My Favorite Bible Study Tools

There are SO MANY Bible study tools available. And among them are a lot of great resources as well as a lot of…um…not so great ones. So if you don’t know what you’re looking for (or maybe even if you do), navigating the sea of accessible Bible study tools can be overwhelming. So I thought I’d let you see some of my go-tos. Please note that even though I tried to keep this list short and simple, it can still seem like a lot if you’re just getting started. So after getting a Bible, if you want to start with just one thing, skip to the very end!

My Go-To Bibles:

First things first. The most important tool when you’re studying the Bible is…a Bible.

She Reads Truth Bible – There are a lot of Bibles in my home in a vast array of translations, languages, and editions. But when I’m sitting down to spend time with Jesus, this is the first one I grab. It has helpful resources in it (devotionals, charts, timelines, etc.) but not so much that I get bogged down in overthinking mode. In other words, it has a clean design and doesn’t look like a textbook. It also has wide margins, so it’s a great journaling Bible. (Random fun fact: one of the devotional writers is Jill McDaniel. Who’s Jill McDaniel? She goes to my church and she’s my friend. Also, she’s awesome.)

He Reads Truth Bible – I love my SRT Bible so much that I bought my husband the HRT Bible when it came out. Unlike the SRT Bible, the HRT Bible doesn’t have any devotionals in it. BUT, it does contain more resources (charts and such) that they developed after making the She Reads Truth Bible. Because of that, it’s not uncommon for me to borrow my husband’s Bible.

ESV Study Bible – This is pretty much the gold standard of study Bibles! It’s what I go to when I want to get into the nitty gritty. Its pages contain a wealth of diagrams, charts, notes, and a whole lot more. (Something to keep in consideration is that many of the notes in this study Bible are written from a more Reformed perspective. If that’s a turnoff for you, I list another great study Bible below.)

Digital Bibles:

Bible.com – This is a free digital Bible website and app. I mostly use this when I’m on the go or when I’m looking up passages in multiple versions. (I also link to Bible.com whenever I quote passages in my blog. 😉 ) The She Reads Truth app and He Reads Truth app are also great digital Bible options.

Since words—especially words in the Bible—don’t always mean what we think they mean, here are a couple websites where you can click/tap on a word in a passage and find out what it means: NetBible.org and BibleWebApp.com.

Bible Background Resources:

Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible – I didn’t list this under the “My Go-To Bibles” category because I only have this Bible in Kindle format, so I mostly use it for the articles. If you don’t already have a study Bible, I highly recommend this one! (I link the NIV below, but it also comes in NKJV and NRSV.)

To be honest, I don’t use the Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible as much because the following two books are my go-to for historical and cultural background deep dives.

John Walton and Craig Keener, the writers for the notes in the Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, are the same people who wrote these commentaries. When I read these commentaries, I often find myself exclaiming out loud, “What?! This passage makes so much more sense now!”

The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament

The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament

A note about commentaries for Biblical studies and ministerial students: I use a lot more commentaries than what I list here. I’m not going to list any of them here, because the point of this post is to give people who are beginning to study the Bible a starting point. Which commentaries are best? It depends on which book of the Bible you’re studying and what you’re looking for in a commentary. So when you’re picking commentaries, do your research and use more than one source when you can (libraries can help!).

If I Had to Pick Just One to Get Started:

BibleProject.com – From the BibleProject website: “BibleProject is a nonprofit animation studio that produces short-form, fully animated Bible videos and other Bible resources to make the biblical story accessible to everyone, everywhere. We create 100% free Bible videospodcasts, and Bible resources to help people experience the story of the Bible.”

I love BibleProject so much that I got their ginormous coffee table book that has all the diagrams and summaries from the videos for each book of the Bible.

Honestly, I could spend hours just sitting and watching BibleProject videos. They have so much to explore! But when it comes to my regular Bible study, what do I do with these BibleProject resources? Before I begin reading a book of the Bible, I like to watch the corresponding video that “outlines its structure and design and how it fits into the entire biblical story.” And then I like to keep the coffee table book open close by so that if I feel like I’ve lost where I am in the larger story—especially when I’m reading a particularly lengthy book—I can glance up and get my bearings.


