Word: Collecting the Essentials

You’ve claimed your space. Established a time. Now the fun part: hunting for the ideal set of tools! My heart goes into low-level mourning every September when I re-realize I’ve grown out of new school supplies—a shiny backpack, lined paper, glittery folders, sharp-pointed pencils that leave No. 2 lead on my hands. Pastel paper clips and pretty rulers, sticky notes in an assortment of colors.

What a beautiful opportunity to soothe that ache! If you can, plan a couple of hours in the next week to go on a spree. Peruse your favorite shops for whatever your study area needs. (If a dedicated spree is impossible, spend a few minutes in the school supply aisle on your next grocery run and gather what you can.) Maybe throw in a new coffee cup to be used only when you’re in your study space or a candle with a scent that helps you focus.

Obviously, the most important tool to get your hands on is a Bible you love. Make sure it’s a version that you understand—this is not the time to put your great-great-great-great grandmother’s hefty King James family Bible to work. If you’re new to the world of study, translations differ based on how the original language is rendered into English. Some use a word-for-word method, others thought-for-thought, and a couple are simply paraphrases. Most of my work is done between the English Standard version and The Message.

Let your personal approach to Scripture dictate your other essential supplies. I couldn’t possibly operate without a notebook or two, non-bleeding pens and highlighters, and Wite-Out. I also have a handful of go-to resources at the ready: a favorite commentary for context and application, a study Bible with helpful notes and background information, several translations of Scripture, and a dictionary. (The commentary, translations, and dictionary are all online.) When I get stuck on a particular passage, I know I can hit up Bible Gateway or Bible Study Tools (or, when the really big guns are called for, Riley’s Logos account). If you prefer hard copies of helps, thumb through a concordance. Ask your pastor for any resources he’d recommend. Check around with your friends to see what they use. The more exposure you can get at the outset, the better.

If you have a creative itch, I’d definitely check out Dayspring’s Bible journaling page: they offer Bibles and kits and cute tape and stuff for groups. Does the idea of marking in your Bible break you out in hives? LifeWay has concocted some gorgeous individual books—I recently ordered a copy of John—interspersed with blank sheets throughout for notes, doodling, journaling, or whatever. For those of you who want to grow in Scripture alongside others (maybe with a couple of girlfriends), you’ll love the Community Bible Reading journal. And I have found She Reads Truth to be a wonderful online space to establish a rhythm of daily immersion in the Word.

Some things to not bring to this pile of essentials: perfectionism, comparison, shame, fear, unwillingness, legalism, demands, and obligation. Bring your brokenness. Bring your awkward silences and your scribbles and your halting prayers. Bring your exhaustion. Your need. Your tender yes. There will be confessions. Expect tears. And kisses. And wide-eyed worship. This is a safe space, and it will only be as helpful as you are able to be honest with yourself and with the God who already knows anyway.

As you get into the habit of coming to the Word, you can grow your collection of tools. (Mine has definitely morphed over the last few years!) Let it be what it needs to be right now. Don’t worry about getting everything right. If this all feels intimidating, no worries. Just grab your Bible and a journal and a pen. It doesn’t have to be complicated—I promise you’re not being graded here. Just show up.

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