Praying in public is something that makes many people, including longtime church attenders, nervous. What do I say? What if it doesn’t come out right? Will people judge me based on how the prayer sounds? What if it makes me sound unintelligent? There is a reason that the pastor or group leader often ends up leading the prayer in a group after no one volunteers to do so. Equipping people so that they feel comfortable praying in public is important if you’re going to be asking them to lead a Bible study. This is another one of those barriers that needs to be overcome so that someone will say yes to your request that they lead a Bible study.
Intro: Last week we went over how to read the Bible as it relates to preparing for a Bible Study at the Port Richey Presbyterian Church. One of the things that we discovered is that most of the people here haven’t spent a ton of time studying the Bible themselves, so I decided that it would be a good idea to spend a little bit more time on how to read the Bible. Last week was more the middle of the road stuff, this week we’re going to cover some more basic material, then some more advanced material. After that we’re going to talk a little about prayer.
More basic basics on how to read the scripture:
Prayer: These are habits that you should be in, and should come naturally, but be sure to pray for help and spend time meditating and reflecting on what you’ve read. What do I mean by this? I mean, every time before you begin to study, especially if it’s to prepare, ask the Lord to help you understand what you’re reading, and especially to help you present what he wants you to present to the Study. God is the inspirer of Scripture, so ought to be able to help you understand it.
Reflection: Reflecting and meditating is also useful, since it gives God a chance to organize and sort all of this material in your heart and give you a better understanding of what’s going on. I recommend that you spend some time praying about what you’ve studied and just thinking through the meaning before you try to write your questions. This is where you really grow, and this is where you really come to insights that are useful.
Reading Comprehension: The most fundamental step is basic reading comprehension. Read it like you’re going to have to write an essay, or take a final exam. What exactly does the text say? Does it really mean what I think it means? What important details does it seem to be leaving out? What are the unanswered questions? A lot of the time, we take liberties with things without even realizing it. This is one of the reasons we should read our passage in more than one translation.
Parallel Passages: if it’s in the gospel, you want to read parallel passages. This is also true of Kings and Chronicles, and also certain of Paul’s letters (namely Gal and Rom) where you can look for parallel teaching.
A few more words about metaphors: Frequently the Bible uses agricultural or natural metaphors. It’s important to understand that when you run across these and they don’t seem to make any sense, you should consult a commentary or study bible. For instance, an ox or even a horn is a symbol for strength or power (like us talking about horsepower I guess). There are many such examples, too many to remember from a short intro course like this one, but just keep in mind if things (particularly something in prophecy or the OT) don’t seem to make sense, consult a commentary.
Interpretive Keys: There are several interpretive keys to understanding the Bible. These are overarching themes and ways of understanding that clarify what it is we’re reading. Some examples include the struggle between grace and works, or the promise of redemption.
I feel like mentioning an interpretive key to understanding a lot of the OT. Many of the old laws weren’t really about what they on their surface claimed to be about. For instance, what do you think that the “no two threads next to each other” rule was really about? (not getting too close to people with foreign gods) More broadly, there are tons of laws about being “clean” before we can enter into the presence of God. These laws ultimately are all about the same thing, the impossibility of ever being “good enough” on our own to enter into God’s presence. We need Jesus Christ for that. Then there are all of the “sacrifice” laws. Again, these point towards our inability to be OK with God without a payment of some sort, ultimately Christ on the cross. Jesus, after he was raised, explained to his disciples from the entire Bible why he had to suffer, die and be raised, so we can frequently use Jesus and the larger story of redemption as a way of understanding what it is we’re reading.
Advanced Study – Logical Fallacies:
I want to cover very quickly a few mistakes that are possible to make when doing a Bible study. These are also possible mistakes that people in your study can make, which is one of the reasons I’m mentioning them.
Selective Evidence: ex, the bible says that women should keep silent in church, and some say that clearly means women should not speak at all in church. But that passage is countermanded by a passage 3 chapters earlier where Paul explicitly lets women pray and prophecy in church (1 Cor 14:33-36 and 1 Cor 11:2-15).
Worldview confusion: Most common one I can think of is slavery. Folks read our modern version of slavery into the passages where Paul talks about slaves. It’s not the same thing. “Take up our cross” ex: to us, that means just anything we’re hurting from, but to the first century reader, it meant a painful humiliating and slow death.
Emotional Appeals: Homosexuality, gender issues; folks seem to think that because there’s an emotional component that this is a replacement for what the text actually says. Try not to get drawn into that sort of argument, but stick to what the text says.
Working outside of the system: using assumptions about reality that aren’t the Bible’s assumptions to try to understand the Bible. This is pretty common when discussing miracles or philosophy (for instance, introducing a naturalistic bias to a priori eliminate the possibility of miracles).
I also want to talk about prayer today, particularly how it relates to preparing for a Bible Study.
First I want to generally cover just a few points about prayer. Prayer is a two way conversation. How would your spouse feel if you only talked to them and never listened? Or your parents? In order to pray effectively, you need to be open to the Lord speaking back. If this isn’t something you’re comfortable with or sure of how to do, ask for God to teach you, and spend some time in prayer in silence learning how to listen. And keep in mind, I’m not talking about audible voices here, but impressions and guidance coming from your heart. Second, prayer need not be rote; prayer is a conversation with someone you personally know, or at least someone you’re trying to know, so it can be free. It’s not magic.
Role of Prayer as a leader:
There are 3 major areas of prayer relating to being a Bible Study leader: praying for guidance in preparation, praying for your students, praying for the study time. The one we’re going to talk about today is praying for guidance in preparation.
Praying while you’re preparing is primarily about 2 things: praying to understand and praying to know what you’re supposed to include and exclude. The first is very easy, and we already covered it. Just pray for understanding and for God to expose any hidden truths to you as you study, guide you to the right resources etc. The second is more difficult. That’s why I spent the time above talking about listening to God. The only way to really grow in this is to take risks. God knows what everyone in your group is going through and will guide you in a way that incorporates that if you’ll let him.
Prayer time at the Bible Study:
Obviously you should begin and end with prayer, and it’s fine to let others do this if they’re comfortable. But there are a lot of different options for prayer in a Bible Study. Part of this depends on what your emphasis of the study is. Not all Bible Studies are primarily about studying the Bible, believe it or not.
3 Purposes of Small Groups
There are basically 3 major purposes of small groups, fellowship, study and prayer. All three are necessary to some extent in any Bible Study, but their exact composition varies. A fellowship heavy group might be one where the primary part of the group time is spent in a meal (or in Hebrews case, at a bar). A study heavy group would be a group like this one or like a Sunday School class. A prayer heavy group might be a support group or prayer circle where the bulk of the time is spent sharing prayer requests.
Every small group is free to set its own focus. The best time to do this is at the first or second group meeting. Typically a good group meeting will last about 1.5 hours and consist of fellowship in the beginning, study in the middle and prayer at the end, although it’s perfectly ok to mix those up any which way and still have a productive group.
Different Options for Prayer
I’m going to talk more about this division of a group’s time in a later meeting, but for now I want to discuss the options for how to handle prayer time.
Prayer for others: circle prayer, popcorn prayer, just leader praying. I prefer circle prayer because it A, insures that each person’s concerns are prayed for, B, that it builds bonds in the group, and C, takes the pressure off the leader to remember everything. (it sort of combines fellowship). Leader praying has its advantages too , as does popcorn.
Next week we’re going to talk about how to prepare a Bible study on any topic, and hopefully be a little more interactive. We’ll also talk more about these 3 purposes of a study.