Okay, so I told you some of my go-tos. What are some of yours?

14 Days of Deep and Slow

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Our lives have been interrupted, but this is a time when we can focus on the things that matter most, a time for growth and beauty. So for each day in the next 2 weeks, I’m giving you something you can read or listen to—a blog post, podcast, recording, book—that can help you slow down and go deep in some way.

 

Day 1 | Blog: A Rule of Life

Something I’ve been cultivating is a rule of life, a rhythm of spiritual disciplines. These next couple of weeks are a great time to lean into it even more! If the idea of a rule of life is new to you, here’s something I wrote a couple months ago to give you some ideas to help you start your own.

 

Day 2 | Podcast: Bridgetown Church Series on Scripture (You can also find this on Spotify.)

This series on the Bible is all the yeses and wows. I’m seriously going to listen to it again and again.

 

Day 3 | Book: The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, by John Mark Comer

This book is life changing. And with everything that’s happening, it feels as though this is our moment to fully embrace and live out this message.

 

Day 4 | Music: Bach’s Unaccompanied Cello Suites, performed by Yo-Yo Ma

You can never listen to Yo-Yo Ma playing Bach’s Unaccompanied Cello Suites too many times in your lifetime. You just can’t.

 

Day 5 | Blog: God’s Presence in Our Suffering

This is the story of my lupus diagnosis and how God reshaped my faith. (If you’d rather listen to it, you can do that here.)

 

Day 6 | Podcast: Ask NT Wright Anything

N.T. Wright. What more do I need to say? Except that at the end of some episodes, he sings a song and plays the guitar. I mean, how cool is that?

 

Day 7 | Music: Universalis, by Hammock

Hammock is my favorite thing to listen to when I want to read, write, pray, and create.

 

Day 8 | Church: Central Assembly’s YouTube Channel

For such a time as this, technology and the internet are a blessing. If you don’t have a church home (or if your church doesn’t have the capabilities to do online streaming of services), you can check out my church’s YouTube channel. (Bonus: my pastor’s a rocket scientist! I’m not kidding!)

 

Day 9 | Blog: Why I Threw Out My Five-Year Plan

If you’re worried about how current events may affect your five-year plan, this one’s for you!

 

Day 10 | Podcast: Go + Tell Gals

This podcast is for women running on mission. These episodes aren’t your typical “You got this!” messages. They are a beautiful, weekly dose of depth + practicality + encouragement.

 

Day 11 | Book: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

I had to put at least one novel on the list! I’m reading through this for the first time and I’m regretting that fact I never read it before!

 

Day 12 | Music: Sleeping At Last Enneagram

A bit of self discovery set to beautiful music? Yes, please!

 

Day 13 | Podcast: The Office Ladies

Laughter and joy are important. Just as I wanted add at least one novel to the list, I also wanted to add something fun.

 

Day 14 | Music: What a Wonderful World, performed by Anderson & Roe

If you need a moment to take your eyes off the darkness and see some light, here you go!

 

My Goals (and Un-Goals) for 2020

The approaching of a new year means new beginnings and new goals. I have the amazing ability of getting stuck in a rut and judging myself harshly for it, so January 1 is like my grace and hope filled reset button.

I didn’t complete every single goal I set out to accomplish in 2019. But I did complete a good number of them. And for the ones I didn’t complete, I’m definitely much farther along from a year ago. I’d rather set a goal and have progress than not set a goal and not move forward! To help me make progress this past year, I tried out Powersheets from Cultivate What Matters. It’s a tool that helps you articulate and track your goals. I loved it so much I’m using them again this year.

My Goals for 2020

1. Cultivate a prophetic ear + a rule of life.

This is what everything else in my life will flow from.

(If you’re wondering what a rule of life is, it’s simply a plan for spiritual disciplines within daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly rhythms. If you want to know more about a rule of life, you can learn more about it in Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, by Peter Scazzero and Sacred Rhythms, by Ruth Haley Barton.)

2. Love my people and the people in my circle of influence well.

This means meals, coffee dates, hospitality, and life in the mundane.

3. Save, spend, and give money meaningfully.

Track my spending and create a budget!

Buy no more than 10 clothing/shoe/jewelry items…the whole year.

