COMMA: Bible study that invites a pause
I agreed that I should read the Bible long before I tried. And I tried Bible reading for a season before I learned how to read and study the text. I'm still learning how to read and study the Bible. What I mean is that I'm still learning to hear, trust, and follow the God who speaks through His Word. God is infinite. I am finite. I will always be learning. The goal is to start on the path of hearing, trusting, and following God. And then stay on the path.
Engagement with Scripture is essential to life with God. A reliable habit for receiving the Word of God in Scriptures is called inductive Bible study. If you want to go deeply into this method, the course Bible Study Methods and Hermeneutics from Dallas Theological Seminary is available for free on iTunesU. What I call the "COMMA" approach summarizes what I learned at DTS. It is what I practice and recommend for hearing, trusting, and following the God who speak through His Word.
Here’s the COMMA practice in the form of some example questions.
Context: Where am I in sacred Scripture? What book? What part of the book?
Observation: What words are actually here?
Meaning: What do these words mean? Do I understand them? Do I need some help?
Meditation: This is the pause. Take some time and ask, Am I listening carefully to these words and letting them arrange and rearrange my thinking? And then listen.
Activation: How do these words strengthen my trust in God and fuel my surrender and obedience? Those are some questions that go along with each step of this COMMA practice. There is one more word that goes with this process, and that’s the word, connection. How does this text—be it a verse, paragraph, chapter, book—connect with other truth in Scripture? Maybe it repeats a idea but in different language, in other words, maybe it says the same thing in a different way. Or, and this can be very important, maybe this passage helps me understand something that I have not yet understood? Perhaps this text—be it a verse, paragraph, chapter, book—brings clarity where I have had confusion. There are many confusing things in the Bible. There should be. It is an ancient body of writing and we are modern people. The Bible is a holy text and we are sinful people. The Bible a living text and we are being brought from death to life. So the Bible is confronting our death with God’s life, our sinfulness with God’s holiness, and our ignorance with God’s knowledge. We should find the Scriptures challenging and, at times, confusing. However, the Bible is accessible. It is accessible in the way that a ladder is accessible. There are rungs on the ladder for the beginners (those on the ground) and there are rungs for those further up and further along. So take heart wherever you are, and become willing to take the step that is in front of you. Take the step that is your next step to take.
I pray the COMMA practice can help you take your next step with God and make connections, especially the most important connection, the one between you, and the Savior, Jesus. That connection called saving faith and it is the most vital connection to make. That’s what the Bible is for: interactive engagement with Jesus (what we commonly call knowledge and trust), and, in a growing relationship with Jesus, a settled faith and hope in God (1 Pt. 1:21).