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Observation: The Beginning of a Wonderful Journey!

A New Testament Story Reveals Clues to the Power of Observation

Most Christians know Luke wrote one of the four Gospels that open the New Testament. In fact, it’s identified by his name. . . Luke.  But he also wrote another New Testament book . . . the book of Acts!

In my first book I told you, Theophilus, about everything Jesus began to do and teach until the day he was taken up to heaven after giving his chosen apostles further instructions through the Holy Spirit. (Acts 1:1-2)

What follows is Luke’s sequel to the Gospel of Luke, as a detailed chronicle of the birth of the early church.

In this familiar text that begins the book of Acts, Luke, the writer, offered clues to how the story would unfold. In this single verse, there is much to be learned by paying close attention to the words Luke used to set the scene.

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8)

Notice that the word “but” begins this verse. This is a connecting word that signals a contrast in thought. When you see a word such as “but” or “therefore” or “since,” it’s a clue that what has just been written or said is linked closely to what will follow.

 By paying close attention to what was happening and being described in Acts 1:8 and any other passage you may be studying, you can learn some important principles of observation. We’ve already highlighted one clue: contrast. Here are some others you should watch for in your observing.

  • Contrast
    But (contrast) you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes
  • Cause and Effect
    You will receive power (effect) when the Holy Spirit comes upon you (cause)
  • People and Places
    When the Holy Spirit (God) comes upon you (the disciples). And you (the disciples) will be my (Jesus) witnesses, telling people (unbelievers) about me (Jesus) everywhere—in Jerusalem (city), throughout Judea (region), in Samaria (region), and to the ends of the earth (all nations).

You can begin to see the significance and expansive impact of Jesus’ vision for the disciples simply by taking note of what you see—observation—in the text.

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Four Ways to Read the Text with Open Eyes (Observation)

Below are four important principles for you to learn and ultimately to practice each time you sit down to search the Scriptures for yourself.

  1. Read as if you are reading the passage for the very first time. This guards against the danger of familiarity. You might try reading the same passage in several different versions and then comparing the expression. Fresh eyes are the best eyes for searching the Scriptures.
  2. Read the passage as if you are reading a love letter from a special someone or dear friend. That means you are reading with great care and paying close attention to every word, not skimming or speed reading.
  3. Read the passage like a detective—looking for clues such as details, dialog, emotions expressed, etc. Take careful notes!
  4. Read as if you’re in the text—placing yourself in the story or in the context of when and where it was written. Imagine the scenes, chock full of sounds, smells, and impressions.

The more you practice this important step in studying the Bible for yourself, the more the Scriptures will come alive to you personally and to those with whom you share your observations!

Adapted from Charles R. Swindoll, Searching the Scriptures: Find the Nourishment Your Soul Needs(Carol Springs, IL: Tyndale House, 2016), 83–89.

man praying

A Simple Prayer Opens Our Eyes

A Familiar Psalm Shows the Power Behind Observation

Before you get skeptical, take a moment to think about it: If God went to such mind-boggling lengths to reveal Himself in His Word, wouldn’t He want you to see what He wanted you to see? Of course, He would.

Yet here is list of common frustrations for people struggling with studying the Bible:

  • I don’t understand the language.
  • The Bible uses confusing images and figures of speech.
  • I don’t know where to begin.
  • I don’t really understand how everything fits together.
  • I can’t make sense of poetry and prophecy!

You may have frustrations of your own. But the Bible itself offers hope and help for anyone not understanding how to search its treasures.

David’s quest for discovering biblical truth began with a simple prayer:

Open my eyes to see the wonderful truths in your instructions. (Psalm 119:18)

What Do You See?

The first thing we see is that this is a prayer! A simple but powerful observation. It’s simple because it’s obvious. It’s powerful because it shows us that reading and studying the Bible is a supernatural experience that begins with inviting God’s help. And that includes opening our physical eyes—so we can notice important details and facts to unlock the Bible’s meaning—but also our spiritual eyes—so that we see deep spiritual truths (Ephesians 1:18). Look for clues such as repeated words and phrases, time of day, detail regarding surroundings and even contrasts and comparisons!

Second, we notice that studying the Bible provides wonderful and reliable instruction! In a culture saturated with false reporting and deception, it is so important that we pray for God’s help in discovering life-changing wisdom to direct our lives (John 16:13). Always take a few minutes during observation to underline or highlight right on the page of your Bible direct commands or promises that are revealed.

What Do You Need?

Finally, we see that Bible study is profoundly personal: David prayed, “Open my eyes.” Ultimately, we are responsible for our own spiritual well-being. Studying the Bible for your own personal spiritual benefit is a worthy use of your time and energy. Your life can be changed . . . your attitude can be improved . . . your concerns can be resolved and relieved in the promises and principles found in Scripture.

So what are you waiting for? Go ahead and start searching the Scriptures for yourself! But don’t leave out the most powerful and important step in the journey . . . prayer!

Ask the Lord to open your eyes too. Make sure to have a pen and paper ready to record the results!

Adapted from Charles R. Swindoll, Searching the Scriptures: Find the Nourishment Your Soul Needs (Carol Springs, IL: Tyndale House, 2016), 83–89. To learn more, see the Searching the Scriptures study.