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Are you eager to dive in to Bible note taking but aren’t sure how to begin? In this practical article, Shannon Leibold shares the benefits of interacting with God’s Word through note taking, including cultivating an intimate conversational relationship with God, increasing retention, and leaving a legacy for generations to come, and offers 5 helpful tips to get you started.
Charles Spurgeon said, “A Bible that’s falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t.” When I first heard this quote, I nodded emphatically and vowed to be the owner of this kind of Bible.
I’ve always admired gray-haired ladies carrying dog-eared Bibles with sticky notes projecting in every direction. I’m drawn to perfectly curated Instagram images of Bible pages filled with highlights, notes, and doodles. I often ask to look at a friend’s Bible when I see she’s been particularly creative in it. Yes, Bible note-taking has always fascinated me.
THE WHY BEHIND BIBLE NOTE TAKING
Now to be perfectly clear, highlighting your favorite verses in your Bible or taking notes as you read does not make you a better Christian. There are no heavenly gold stars for those who have mastered the best way to take Bible notes or have the most beautifully designed Bible journaling pages. But I do believe the God of the universe wants us to interact with Him, and one of the ways we can do this is to actively engage with the living Word on the page.
After all, it is a conversation; He speaks to us through His Word, and we respond through the verses and prayers and insights we record in the margins. So, yes, I believe God is pleased with a Bible that’s falling apart.
In addition to cultivating an intimate conversational relationship with God, studies have proven that writing things down in your own handwriting increases retention. As we study and write our responses, you are more likely to remember what the Spirit is teaching you through the text.
Bible note-taking also serves as a record of your spiritual journey, leaving a tangible legacy of faith for the next generation. What a blessing for your children and grandchildren to be encouraged by your faith from your own handwriting!
TIPS FOR BIBLE NOTE TAKING
As you consider Bible study note taking, you will want to create a system that works for you. Are you artistic? You may want to record your insights visually through design and color. Are you a list-maker? You might consider bullet point notes in the margin of your Bible. Do you prefer lots of color and movement or is your style more simplistic? All of these factors will come into play as you develop your own unique way to take notes in your Bible.
Here are some tips for Bible note taking:
1. Choose a Bible that has space for note taking.
Here are a few suggestions:
- ESV Single-Column Journaling Bible: This Bible features 2” ruled margins for writing observations, reflections, prayers, praises, notes, and journal entries.
- ESV Interleaved Journaling Bible: This Bible has a full blank page next to every page of biblical text.
- Illuminated Scripture Journals: These journals feature individual books of the Bible with a blank page on the right side for note taking.
- Dayspring Illustrating Bible: This spiral-bound Bible is designed with 3.5” margins for the Bible journaler.
2. Write dates beside verses.
When God’s Word speaks at just the right time into a specific circumstance in your life, write the date and a sentence or two about the situation in the margin of your Bible. This is part of the record of your spiritual journey. The dates serve as markers of God’s faithfulness—signposts you can go back to again and again as a reminder of His goodness to you.
3. Develop a color-coded system.
Using a variety of colored pens, consider developing a system for different types of notes. Here is an example:
Purple: Character of the Trinity.
Whenever you come across an aspect of God’s character, draw a little purple triangle in the margin and write down that characteristic. Attributes of Christ’s character can be written beside a little purple cross. A cloud can symbolize the Holy Spirit, so every time you read an aspect of the Spirit’s character, you can note it this way.
Light Blue: Prayers.
God speaks to us through His Word, and we speak back to Him through prayer. Writing a prayerful response in the margins of our Bibles is a wonderful way to interact with Scripture. And again, this serves as a record of your spiritual walk.
Red: Lessons for Life.
We want to be doers of God’s Word, walking out His commands in obedience. So when we come across something we can apply to our lives, writing a little “L4L” in the margin with a note of instruction helps us remember the action steps the Holy Spirit is prompting us to take.
Green: Cross References.
Scripture interprets Scripture. Many Bibles contain cross references in the margin, and you can do the same. While you are reading one passage, it might remind you of another that speaks to the same theme. Writing these cross references in the margin of your Bible will help you trace a theme throughout the biblical text.
Do you have questions about the Bible? I sure do! As we read Scripture, it’s only natural that questions for clarity and questions of curiosity are raised in our minds. Perhaps you don’t understand the passage and have questions about it—write those in the margin. Or maybe you are curious about some details that have been left out. Where are the gaps in the text? What are you wondering about? Writing down questions shows you are thinking through the content.
Blue: General Notes.
Any general notes you want to take can be written in blue. Perhaps you want to take notes during the sermon or other teaching at your church. Maybe you’ve read a commentary alongside a portion of Scripture and you want to write down what you’ve learned. These general notes will end up being the bulk of your note taking.
Orange: Word Study.
When you come across a word that you are curious about, look it up in the original Hebrew or Greek. Jot down the various meanings in the margin of your Bible. This will help you when you come back to the text.
4. Use sticky notes and stickers.
You can add personality to your Bible note taking by adding sticky notes and stickers. The sticky notes can be used for longer notes, and can be color coded by theme. Colored stickers can also follow a color coded system or be used to mark favorite passages.
5. Set a goal for note taking through an entire Bible and then start again.
It took me 5 years to adequately mark up my Bible. My goal was to mark the text and take lots of notes through every book of the Bible before I laid it on the shelf and purchased a new one to start again. And now I have several Bibles on my shelf with every page full of handwriting. Each Bible reveals a certain season of my life, and I can go back and see how God was teaching and maturing me through that season.
6. Set aside perfectionism and focus on the process.
If you wait to get just the right pens and develop the perfect system and acquire great handwriting to start, it will take you a long time to begin. And if you are devastated when you make an error in permanent ink, you might be tempted to quit. (I know this from personal experience.) Those of us who tend towards perfectionism must intentionally lay these perfectionistic tendencies aside and focus more on the process. It’s the journey toward the destination that‘s life-changing. The process of interacting and applying the Word of God is what transforms us. So gather the materials you have and get started today!
When you are the owner of a well-worn, much-loved, falling-apart Bible, you are more likely to survive the storms of life. God’s Word anchors us, encourages us, convicts us and transforms us. It is God’s greatest revelation of who He is, and consequently, who you are in Him. So interact with it! Mark it up. Write down what God is teaching you. And if you accidentally spill some coffee on it, smile and count it as proof of your meeting with God every morning. Remember, a Bible that’s falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t. Will you be the owner of this Bible?
If Shannon’s article has inspired you to start note taking in your Bible, let us know! And if you have your own experiences or tips to pass along, please share with us in the comments!
Photography by Nancy Ingersoll | @thecreativeresource
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