KING SOLOMON “pondered and made a thorough search, that he might arrange many proverbs in order.” Why? Because he was interested in writing “correct words of truth.” (Eccl. 12:9, 10) Luke “traced all things from the start with accuracy” in order to narrate in logical order the events of Christ’s life. (Luke 1:3) Both of these servants of God were doing research.
What is research? It is a careful search for information about a particular matter. It includes reading, and it requires the application of the principles of study. It may also involve interviewing people.
What circumstances call for research? Here are a few examples. Your personal study or Bible reading may give rise to questions that are important to you. Someone to whom you witness may raise a question on which you would like to have specific information for a reply. You may have been assigned to give a talk.
Consider that assignment to give a talk. The material that you have been asked to cover may seem quite general. How can you apply it locally? Enrich it by doing research. When supported with a statistic or two or with an example that fits your material and that touches the lives of those in your audience, a point that may have seemed obvious becomes informative, even motivating. The published material with which you are working may have been prepared for readers worldwide, but you need to amplify, illustrate, and apply the points to one congregation or to one person. How should you proceed?
Before running in search of information, consider your audience. What will they already know? What do they need to know? Then identify your objective. Is it to explain? to convince? to refute? or to motivate? Explaining requires providing further information to make a matter clear. Although the basic facts may be understood, you may need to expand on when or how to do what is stated. Convincing calls for giving reasons outlining why a thing is so, including presentation of evidence. Refuting requires a thorough knowledge of both sides of an issue along with a careful analysis of evidence used. Of course, we seek not simply strong arguments but ways to present facts in a kindly manner. Motivating involves reaching the heart. It means giving your audience incentive and building up their desire to act on what is being discussed. Real-life examples of those who have taken such action, even in the face of difficulty, can help to reach the heart.
Are you now ready to begin? Not quite. Consider how much information you need. Time may be an important factor. If you are going to present the information to others, how much time will be available for you to do it? Five minutes? Forty-five minutes? Is the time fixed, such as at a congregation meeting, or is it flexible, such as on a Bible study or a shepherding call?
Finally, what research tools are available to you? In addition to what you have at home, are there more in the library at your Kingdom Hall? Would brothers who have been serving Jehovah for many years be willing to let you consult their research tools? Is there a public library in your area where reference books can be used if necessary?
Using Our Foremost Research Tool—The Bible
If your research project involves the meaning of a scripture, start with the Bible itself.
Examine the Context. Ask yourself: ‘To whom was this text directed? What do the surrounding verses indicate as to the circumstances leading up to the statement or the attitude of the people involved?’ Such details can often help us understand a text, and they can also add life to a talk in which you might use them.
For example, Hebrews 4:12 is often quoted to show the power of God’s Word to touch hearts and influence lives. The context adds depth to our appreciation of how that can be so. It discusses the experiences of Israel during the 40 years in the wilderness before entering the land that Jehovah had promised to Abraham. (Heb. 3:7–4:13) “The word of God,” his promise to bring them into a place of rest in harmony with his covenant with Abraham, was not dead; it was alive and moving toward fulfillment. The Israelites had every reason to show faith in it. However, as Jehovah led them from Egypt to Mount Sinai and on toward the Promised Land, they repeatedly showed a lack of faith. Thus, by their reaction to the way that God carried out his word, what was in their hearts was made manifest. In a similar way in our day, God’s word of promise shows up what is in the hearts of men.
Check the Cross-References. Some Bibles have cross-references. Does yours? If so, these may help. Note an example from the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures. First Peter 3:6 points to Sarah as an example worthy of imitation by Christian wives. A cross-reference to Genesis 18:12 reinforces that by disclosing that Sarah spoke of Abraham as lord “inside herself.” Her submission, therefore, was heartfelt. In addition to such insights, cross-references may refer you to texts that show the fulfillment of a Bible prophecy or of a Law covenant pattern. Realize, however, that some cross-references are not meant to give such explanations. They may simply refer to parallel thoughts or to biographical or geographic information.
Search With a Bible Concordance. A Bible concordance is an alphabetic index of words used in the Bible. It can help you locate scriptures that relate to the subject on which you are doing research. As you explore them, you will learn other helpful details. You will see evidence of “the pattern” of truth set forth in God’s Word. (2 Tim. 1:13) The New World Translation contains a basic listing of “Bible Words Indexed.” The Comprehensive Concordance is much more extensive. If it is available in your language, it will direct you to all the texts containing each of the principal words in the Bible.
Learning to Use Other Research Tools
The box on page 33 lists a number of other research tools that have been provided by “the faithful and discreet slave.” (Matt. 24:45-47) Many of these have a table of contents, and many have an index in the back, which is designed to help you pinpoint specific information. At the end of each year, subject indexes are published in both The Watchtower and Awake! for that year’s collection of articles.
