Please read part 1 , part 2, part 3, part 4, and part 5 of this series before reading today’s post. We’ve been unpacking a simple approach to hearing God speak through scripture.

Discovering what a Bible text means is a process more than an event, just like your vacation is more than a destination. First of all, remember to pray again—or rather, keep praying. But there are some important tips I can give you that will help. Here’s where some—some!—of the hermeneutical principles come in handy. Not as the delivery boy of truth, but as tools in the hand of the Holy Spirit as you “Lean not on your own understanding (and) in all your ways acknowledge him… (allowing him to) direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5,6).

Let’s say I’ve asked God to speak to me, to open up his word to me. I now assume that whatever catches my eye has snagged me for a reason. I pray, I read—and then, quite simply, I pay attention to what jumps out at me. Specific words or phrases might stand out as I read the passage. Sometimes it happens right away—BAM—and sometimes it only happens as I look, look, look, and look.

Sometimes I zero in on important words or phrases that jump out at me or seem to be important in the sentence I’m reading. Which words or phrases give me the biggest clues about what the passage is about, and why? Any that come up more than once? Like in the James passage. Look, look, look, look. Hello! That’s significant.

Meaning statements are fun to find. Sometimes verses have clear statements that tell us what something means. For example, let’s read James 1:5-8:

“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double minded man, unstable in all he does.”

OK. What does “doubt” mean? What can we learn about it? Well, doubting is like a wave of the sea getting tossed around. But there’s more. A wave of the sea getting tossed around is unstable. Unstable means double minded. So doubt here means unstable and double minded, like a wave being tossed around by the wind at sea. A pretty clear picture, and the definition of doubt came right from the passage itself. We didn’t have to guess.

Vary the emphasis. Sometimes reading a sentence with different emphases will help something stand out to you. For example,

“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God.” Or, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God.” Or, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God.” Or, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God.”

Contrasts. Sometimes God uses opposites to illustrate a point. Can you see any in the passage we just read? Here it is again:

“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double minded man, unstable in all he does.”

Believe is contrasted with doubt. Lacking and asking are paired with God’s giving and our receiving. See? You could chew on any one of those pairs for awhile and be better for it.

Questions. One of the best tools for Bible study is a head full of questions. In fact, some passages are designed to get you asking certain questions. Try it sometime: Read a passage, and ask God to show you the question you ought to be asking. As you highlighted some words and phrases, and saw some meaning statements, what kind of questions came to mind? Remember to ask questions like, “Who? What? Where? How? And When? Let’s go back to the James passage again. We’ve seen important words, highlighted contrasts, discovered the definition of the word doubt. But I still have some questions, like:

What does “finding fault” mean? Is this passage saying that God won’t give wisdom to unstable, doubting people, or that unstable, doubting people put themselves in a position where they are unable to receive what God has generously given? Blowing waves are certainly unstable. But how does that connect to doubt? And being double minded? See what I mean? Chase down those leads, and you’ve got a potential gold mine coming.

Connections. As we ask good questions and God reveals the answers as we look and study, we should start to see how things fit together. The contrasts will suddenly make sense. Believe & doubt are parallel to give and receive. My belief is tied to His generous giving. Doubt is tied to not being able to receive. Wow!

But it can go well beyond this. Can you think of another verse that uses the same imagery or makes the same kind of point of what you have learned? Sometimes studying a second passage sheds light on the first one. For example: As I studied our James passage, the Lord brought to mind Ephesians 4:14;

“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.”

Hmmm, waves again. And wind. And the very same picture of instability. This is connected. What can this add to my study in James? Well, doubt is now not just about instability and being unable to receive. It’s about being an infant—and being led away from God’s wisdom into lies. So maturity might mean….Hmmm. Lots to chew on there. And then I remember a verse in Matthew 7 where Jesus talks about a wise being one who puts God’s word into practice. Which is like building his house on a rock, so that when the winds and floods come, he isn’t washed away.

Again we see wind, waves, stability, wisdom, and doing the word. Lots of connections there too. So I jump over to Matthew 7 and… you get the idea. This could go on for a long time—which would be a beautiful thing. And anything but boring.

Flip-sides. Look for things like, If doubt is tied to not being able to receive, then belief must be tied to being able to receive, even though the passage doesn’t explicitly say that. We can infer correctly that this is in fact true.

Okay, we’ve hit on some amazing stuff today. Tomorrow, we’ll sail into the rich waters of something called context.