seek to observe and know You, help us to sit with You for a while. Open the eyes of our hearts and minds to see all that You would have us to see. We want to know and enjoy You.

PRACTICE:

Observe: Take two minutes to look out your window. Most likely, this is a familiar sight. But sit and notice what you see. Talk to God about them. After a bit of time, you may begin noticing things you wouldn’t have had you not taken time. Careful observation can even lead to curiosity. Thank God for the things you notice in those two minutes. Then, try to do the same observation the next time you sit down to look at your Bible.

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