Everything in Scripture is purposeful. Every book, chapter, line is there for a reason. So when we read Scripture, we get the most out of what we’re reading when we read closely.
Here are a few techniques I use to engage, remember, and connect God’s Word as I read:
1. Underline key words/phrases: As you read, underline standout words and phrases. This can be tricky because oftentimes we go autopilot when underlining and end up underlining nearly everything without thinking. When you underline, you want to stick to words or phrases that pop out. Maybe there was something unexpected noted or a detail that you never noticed before. Or you might simply want to emphasize a specific verse or phrase in the passage or paragraph.
2. Circle transition words: These words can be so subtle and seemingly boring that you might read over them without paying much attention, but the more you note how the author is guiding you along in the text, the more comparisons and connections you’ll see. Transition words are words like however, although, even though, but (this is a big one in Scripture), yet, because, therefore (another big one), since, so that, in order that, moreover, etc.; they show the relationship between ideas. “But God…” and “But Jesus…” are so rich throughout the Old and New Testaments, and those two little words can say so much!
3. Note repetitions: Whenever a word/phrase/idea is repeated, it’s important (“holy, holy, holy,” for example, meaning holiest of holy or reeeaally holy). And the more it’s repeated, the more noted it should be! I write words/phrases in the margins if I see they’re repeated throughout a passage–like “rose early in the morning,” all throughout the OT, which I ironically noticed in college, or Mark’s obsession with the word “immediately” in his gospel, which makes me laugh a little (such urgency!). For longer phrases that are repeated throughout chapters and books, I sometimes draw a diamond to match them. The visuals help me see how often something is repeated when I scan back over the text.
4. Fill the margins: Summarize, annotate, commentate, date–FILL UP YOUR MARGINS. The Bible is a sacred book, the very Word of God, but just because a book is sacred doesn’t mean you can’t write alllll up in it! Write, write, write!
Sometimes I simply summarize, like “resurrected Jesus ate food“–your notes don’t have to sound fancy–next to when Jesus appeared to His disciples after His resurrection and ate fish with them, which I thought was weirdly ordinary and worth noting. Other times I commentate, giving my own reaction or interaction with the text, like “We have access to the same Person through prayer Elijah had,” (James 5:17).
I also paraphrase what I read (staying as close to the text as possible–not adding anything that isn’t there), like “I don’t go a certain way. I don’t let myself go certain places/way. You’re better, LORD” next to Psalm 119:100-104, or even a question mark by verses I find weird or want to go back and study more in detail because I didn’t fully get what was going on.
Oftentimes I include quotes from sermons in my margins, if I find the quote particularly helpful or beautiful, like when my seminary pastor, Dr. Moseley, noted “Aren’t you glad God offers second chances?” when working through a series on the prophets. (I have dozens of quotes from my husband’s sermons, most of which I write the day, city, and church, so that I can remember. I also put hearts by his name, but that’d be inappropriate for anyone else.)
Sometimes I even note the day, time, and place beside a passage if something in the passage really connects to what I’m going through. I have timestamps and addresses written all throughout my Bible, quiet moments the Lord’s Word comforted me when I couldn’t sleep or connected so specifically to thoughts and feelings I was trying to process at the time. Reading over those later reminds me of moments I could have easily, sadly, forgotten. (I even have big, clumsy scribbles in my very first study Bible, an NIV Adventure Bible with an holographic cover, given to me when I graduated Kindergarten, and gel pen verse tags in the paperback NLT Bible I used at youth camp, with creased covers and a duct-tape spine.) One day I’ll give my Bibles to my children, and they’ll be able to see how I worked out my faith throughout the years.
5. Highlight the colors: To help work through the actual text of Scripture, to visually organize it, I highlight. I loove visual and kinesthetic (interactive) learning; both help me to stay engaged and slow down as I read, moving over words and phrases more intentionally. I’ve learned that I zone out if I’m not doing something as I read (which is fine for lowkey beach reads I don’t need to remember an hour after reading them, but not so much for God’s Word). Over the years, I’ve developed my own working system of highlighting Scripture. It might work for you, or you might hate it. (You could use my system to come up with your own.) I highlight in categories: pink–love, orange–bad, yellow–interesting/notable, green–places (including heaven), blue–prophecy and restoration (in the OT) and fulfillment of Scripture or references to eternal life/the Kingdom of God/Christ’s return (in the NT), purple–names of God (how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are referred to throughout Scripture). (More on highlighting soon!)
There are so many subtle, but profound (life-giving! truth-revealing!) details in Scripture that can be easy to miss when you skim or solely rely on man/woman-written Bible studies to tell you what the Bible says. If these techniques are new to you, start with one or two and build over time. Don’t overwhelm yourself with too much too soon. Go slow, be curious, ask questions, stay to the text (don’t put words in God’s mouth), and look carefully. The Word of God will come alive to you like never before.