4. Send my book proposal to a literary agent (or 20).

This means I have to finish writing my book proposal!

5. One fun thing every month.

What is fun? Nothing that involves striving or productivity, and not something I do every/most weeks.

This is a goal I’m bringing back from last year because it was so life giving and I want to keep growing in this area. (And the fact that I have to make fun a goal in order to do it lets me know I still have a lot of growing to do!)

7. Project Dream Room: make our home library beautiful.

This is another goal I’m bringing back from last year. I made some baby steps, but our home library still looks like a disaster.

8. Love my body.

Take care of it. Nourish it. Make it strong. Be grateful for it.

*****

Un-Goals

It’s a great practice to have positive goals where we want to accomplish things or make changes in our lives, but we can’t do that if we’re just adding more and more things to our to-do lists. There comes a point where we can’t add anymore. We have to say “no” to things so we can say “yes” to the things that matter most.

So here are a couple of my Un-Goals for 2020:

1. Read less books and read slower. (My Goodreads goal: 5 books) Don’t read out of obligation or self-imposed pressure. Don’t let books clutter my mind.

2. No buying any bags or pouches. I’m obsessed with bags and bags I can put in bags! I have enough. So unless someone breaks in our house and steals every bag and pouch I own, I’m not buying another one for at least a year.

*****

When I get to the end of 2020, I don’t want to be full of guilt and regret. I want to know I lived the abundant life God ordered for me.

So let’s do this! Let’s enter this new year (and decade!) with expectation, intention, and a whole lot of grace!

Books I Loved in 2019

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After my post about my year of 100 books, people have asked me what books I enjoyed in 2019. Listed in the order that I read them, here’s a list of my favorites—the ones that moved me, the ones that opened my eyes, the ones I can’t stop recommending, and the ones I want to read again and again.

1. The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers, by Maxwell King

Mister Rogers made a huge impact on my life. So of course, I couldn’t pass up the first full-length biography of one of my childhood heroes. Bonus: the audiobook is read by LeVar Burton, another one of my childhood heroes!

2. The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah

I believe reading novels is important. They make us more empathetic, creative, and articulate. This one made me cry!

3. The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure, by Jonathan Haidt

Wanna understand Gen Z? This is the book to read!

4. Come Matter Here: Your Invitation to Be Here in a Getting There World, by Hannah Brencher

This book challenged me with Brencher’s vulnerability about depression, loneliness, and the struggles of adulthood.

5. Faith in the Shadows: Finding Christ in the Midst of Doubt, by Austin Fischer

I couldn’t stop highlighting as I read this book. If you’re struggling with your faith, battling doubt, or feeling disillusioned by Fundamentalism, you want to read this book!

6. The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism, by Jemar Tisby

This book is a must read. It hurts in all the right ways! In addition to being a hope-filled vision for the Church in regard to racial issues, it is a beautiful example of how to dig into history and also how to properly interpret Scripture.

7. Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering, by Makoto Fujimura

Wow. This book is about art, literature, culture, suffering and trauma, Japan, the gospel…Almost every page in my book is marked. I had high expectations before I began reading it and it exceeded them.

8. Miss Mink: Life Lessons for a Cat Countess, by Janet Hill

This is a picture book. It’s ridiculous and I love it!

9. The Actor’s Life: A Survival Guide, by Jenna Fischer

This book is for aspiring actors, but it has so much wisdom for anyone wanting to go into an artistic field. Also, the audiobook version is fabulous.

10. Spiritual Rhythms for the Enneagram: A Handbook for Harmony and Transformation, by Adele & Doug Calhoun and Clare and Scott Loughrige

This book goes beyond knowledge about the Enneagram and delves into how we can partner with God to do the transformative work in our lives.

11. You Are the Girl for the Job: Daring to Believe the God Who Calls You, by Jess Connolly

This book is for anyone who has doubted themselves or is struggling to take the next step (or even first step) in what they feel called to do. The author packs this book with so much practical advice, wisdom, encouragement—and no fluff!

