Here’s an excerpt from the AM sermon last Sunday (The Secret Life of Joy, Psalm 16) with more information about S.O.A.P. as was promised in the message.

“Are you seeking out God’s counsel in your life? Are you reading your Bible daily? Are you listening attentively for the Holy Spirit’s instruction? Are you putting into practice what He says?

God’s way is the best way. We work best, and will find greater joy when we live according to our manufacturer’s instructions. When you buy a car you don’t decide what petrol to put in it, because if you put unleaded petrol into a diesel engine you’re gonna get yourself in trouble. No, you follow the manufacturer’s instructions, telling you what fuel your car requires and runs most efficiently on. The blue print for a blessed and joyful life has been laid out for you in the Bible. Are you making the most of it?

A few years ago I felt that my spiritual life had stagnated. I wasn’t as ‘alive’ as I once was. I wanted my heart to be set on fire again but I didn’t know how so I went to see a mentor friend of mine for help. He challenged me, “Are you washing yourself with SOAP, Howard?”

“You what?” I asked, thinking, have I stagnated that much I smell?

“Let me explain” he said.

“One of the most common problems I’ve found in my time in ministry is that Christians are not really reading their Bibles. They’re given a delicious Bible-loaf of bread, they look at it, they hold it, they smell it, and then they put it away. They fail to break a bit off, chew it and digest it.”

Has your time in God’s word become a “McQuick-and-not-very-satisfying” nibble rather than an “all-you-can-eat” buffet?

SOAP stands for Scripture, Observation, Application and Prayer. It’s a tool to help you dig deeper into the Scriptures to unearth more of its treasures. 

…My testimony is that hearing the voice of God for yourself through regular Bible study will set your heart on fire. You’ll know that God is alive and your precious to Him because the Creator of all things is speaking personally to you every day. You’ll wake up every day excited to hear what He has to say to you.”

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Here’s what I didn’t have time to say about S.O.A.P…

First things first

Get yourself a notebook or journal. Ask God to lead you to a part of Scripture that you’d like to read through for a couple of months or so. (If you’re new to the Bible, start with Mark’s gospel.)  

S is for Scripture 

Ask God for revelation, that he would illuminate the text you are reading. Read a set portion of Scripture, a particular paragraph, a section of a narrative or just read until you are drawn to a particular verse or part of a verse. Study the text. Read it and re-read it. Note down and even write out the particular bit of Scripture you are looking at.

O is for Observation, Observation, Observation 

Study the passage in detail. Write out what is happening. Don’t be afraid to state the obvious and then build on that. Study the passage at the word, sentence and paragraph level. Look for repetition, and important linking words like “but” and “therefore” that have an impact on the meaning of the passage. Ask yourself and God questions about it. Who were the original audience? What did it mean for them? What challenges did they face? Why was it written? Why did God included it in the Bible? What is the human and divine author’s purpose? What is different (and similar) about the original context compared to our culture today? Keep looking and listening. Can you see a foreshadowing of Christ in the passage? Can you see the scarlet thread of the gospel that runs throughout Scripture? There is more to be gleaned from a few words in Scripture than we typically realise.

A is for Application

What principles does the passage contain that could be applied today in our town/day/generation? Try to apply the passage to yourself, not just people generally. Try writing out a bullet point action/application point list. If it helps, use your name, rather than you/us, e.g. “Howard, do not…” Or “Howard, when you…think…”. What is God saying to you through his Word? What advice/guidance does God have for you in this passage/verse? What attitudes, thinking, behaviours should you change, do differently, start or stop? If you’re worried that your interpretation may not be accurate consult a reliable commentary.

P is for Prayer

Now write out a prayer to God from the heart in response to what you have learned, thanking him for what he has revealed, what he has done for you and asking for forgiveness, help and grace to change, overcome sin, and become more like Christ. Try to be specific. Pray the prayer out loud and use it to kick-start further prayer (and even sung worship) for yourself and others.

Other Resources

Some further good books to get into to help you get more out of your Bible study are: Dig Deeper, How to Read the Bible for all its Worth, and Grasping God’s Word.