Do you ever feel like your personal devotions are a chore rather than a joy? Do you ever feel like you struggle to find a practical application from the passage for that day? Could it be that we have made our quiet time more about us than it is about God?
Sometimes, when we are reading the Bible, we make the mistake of making it all about ourselves first. We look for some application to our lives and leave it there. This can be helpful, but there is a much richer truth in the passage than how it applies to you. If we aren’t careful, making it primarily about us can lead to moralism, seeing a set of rules to obey each day, instead of joyful obedience, a glad response to God’s glory and grace.
Even though all scripture has an application, I recently began to realise that I needed to ask other questions first before I asked how it applied to me.
Take the time to read through the passage and ask God to use it and help you glean from it. Make sure to use the proper tools of hermeneutics. Then start taking notes. Use a separate notebook or a colour-coded set of highlighters to mark the answers to the questions.
Q1 “Who is God in this passage?”
Christ commanded the people to search the scriptures and see that they all pointed to Him. The Law, the Poets and the Prophets were all looking forward to and describing the coming of Jesus Christ. This means that the Old Testament is rich with Christ. God does everything He does primarily for His name’s sake, or, in other words, for His glory. This means that God’s pre-eminent concern is His glory – the scriptures point to God.
Therefore, rather than beginning with the question “what does this passage say about me?”; first, ask the question “what does this passage say about God?”
There are a number of things to look for within this question as you search the passage, chapter or book. You want to be looking for God’s character and His attributes. His character describes the Person of God; His love, mercy, justice etc. His attributes describe the Power of God; His eternality, wisdom, sovereignty etc. Look for what God says about Himself, look for what others say about Him, look at what His actions in the passage say about Him.
Q2 ”What does God do in this passage?”
This second question is closely linked to the first. We know, as Christians, that our salvation and our obedience to Christ is not based on our own efforts but on what God has done, is doing and will do. This second question also keeps the focus on God and off of us.
Again there are a number of questions within this second question and you may find, in asking them, that it will provide you with some more answers for the first question too.
According to this passage, what has God done in the past?
According to this passage, what is God doing in the present?
According to this passage, what will God do in the future?
The passage may not answer all three questions, but it will at least answer one.
Q3 “Who am I according to this passage?”
Now we are starting to apply the passage, but we are not asking what we must do with it, we are asking who we are because of it. In other words, we are asking this beautiful question; “who am I in this passage because of who God is and what God has done?”. The scripture is clear that our obedience to Christ comes out of our identity in Christ.
So, again, three questions to ask here:
Who was I according to this passage? (This may be dealing with your past state before trusting in Christ)
Who am I now according to this passage?
Who will I be/what am I becoming according to this passage?
Again, the passage may not answer all three.
Q4 “How do I respond to these truths?”
Now we look for applications. We respond to the character and attributes of God, we respond to God’s work in our lives, we respond to who we are now in Christ.
Sometimes the passage will give us commands to obey in light of these things. Always there will be praise and thanks to offer. There may be a promise to cling to. There could be a truth to rest and rejoice in. There might be an example to emulate or avoid.
The key is that our application is a response to God’s glory and grace.
Let’s take Psalm 36 as an example for these four questions.
Q1 Who is God in Psalm 36?
God’s mercy [v5, 7], faithfulness [v5], righteousness [v6], justice [v6] is unfathomable in its abundance.
God is the fountain of life and source of light [v9]
Q2 What does God do in Psalm 36?
God sustains both human and animal life [v6]
God abundantly meets the needs of His people and satisfies their souls [v8]
God has shown and will continue to show His mercy and righteousness to His people [v10]
God destroys the wicked and the proud [v11-12]
Q3 Who am I in Psalm 36?
I was once the wicked and prideful rebel of God deserving of His condemnation [v1-4, 11-12]
I am one who is sustained and preserved by the Creator [v6]
I am now one who knows God and experiences His goodness and grace [v10]
I am now one of the upright in heart because of the work of Christ [v10]
Q4 How do I respond to Psalm 36?
I can thank God that, by His grace, I am no longer the rebel of v1-4 and v11-12
I can praise God for His rich character described in v5-7
I can thank God that He continues to sustain me and provide for me [v6]
I can trust in His grace and goodness in my life [v7, 10]
I can seek my satisfaction in Him [v8]
I can trust and give thanks that God loves and seeks justice against wickedness [v11-12]
The psalmist is examining the character and deeds of the wicked [v1-4] and contrasts that with the character and deeds of God [v6-9]. He then uses that description of God’s character as a basis for confident prayer [v10-12].
As I look around me and see the character and deeds of wickedness, I can rest and rejoice in the character and deeds of God, knowing that He shows mercy and grace to those who seek refuge in Him and He will show justice and judgment to those who continue to rebel against Him. No matter what the plans [v11] and pleasures of men are [v4] – God’s plan will come to pass [v12] and what God offers me is infinitely richer than what the world may offer [v8].
Click here for a pdf worksheet of the 4Qs
Click here for an audio teaching on the 4Qs
Click here for how to use the 4Qs in the Old Testament