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Open Your Heart When You Study the Bible

Don’t just read for information — Also ask God to change you on the inside

Doug Britton, MFT

Part 3 of a 5-part series on “How to Study the Bible”

Part 1      Part 2      Part 4      Part 5


The Bible challenges our opinions, attitudes, emotions, actions, and beliefs.

The question is, how will we respond? Will we try to fit what it says into our current attitudes and opinions, or will we allow God to change us?

Jesus told us to put his words into practice:

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. (Matthew 7:24-25)

Related: What is the Bible?

Make it personal

1. How open are you to God’s truth as you read the Bible?

2. How open are you to new ways of looking at the world, new ways of acting, and new ways of thinking?

Ask God to speak to you as you read

I have known people who studied the Bible, commentaries, and other reference works for hours every day. They became very familiar with the Bible, understood what the early Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts said, and could discuss deep theological issues with ease.

Some of these people grew wonderfully—not just in knowledge, but also in faith, in wisdom, in their walk with God, and in their relationships with other people.

But others didn’t change for the better. In fact, some became bitter, angry people who wounded their children, destroyed their marriages, and eventually abandoned their walk with God.

What made the difference between the two groups? Those in the first group read the Bible prayerfully, with hearts open to what God would show them personally. They wanted to grow in knowledge and theological insights, but they also wanted to grow closer to God.

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)

Those in the other group seemed to approach Bible study as a way to gain knowledge without opening their hearts to a closer walk with God. They were interested in theology, but not in how the Bible could impact them personally.

I’d like to encourage you to learn from these examples. Be a student of the Bible. Throw yourself into studying it, but be sure to ask God to give you an open heart as you read.

Related: Let the Holy Spirit change you

Pray before, during, and after you read the Bible

Before you read, pray for an open heart. Ask God to help you understand what you read, to learn what he wants you to learn, and to change you supernaturally.

After you read, ask God to help you internalize or grow from what you read.

How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. (Psalm 119:9-10)

Make it personal

3. If you aren’t careful, you may find yourself reading the Bible for knowledge only, instead of also reading for personal application. What steps can you take to be sure you are allowing God’s word to speak to you personally?

Ask God to change you on the inside

When you read, it’s good to learn how God wants you to talk and act, but don’t stop there. Ask God to use his word to change you on the inside as well as on the outside.

As you read, ask yourself:

  • How does this passage apply to me? What can I learn from it?
  • In light of this passage, do I need to make any changes in my attitude, behavior, or words?

When you allow God to change your heart—your attitudes, emotions, and motivation—you will discover that your words and actions also change. As Jesus said, “the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” (Matthew 12:34).

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. (Matthew 23:25-26)

Related: Questions to ask as you study the Bible

Make it personal

4. Give an example of a time you seemed clean on the outside but were not clean on the inside.

5. What is one way you would like God to change your heart?

Be aware of the danger of “picking and choosing”

When reading the Bible, many people pick and choose what to believe—and what to obey. If they don’t like the Bible’s message about holiness, sexual immorality, divorce, forgiveness, generosity, envy, covetousness, anger, or other areas, they look for someone who will “interpret” the Bible to give them the message they want to hear. They are like the people with “itching ears” described in 2 Timothy:

For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. (2 Timothy 4:3)

This is a dangerous position to take. The Bible is God’s word, teaching us his truth. As his disciples, we need to believe what God says and do what he commands, even when it is difficult.

Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it. (Luke 11:28)

We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did. (1 John 2:3-6)

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (James 1:22)

What do you think?

6. Why do you think people “pick and choose”?

7. Why is it dangerous to “pick and choose”?

8. What are some times you are tempted to “pick and choose”?

Love is at the heart of all of God’s commandments

There are hundreds of commandments in the New Testament, and they can seem overwhelming. It’s helpful to remember that they aren’t simply a long list of unrelated rules to follow.

Instead, they are instructions that tell us how to love God and others. As Jesus said, all of God’s commandments “hang on” the two great commandments—to love God and to love others.

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

We need the Bible’s commandments so we can learn how to love in a deep way—one based on God’s word, not on our emotions. That’s because our ideas about love are often wrong.

For example, if you are single and think you love someone, you might want to say, “Since we are in love, let’s have sex.” However, if you understand God’s word you would say, “I love you, so let’s not have sex.”

Likewise, if you are married and think you love someone Else, you might want to say to that person, “Since we are in love, let’s have sex.” However, if you understand God’s word, you would say, “I love you, so let’s not have sex.”

In other words, love doesn’t prompt us to ask someone to commit a sin. Instead, love prompts us to encourage him or her to grow closer to God.

Make it personal

9. Have you ever felt overwhelmed by all the commandments in the New Testament? Does the above information help? Why or why not?

Memory verse

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (James 1:22)

Personal Application

1. What is the main idea in this study?

2. How will you go about putting this idea into practice?

3. This study says there are two groups of people who study the Bible a lot—those who are only looking for knowledge and those who are looking for knowledge but also have open hearts. Which group do you think you are in? Explain your answer.

4. How can you open your heart as you read the Bible?

5. Why is it important to avoid “picking and choosing” which verses you will believe?

6. Why do you think this study has a reminder that love is at the heart of all of God’s commandments?

7. What will you do the next time you read a passage you don’t understand?

8. Say a prayer asking God to help you open your heart as you read the Bible.

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About Doug Britton, MFT

Doug Britton, Bible-based Marriage and Family Therapist, has helped hundreds of thousands of people as a therapist, clinical director of a treatment center, seminar speaker, radio cohost, and author of over twenty books that show how to apply God's truths in your daily life. (Visit www.dougbrittonbooks.com.)

Copyright © 2020 Doug Britton. Permission granted to print for personal use. (Scripture verses are from the New International Version, copyright © 1984.) See reprint policy.

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