HAVE you ever watched people select fruit? Most observe its color and size to determine its ripeness. Some people smell the fruit. Others touch it, even squeeze it. Still others weigh it, putting one piece in each hand to detect which is heavier with juice. What are these people thinking? They are analyzing details, evaluating differences, remembering previous selections, and comparing what they now see with what they already know. A tasty reward awaits them because they give careful attention to the matter.
Of course, the rewards for studying God’s Word are far greater. When such study occupies an important place in our lives, our faith becomes stronger, our love deepens, our ministry becomes more productive, and decisions that we make give greater evidence of discernment and godly wisdom. Concerning such rewards, Proverbs 3:15 says: “All other delights of yours cannot be made equal to it.” Are you experiencing such rewards? The way that you study may be a factor.—Col. 1:9, 10.
What is study? It is more than superficial reading. It involves using your mental faculties in careful or extended consideration of a subject. It includes analyzing what you read, comparing it with what you already know, and taking note of reasons given for statements made. When studying, think deeply on any ideas expressed that may be new to you. Consider, too, how you might personally apply Scriptural counsel more fully. As a Witness of Jehovah, you will also want to think about opportunities to use the material to help others. Obviously, study includes meditation.
Getting Into the Right Frame of Mind
When preparing to study, you lay out such things as your Bible, whatever publications you plan to use, a pencil or pen, and perhaps a notebook. But do you also prepare your heart? The Bible tells us that Ezra “prepared his heart to consult the law of Jehovah and to do it and to teach in Israel regulation and justice.” (Ezra 7:10) What does such heart preparation involve?
Prayer enables us to approach the study of God’s Word with the proper attitude. We want our heart, our inmost self, to be receptive to the instruction that Jehovah gives us. At the beginning of each study session, petition Jehovah for the help of his spirit. (Luke 11:13) Ask him to help you understand the meaning of what you will study, how it relates to his purpose, how it can help you to discern between good and bad, how you should apply his principles in your life, and how the material affects your relationship with him. (Prov. 9:10) As you study, “keep on asking God” for wisdom. (Jas. 1:5) Honestly evaluate yourself in the light of what you learn as you seek Jehovah’s help in getting rid of erroneous thoughts or hurtful desires. Always “respond to Jehovah with thanksgiving” for the things he reveals. (Ps. 147:7) This prayerful approach to study leads to intimacy with Jehovah, since it enables us to respond to him as he speaks to us through his Word.—Ps. 145:18.
Such receptiveness differentiates Jehovah’s people from other students. Among those who lack godly devotion, it is fashionable to doubt and challenge what is written. But that is not our attitude. We trust Jehovah. (Prov. 3:5-7) If we do not understand something, we do not presumptuously conclude that it must be in error. While searching and digging for the answers, we wait on Jehovah. (Mic. 7:7) Like Ezra, we have the goal of acting on and teaching what we learn. With this inclination of heart, we are in line to reap rich rewards from our study.
How to Study
Instead of simply starting with paragraph 1 and working your way through to the end, first take time to preview the entire article or the chapter in the material. Begin by analyzing the wording of the title. This is the theme of what you will be studying. Then take careful note of how the subheadings relate to the theme. Examine any illustrations, charts, or teaching boxes that accompany the text. Ask yourself: ‘Based on this preview, what do I expect to learn? In what way will it be of value to me?’ This gives direction to your study.
Now get the facts. Watchtower study articles and some books include printed questions. As you read each paragraph, it is beneficial to mark the answers. Even if there are no study questions, you may still mark important points that you want to remember. If a thought is new to you, spend a little extra time on it to be sure that you understand it well. Be on the lookout for illustrations or lines of reasoning that will be useful to you in the field ministry or that might be incorporated in an upcoming talk assignment. Think of specific people whose faith might be strengthened if you share with them what you are studying. Mark the points that you want to use, and review them when you complete your study.
As you consider the material, look up the cited scriptures. Analyze how each scripture relates to the general thrust of the paragraph.
You may encounter points that you do not readily understand or that you would like to explore more thoroughly. Instead of letting them sidetrack you, make a note to give these further consideration later. Points are often clarified as you make your way through the material. If not, you can do additional research. What things might be noted for such attention? Perhaps there is a scripture quoted that you do not understand clearly. Or you may not readily see how it applies to the subject being discussed. Perhaps you feel that you understand a certain idea in the material but not well enough to explain it to someone else. Rather than simply passing these by, it may be wise to do research on them after you have finished what you started to study.