Being familiar with the type of information offered in these Bible study publications can accelerate the research process. Say, for instance, that you want to know about prophecy, doctrine, Christian conduct, or the application of Bible principles. The Watchtower will likely contain what you seek. Awake! deals with current events, contemporary problems, religion, science, and peoples of various lands. Commentary on each account in the Gospels in chronological order appears in The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived. A verse-by-verse discussion of entire Bible books is found in such publications as Revelation—Its Grand Climax At Hand!, Pay Attention to Daniel’s Prophecy!, and the two volumes of Isaiah’s Prophecy—Light for All Mankind. In Reasoning From the Scriptures, you will find satisfying answers to hundreds of Bible questions that are commonly raised in the field service. For a clearer understanding of other religions, their teachings, and their historical backgrounds, see Mankind’s Search for God. A detailed account of the modern-day history of Jehovah’s Witnesses is contained in Jehovah’s Witnesses—Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom. For a report on current developments in the global preaching of the good news, check the latest Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Insight on the Scriptures is a Bible encyclopedia and atlas. If you need details about people, places, things, languages, or historical events associated with the Bible, this is an excellent resource.
“Watch Tower Publications Index.” This Index, published in more than 20 languages, will direct you to information in a wide variety of our publications. It is divided into a subject index and a scripture index. To use the subject index, locate a word representing the subject you want to investigate. To use the scripture index, locate in the list of scriptures the one you would like to understand better. If something has been published in your language on that subject or that scripture in the years covered by the Index, you will find a list of references to consult. Use the key in the front of the Index to decipher the abbreviations for the names of cited publications. (With that help, for example, you would learn that w99 3/1 15 refers to The Watchtower for 1999, March 1 issue, page 15.) Main headings such as “Field Ministry Experiences” and “Life Stories of Jehovah’s Witnesses” can be helpful in preparing motivating presentations for the congregation.
Since doing research can be very absorbing, be careful not to get sidetracked. Stay focused on your objective to search out the material needed for the task at hand. If the Index refers you to a certain source, turn to the page(s) cited, then use subheadings and opening sentences of paragraphs to guide you to the material that fits your needs. If you are searching for the meaning of a particular Bible verse, first locate the citation on the page to which you are referred. Then examine the surrounding comments.
“Watchtower Library” on CD-ROM. If you have access to a computer, you may benefit from using the Watchtower Library on CD-ROM, which contains a vast collection of our publications. The easy-to-use search program enables you to look for a word, a combination of words, or a scripture citation in any of the publications in the Watchtower Library. Even if this research tool is not available in your language, you may be able to benefit from it in a widely used international language with which you are familiar.
Other Theocratic Libraries
In his second inspired letter to Timothy, Paul asked the young man to bring “the scrolls, especially the parchments,” to him at Rome. (2 Tim. 4:13) Paul valued certain writings and kept them. You can do the same. Do you save your personal copies of The Watchtower, Awake!, and Our Kingdom Ministry even after these have been considered at congregation meetings? If so, you will have them available to use as research tools, along with the other Christian publications you have acquired. Most congregations maintain a collection of theocratic publications in a library at the Kingdom Hall. These are for the benefit of the entire congregation, for their use while at the Kingdom Hall.
Maintain Personal Files
Keep alert to items of interest that you can use when you are speaking and teaching. If you find in a newspaper or a magazine a news item, statistic, or example that you can use in your ministry, clip it out or copy the information. Include the date, the title of the periodical, and perhaps the name of the author or publisher. At congregation meetings, jot down reasoning points and illustrations that may help you to explain the truth to others. Have you ever thought of a good illustration but did not have an opportunity to use it right away? Write it down, and keep it in a file. After you have been in the Theocratic Ministry School for some time, you will have prepared a number of presentations. Instead of throwing away your notes from these talks, save them. The research you have done may prove useful later.
Talk to People
People are a rich source of information. When Luke was compiling his Gospel account, he evidently gathered much information by interviewing eyewitnesses. (Luke 1:1-4) Perhaps a fellow Christian can shed light on a matter on which you have been endeavoring to do research. According to Ephesians 4:8, 11-16, Christ uses “gifts in men” to help us grow in “the accurate knowledge of the Son of God.” Interviewing those with experience in serving God may yield useful ideas. Conversing with people may also reveal what they are thinking, and this can help you to prepare material that is truly practical.
Evaluate Your Results
After wheat is harvested, the grain needs to be removed from the chaff. So it is with the fruitage of your research. Before it is ready for use, you need to separate what is valuable from what is superfluous.
If you are going to use the information in a talk, ask yourself: ‘Does the point I plan to use really contribute something worthwhile to my presentation of the subject? Or, even though it is interesting material, does it tend to divert attention from the subject that I ought to be talking about?’ If you are considering using current events or material from the ever-changing fields of science or medicine, make sure that the information is up-to-date. Realize, too, that some points in older publications of ours may have been updated, so consider what has most recently been published on the topic.
There is a special need to be cautious if you choose to compile information from secular sources. Never forget that God’s Word is truth. (John 17:17) Jesus occupies the key role in the fulfillment of God’s purpose. Therefore, Colossians 2:3 says: “Carefully concealed in him are all the treasures of wisdom and of knowledge.” Evaluate the fruits of your research from that perspective. With regard to secular research, ask yourself: ‘Is this material exaggerated, speculative, or shortsighted? Was it written with a selfish or commercial motive? Do other authoritative sources agree with it? Above all, does it harmonize with Bible truth?’
Proverbs 2:1-5 encourages us to keep searching for knowledge, understanding, and discernment “as for silver, and as for hid treasures.” That implies both exertion and rich rewards. Research takes effort, but doing it will help you to find God’s thoughts on matters, to correct mistaken ideas, and to make firm your grasp of the truth. It will also add substance and life to your presentations, making them a pleasure to deliver and a delight to hear.