Practicing the SOAP method of studying Scripture
By Stephen Humber
I value Bible reading very much, even if I struggle at times to be consistent. I came to faith later in life and was painfully aware of how little I knew about the Bible. I have grown significantly through my reading over time.
There is so much to know—and not just information about people, places, things and themes. Jesus says to the Jewish leaders in John 5, “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” The point isn’t Bible knowledge mastery, but to be mastered!
There are lots of helpful ways to read Scripture. Steve Schroeder, pastor at Parkview MB Church in Hillsboro, Kan., introduced me to a method that has helped me solidify my thoughts after reading. The SOAP method can be summarized like this: You choose a Scripture that stands out. You make observations about what’s going on in the text. You write an application of that truth to daily life—being “mastered” by the truth. And lastly, you write a prayer to express what has been revealed. Once that’s done, you go back and add a title to the entry.
Earlier this year I read through the book of Acts using the SOAP method. In this article I share three of the “nuggets” I discovered. My hope is that relating these thoughts will stimulate you to be active not only in Bible reading but also in watching for what God will show you in the process.
Scripture: “We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him” (Acts 5:32).
Observation: The apostles appear before the Sanhedrin because Jewish leaders are angry about their public preaching about Jesus and implications of the involvement of Jewish leaders in Jesus’ death.
Application: The inference that the Holy Spirit is given to those who obey God catches my attention. We often remind people of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit upon believing, and rightfully so. But there is this other crucial aspect of the Holy Spirit within us empowering us to obey. And not just obedience to “be good and not sin” but obedience to live out the mission we’ve been given—to be witnesses and to make disciples.
This reminds me of Acts 1 where Jesus tells the disciples that they will “receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” The Holy Spirit is primarily given for mission. In general, things in the church feel lopsided to me, with a focus more on the Holy Spirit as healer and comforter as opposed to our power for mission.
Is this a cultural thing? Are we using God to “just feel better”? We should reflect and pray on this, asking for Holy Spirit power to do what only the Holy Spirit can accomplish through us. And if/as we obey, we will have power to do so—and it will be obvious to everyone that progress in mission will be as a result of his power and not our own.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, I want to obey. I need your Spirit!
Scripture: “’You’re out of your mind,’ they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, ‘It must be his angel.’ But Peter kept knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished” (Acts 12:15-16).
Observation: Herod arrests Peter and intends to put him to death. Many believers gather to pray for Peter. An angel of the Lord miraculously frees Peter from prison and Peter makes his way to the house where they are praying. Rhoda goes to the door where Peter is knocking, recognizes his voice and gets all excited. She leaves Peter outside to go tell the others, who don’t believe her. Mind you, they are praying right now for Peter! What are they praying for?
Application: Even though the believers are praying about Peter’s imprisonment, plainly they do not believe that he is going to be released. Herod had already killed James the brother of John. Perhaps they are anticipating the same fate and are praying for Peter to be faithful and courageous to the end. It is not “believing prayers” that moves God to free Peter. God has in mind something else that is beyond their understanding.
What I love about this is how absolutely similar I feel in my own prayer life to these gathered believers. God is not hindered by their lack of faith or understanding of what he is doing. In fact, in the end, it was Peter’s captor, Herod, who dies (Acts 12:23). So I need not be discouraged or overly surprised when God answers differently and more gloriously than what I have in mind.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, help me to pray in faith and belief in what you can do! You can always do more than I can imagine. You are not limited by my weak faith. Give me faith to believe and courage to follow you in your kingdom work.
Hardship: A key to the kingdom
Scripture: “Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. ‘We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,’ they said” (Acts 14:22).
Observations: These are final encouragements to the disciples in cities that Paul and Barnabas visited on that first missionary journey. As a duo they endure a great deal. Up to this point, they have been opposed by a sorcerer, had abuse heaped on them by jealous Jews and were expelled from an area. In the very next town they escape a plot to be stoned by the Jews and in the town after that they have to deal with a massive Gentile confusion that they are actually Greek gods. Eventually some Jews catch Paul, drag him outside the city and leave him for dead.
Application: Paul’s words to these young churches as he leaves them are wise discipleship. They need to know that “we must go through hardship to enter the kingdom,” in order to persevere through the inevitable challenges that they are going to face. They need to know that having hard lives as followers doesn’t mean something is wrong. It is normal and to be expected.
We need to hear these words too. Perhaps it’s a result of our culture of ease and comfort, but the notion of being a “disciple” and “hardship” don’t seem to go together for us. Too often it seems that we will even avoid decisions that will bring hardship. More and more I sense the need for believers to accept this hard truth.
As we endure what I anticipate will be lots of “kingdom hardship opportunities” in our society, we have an opportunity to suffer well, causing those who observe us to ask about “the reason for the hope that we have” (1Pet. 3:15).
Prayer: Heavenly Father, enable me to endure hardship for your sake and for the sake of your kingdom.
Stephen Humber, his wife, Mary K., and son, Jacob, live in Omaha, Neb. where Stephen is the discipleship pastor for Stony Brook Church, a USMB church plant.
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