When the apostle Paul wrote his detailed letter to the Hebrew Christians, he paused midway through it to say: “This is the main point.” (Heb. 8:1) Do you give yourself a reminder like that from time to time? Consider why Paul did so. In the preceding chapters of his inspired letter, he had already shown that Christ as God’s great High Priest had entered heaven itself. (Heb. 4:14–5:10; 6:20) Yet, by isolating and emphasizing that main point at the beginning of chapter 8, Paul prepared the minds of his readers to think deeply on how it related to their lives. He pointed out that Christ had appeared before the person of God in their behalf and had opened the way for their own entry into that heavenly “holy place.” (Heb. 9:24; 10:19-22) The surety of their hope would help move them to apply the further counsel that this letter contained regarding faith, endurance, and Christian conduct. Similarly, when we study, focusing on the main points will help us discern the development of the theme and will impress on our minds the sound reasons for acting in harmony with it.
Will your personal study move you to act? This is a vital question. When you learn something, ask yourself: ‘How should this affect my attitude and my goals in life? How can I apply this information in solving a problem, making a decision, or reaching a goal? How can I use it with my family, in the field ministry, in the congregation?’ Consider these questions prayerfully, contemplating real situations in which you can put your knowledge to work.
After completing a chapter or an article, take time for a brief review. See if you can recall the main points and the supporting arguments. This step will help you to retain the information for future use.
What to Study
As Jehovah’s people, we have plenty to study. But where should we start? Each day, we do well to study the text and comments from Examining the Scriptures Daily. Each week, we attend congregation meetings, and study done in preparation for these will help us to benefit to a greater extent. In addition to this, some have wisely invested time in studying some of our Christian publications that were printed prior to their learning the truth. Others select some portion of their weekly Bible reading and do deeper study of those verses.
What if your circumstances do not permit you to study carefully all the information that will be considered at the weekly congregation meetings? Avoid the pitfalls of rushing through the material just to get it done or, worse, of not studying any of it because you cannot do it all. Instead, determine how much you can study, and do that well. Do it each week. In time, endeavor to broaden out to include the other meetings.
“Build Up Your Household”
Jehovah recognizes that family heads must work hard to provide for their loved ones. “Prepare your work out of doors,” says Proverbs 24:27, “and make it ready for yourself in the field.” Yet, your family’s spiritual needs cannot be overlooked. Hence, the verse continues: “Afterward you must also build up your household.” How can family heads do this? Proverbs 24:3 says: “By discernment [a household] will prove firmly established.”
How can discernment benefit your household? Discernment is the mental ability to look beyond the obvious. It could well be said that an effective family study begins with a study of your family itself. How are your family members progressing spiritually? Listen carefully during your conversations with them. Is there a spirit of complaint or resentment? Are materialistic pursuits the big thing? When you are in the field ministry with your children, do they feel comfortable identifying themselves before their peers as Jehovah’s Witnesses? Do they enjoy your program of family Bible reading and study? Are they really making Jehovah’s way their way of life? Careful observation will reveal what you, as a family head, need to do in order to establish and build up spiritual qualities in each family member.
Check The Watchtower and Awake! for articles that deal with specific needs. Then tell the family in advance what will be studied so that they can give thought to the information. Maintain a loving atmosphere during the study. Without chastising or embarrassing any family member, highlight the value of the material under consideration, making specific application to your family’s needs. Keep each member involved. Help each one to see how Jehovah’s Word is “perfect” in providing just what is needed in life.—Ps. 19:7.
Reaping the Rewards
Observant people without spiritual comprehension can study the universe, world events, and even themselves but fail to comprehend the real meaning of what they are seeing. On the other hand, with the help of God’s spirit, people who regularly study God’s Word can discern in these things the handiwork of God, the fulfillment of Bible prophecy, and the unfolding of God’s purpose for blessing obedient humans.—Mark 13:4-29; Rom. 1:20; Rev. 12:12.
Marvelous as that is, it should not cause us to become proud. Instead, daily examination of God’s Word helps us to remain humble. (Deut. 17:18-20) It also shields us from “the deceptive power of sin” because when God’s Word is alive in our hearts, the appeal of sin is less likely to overpower our determination to resist it. (Heb. 2:1; 3:13; Col. 3:5-10) Thus, we will “walk worthily of Jehovah to the end of fully pleasing him as [we] go on bearing fruit in every good work.” (Col. 1:10) Doing so is our objective in studying God’s Word, and accomplishing it is the greatest reward.