“We are the girls for the job because of the God of all capacity who not only calls us but equips us, and dwells within us, enabling us to carry out His plans. We are able to live, to love, to move, to repair, to receive, to heal, to hope because of Him. We are the girls for this job, for this season, for this life, for the joy and blessing of those around us at this appointed time because God has placed us here. He’s called us to be his ambassadors, and he doesn’t make mistakes.”

This book will fill you with a fire and give you tools to move forward and run on mission.

12. Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation, by Ruth Haley Barton

I needed this book. It has shifted my prayer life, my daily and weekly rhythms, how I view my body…It challenges you to go deeper into spiritual disciplines while breaking them down to make them practical and accessible.

What I Learned in My Year of 100 Books

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One of my goals for 2019 was to read/listen to 100 books. I was able to achieve (and surpass) this goal by carrying a book with me everywhere I go and using Hoopla, an app that allows you to borrow audiobooks from your local library.

Here’s some stuff I learned from my year of 100 books:

– I enjoy listening to audiobooks when I’m in slow moving traffic.

– 100 books is too many books for me in the span of one year. I often found myself hurrying to gulp down books to achieve my 100 book goal. And the hurry took away the joy and my ability to think about what I had read. Many books are like a hot cup of tea; they need time.

– I want to listen to more podcasts.  There are some podcasts I started listening to, but I’m way behind because there are only so many hours in a day when I can read and listen to audiobooks. In my year of 100 books, podcasts were too hard to fit.

– A lot of book titles are better than the books themselves.

– Not every book is worth my time. Before this year, I wanted to read all the books. I still love books, but I no longer want to read all of them. I want to read all the good books. Life is too short to waste reading books that don’t challenge, or grow, or delight me. On a related note…

– It’s okay to not finish a book.

– I need quiet in my life. And books—even though you can have quiet while you’re reading—can be noise for my mind. Yes, there are books that are a welcome escape. But sometimes my mind doesn’t need an escape; sometimes my mind needs to be present in this very moment.

So what’s my reading goal for 2020? To read less. That’s right. I want to read less. If I read 5 good books in 2020, that’s enough for me!

My Favorite Enneagram Resources

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If you and I were to sitting down for coffee, it wouldn’t take long before the topic of the Enneagram came up. I LOVE talking about the Enneagram!

Why? Because I love getting to know people and understanding them at a deeper level. But here’s the thing: I naturally put people into a box of what my own personality looks like and I struggle to see things from other people’s point of view. The Enneagram helps me “get” people better.

If you want to learn more about the Enneagram, there’s a plethora of great resources out there and it can get quite overwhelming trying to figure out where to start. So to help you out, here’s a list of some of my favorite resources.

Website

The Enneagram Institute – If you don’t know where to begin, this is the perfect place to start. This site has easy-to-navigate descriptions of the nine types. It also has a reliable and affordable test if you’re struggling to figure out which type is yours.

Books

The Road Back to You – This is a great primer for understanding the nine types.

The Path Between Us – I personally enjoyed this book more than The Road Back to You because it deals with our relationships with others. The book description on its Amazon page says, “Most of us have no idea how others see or process their experiences. And that can make relationships hard, whether with intimate partners, with friends, or in our professional lives. Understanding the motivations and dynamics of these different personality types can be the key that unlocks sometimes mystifying behavior in others―and in ourselves. This book from Suzanne Stabile on the nine Enneagram types and how they behave and experience relationships will guide readers into deeper insights about themselves, their types, and others’ personalities so that they can have healthier, more life-giving relationships.”

The Sacred Enneagram – I’ve never felt more seen than when I read this book. I will probably read this book again and again throughout my lifetime.

Instagram Accounts

@justmyenneatype

Music

Sleeping At Last – It may seem weird to have a music section on a post like this, but I can’t leave out Sleeping At Last’s enneagram-based songs. The music and lyrics of each of these songs are carefully crafted to reflect of the types in a way that words alone cannot.

Stuff for Your Home

All Good Things Collective Enneagram Line – The thing I love about these prints and canvases is that they have two for each type—one that focuses on each type’s strength and one that focuses on each type’s weakness.

Enneagram & Coffee – Because coffee.

 

If you’re wondering why I didn’t list any podcasts, it’s because I don’t listen to podcasts much. I don’t have anything against them, I’m just not a podcast person.

