It's often good to add a project to our normal Bible reading routine, perhaps including a commentary, book or study aid. Last summer I made use of my ESV Study Bible and coupled it with a Piccadilly Leatherlook notebook both of which were gifts I had received for the previous Christmas. The project was simply to take informed but personally insightful notes on the Gospels of Matthew and Mark.
The ESV Study Bible has a large number of advocates and there are reviews all over the internet detailing just how wonderful it is. I will say that as someone who remains generally suspicious of Study Bibles that I love the ESV Study Bible. Its notes, maps, introductions, definitions, study notes and plethora of other materials are study aids, as they should be. What I love so much about the ESV Study Bible is that its aids are highly informative rather than highly interpretive. You can check out a number of introductory (meaning advertisement) videos here.
For those of you who have not yet been introduced to what is probably the most comprehensive Study Bible ever made, I will post some pics below. You can click on the picture of the back of the box above to read a brief description of the features. I own the Black TruTone edition.
The other material part of the project is the Piccadilly Leatherlook Journal with the word FAITH across the front. It seems that this notebook has been discontinued by Piccadilly, a Moleskine competitor. The notebook features thick, rich cream colored paper which is luxuriously lined on only one side of the page and features two ribbons. It does have a sewn binding and the cover is imitation leather and quite flexible.
On the negative side this notebook does not lie flat on the table--at all. In fact, one of the reasons I used it for this project was because you almost need a heavy book like the ESV SB to hold the left side of the notebook down while you write on the right side. On top of that the sheer impracticality of the line spacing, margins and use of only one side of the page, joined with the word FAITH on the front and the two ribbons makes it almost seem like a prestige item: as if to say, "Look at me, I'm taking notes. I'm spiritual." This is of course ridiculous, we take notes because we are foolish and unskilled in the wisdom of God and need to put forth effort to interact with it.
The project itself is very straightforward, but I thought it would be good to start with basics. I simply determined to take thorough notes on the Gospels, breaking the verses into sections and writing notes that were informed by the ESV SB tools, but not dominated or heavily influenced by them (often what I wrote had nothing to do with the notes at all). This forces you to respond to what you read. You must observe and analyze in order to create a note. Many times what I wrote was somewhat obvious, but that's okay because the goal is to respond regardless and let yourself be surprised by how the Holy Spirit enlightens your understanding.
Taking your own study notes forces you to do your own study, to pray about verses and ask God what they mean. It's a good rule to force yourself to write about portions you don't understand, even to do research and come back and write down what you find. However, I like to always take scripture to God in prayer before I go to some other materials to discover the interpretation. It's rewarding to hear and learn directly from God. Matthew 11:29
One of the things I learned during this study is that much of the healing that takes place in the Gospels are examples of intercession. Numerous examples show an individual or group literally bringing someone sick or possessed to Jesus for healing. In these instances the sick themselves do not ask for healing but someone else on behalf of the sick. The sick themselves do not make a statement of faith or belief in Jesus' power to heal, but the person who brought them. In the same way we should bring people to Jesus spiritually. We should ask God for healing (be it physical, emotional, spiritual) on their behalf, and we should ask in our faith for them. This is a definition intercession: to touch someone in prayer with one hand and touch Jesus with the other. There are many powerful accounts of men, women and entire cities obtaining healing on behalf of the infirm by their personal expression of desire and faith for those people. Matthew 9:18, Matthew 14:34-36 and Matthew 15:21-28 are only three of a vast number of examples in which people came to Jesus and implored Him on behalf of someone else. These are examples for us in prayer. Though we are not able to physically approach Jesus, we have even more power to approach the throne of grace and ask for others because we love and obey Him: John 14:13.
Simple projects like these are the bread and butter of Bible study. Simply grabbing a notebook and jotting down simple notes (or long complicated thoughts) can be a vehicle for the Holy Spirit to reveal truth within His word. It makes a difference to do more than just read but to participate. It engages our mind and heart in an analytical, synthesizing, creative and spiritual process. It's also a step of faith because as you set pen down to paper you are telling God that you believe that He will give you something to write and reveal new truth and understanding to you that will make the effort worth it. Such an attitude allows God to bless you.