There are two types of extra-dirty places in my house: those I actively resist cleaning and those I don’t think about at all.
My shower is dirty because I dislike cleaning it. Though it takes only ten minutes—and it isn’t even that difficult—I build the task up in my head to be impossibly long and tedious. I’d rather clean any other part of the bathroom.
The area behind the washing machine, on the other hand, is dirty because I never consider cleaning it. Unless there’s a problem, I don’t look back there at all.
I suspect these types of neglect are present in our Bible studies too, mostly when it comes to application. Whether we actively resist or regularly overlook an area of application, we need to identify and fix the problem.
Applying the Bible
Then we turn to application. This is where we ask the question, so what? What implications does this truth have for God’s people?
While there may be a handful of accurate, biblical interpretations to a text, applications run in the millions. But there are some ways to organize our efforts.
Application can take shape in two directions: inward and outward. Inward application is pointed toward ourselves, and outward application involves influencing others.
Application can also happen in three spheres: head, heart, and hands. Head application involves what we think and believe, heart application involves our character, and hands application involves what we do.
This makes six combinations to consider every time you study the Bible. (I’m not suggesting you must hit all six areas with every study!)
Diagnosing and Treating the Problem
Different passages lend themselves to different types of application. Not every main point is easily applied in every sphere or each direction. And different people are drawn toward different application emphases.
But over time, it’s possible to get into a rut. Or to consistently neglect one or more areas of application. We need to find these dusty corners and sweep out the cobwebs.
For some people, applying the Bible outward is easy, but making specific changes to their own life is a challenge. Other people may think of head and hands applications quickly, but they struggle to make heart changes.
The best way to diagnose an area of application neglect is to pay attention. Take notes after personal and small group Bible studies. What types of application do you hit most frequently? Which ones are harder for you? Which ones don’t show up at all? Using the two-by-three grid on this worksheet may be helpful.
Like individuals, small groups tend to have areas of application inattention. Have an honest talk with your group and work to identify those application topics you consistently overlook.
Once you’ve identified your weak areas of application, the treatment becomes obvious if not easy: Work on those areas! Pick a neglected box on the application worksheet and don’t let go.
Two Tools for the Task
A common vocabulary with your friends can be useful as you tackle your application weaknesses. There’s nothing sacred about the words we use here at Knowable Word (inward, outward, head, heart, hands), so if you find something else more helpful, go with it! The general ideas will likely be similar.
And finally, as you target this individual or group deficiency, don’t forget to pray! Our neglect is often the fruit of our spiritual blindness or apathy, and we need power from God for spiritual growth. Application always involves a battle of the Spirit and the flesh, and the fighting is more intense when we don’t consistently train for the conflict. But nothing is impossible with God, and he leads us into repentance, joy, and obedience with his strength.