What are your favorite Enneagram resources? Tell me in the comments. 🙂

Overture for the Year

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It took me a long time to decide my goals for this year. For me, year goals are important. I’m the type of person who’s constantly working on improving myself—I’m a 1 on the Enneagram—but having times of reset helps me evaluate my progress and recalibrate. So months before this new year, I spent a lot of time dreaming and asking God for direction.

In an episode of The Office, the Dunder Mifflin employees were watching Andy perform in a musical. As Michael Scott was muttering something at the start of the performance, Darryl said, “Shh. If we don’t listen to the overture, we won’t recognize the musical themes when they come back later.” That’s what this post is: an overture for this year. You’ll see these themes in my writing. And hopefully, as this year progresses, those who do life with me will see these themes become more and more woven into the fabric of my life.

My Goals for 2019

1. Love well. 

I want my life to be marked by love.

I want to love God well. I want to love my husband well. I want to push myself beyond my introvert tendencies and love my friends well over cups of coffee. I want to love my students and the people I minister to well, going beyond requirements and pouring my heart into their lives.

2. Cultivate a prophetic ear.

I want to cultivate a prophetic ear so I can have a prophetic voice. I don’t mean I want to stand on a street corner with a sign warning of the end of the world. I want to be a voice that speaks life and hope and change into my culture and generation. And this starts with something simple: less noise and more prayer.

3. Spend money meaningfully.

I’ve got three subgoals for this one:

  • Live on a budget.
  • Be generous.
  • Slow/ethical fashion. (I know that’s not a complete sentence, but I’m still trying to figure this one out and this is going to be a year of learning.)

4. Write a book proposal.

This one scares me because I had this goal last year and didn’t come close to achieving it. And when I realized it wasn’t going to happen, I was filled with guilt. But the end of this year, my book proposal doesn’t have to be completely finished, but I want to make significant progress towards being done.

5. Grow into the performer I want to be.

I want to keep refining my craft, to be a more secure performer, to have a stronger vision for what I want each piece to be, and to push my artistry and ask more of the music.

6. Love what I see in the mirror.

My perfectionism makes it tough to look at myself in the mirror. This year, I want to cultivate healthy rhythms of exercise and rest. But more than that, I want to look in the mirror and see beauty regardless of my weight, hair, or makeup.

Also, I want to dress like an adult…because I’m 37 years old and don’t need to wear Hello Kitty and three separate patterns. It’s time to limit my outfits to one cutesy thing at a time. Again, progress.

7. Donate healthy hair.

When I was diagnosed with lupus, I lost about half my hair. Because of scarring on my scalp, the doctors weren’t sure how much of it would grow back. The long, healthy hair that falls on my back is part of my testimony. It is an Ebenezer reminding me that God has brought me this far. But a few months ago, I realized that I can’t just let my hair grow out forever. So this year, I’m paying it forward.

8. Make the library in our house a place where I want to be.

This is my decluttering goal.

9. Read/listen to 100 books.

How will I do this? I’m an avid reader, but my husband introduced me to a game changer: Hoopla. An app where I can borrow audiobooks for free? Yes, please!

10. Do at least one fun thing every month.

The fact that I made this a goal this year is already a sign of growth. This goal may sound frivolous, but my struggle to intentionally take time to have fun has worn on my mind, emotions, and even my body. And to be perfectly honest, this is the goal I’m scared of the most.

A quick note about goals: As this year began, I didn’t expect sudden change. If I would’ve done that, I would have already felt like a failure and given up. I’m approaching this year looking for progress, not perfection. So if you’ve started this new year feeling like you’ve already messed up your New Year’s resolutions and goals, that’s okay! The year’s not over!

 

I Can’t Do This

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I was behind on my book writing schedule. Days of trying to write left me mentally fatigued and overwhelmed with my inability to produce something that wasn’t trash. I was at the end of myself and I broke down in tears.

God, I can’t do this, but You can.

You—whose voice can thunder and break the cedars

whispered this dream into my heart.

You—who spoke life into existence

can speak this book into being.

Amen.

On this day, these were the only words I wrote that I didn’t immediately discard, their substance making up for their small number. Words raised towards Heaven are never wasted; they’re the ones that can change everything.