Is SOAP Practical? (Part 4)

discipler's doctrine Oct 03, 2021

This is the final blog on our series on meditative reading of the scripture (e.g., SOAP).

So far, we’ve argued that meditative Bible reading as per the method of SOAP is a valid, biblical and evangelical spiritual practice. In this blog we will share with you an excerpt from our GenJ Book (2020) on SOAP. It will provide you with some helpful insights to practically spend time with God’s Word daily and allow it to transform you from the inside out.

THE SOAP METHOD SOAP is an acronym that stands for Scripture, Observation, Application and Prayer.

It is a profoundly simple method that walks you through how to identify and personally hear from God and apply His Word. But before we go any further, here’s our disclaimer: Much like learning to ride a bike, drive a car, or fly a plane, you may feel that the process of hearing from God is a little mechanical at first. But with practice, it will become natural and intuitive and will form your new default settings. Over time, you will become faster, better and sharper at hearing God’s voice. 

Oh, and a little warning, as you practice SOAP, you might initially wonder whether you are actually making things up through some sort of creative or super-spiritual overdrive, or you might have family or friends who quiz you on the accuracy of what you believe God told you. That’s OK, trust the Holy Spirit and don’t be shaken.

S is for Scripture

Once you have stilled your heart through worship and journaling, ask your Heavenly Father to speak specifically to you through His Word. Ask Him to open up your spiritual eyes and heart so that you may see wonders from His Word (Psalm 119:18). Begin reading a passage from scripture, but only focus on ten verses at a time: slowly, patiently and prayerfully. To avoid being spasmodic in your reading, choose a book of the Bible and then progress through it gradually until you have completed it.

Read your ten or so verses over and over until something jumps out at you and connects with your spirit. Focus on what God might be saying to you, rather than fussing over the intricate details of a story or trying to make sense of the context or the theological concepts embedded. Don’t miss the point. SOAP is not a Bible study session. The discipline of hearing from God through His Word is almost like the art of focusing on a 3D visual illusion, where a picture made up of a series of intricate patterns suddenly jumps out at you. The Word of God almost does the same thing, and when you experience it, you will know about it. When the Holy Spirit miraculously illuminates the Word of God, it is sweet as honey. 

O is for Observation

As something jumps out at you, begin to personalise it. Remember, hearing from God is different from studying the Bible for theological understanding. This is not about investigating the context, discovering historical facts or comprehending deep theological propositions. This is purely a conversation with your Heavenly Father for your application and development. We are not against Bible studies and understanding the profound intricacies of the scripture. As preachers, we love Bible studies and commentaries and often lose ourselves in that space. But what we are saying is that a Bible study and a SOAP are not the same thing.

We understand that some people can experience a degree of angst around taking the Bible out of context or assuming that the scriptures—which were written to a specific group of people, at a specific time, for a specific purpose—could be pertinent for them today. Don’t let anyone tell you that God’s Word was not written for your growth and development today.

Paul affirmed that the Old Testament scriptures were applicable to the Christians residing in Corinth in the 50s AD. Inevitably, that which was true for one context was instructive for another, as it tells us in 1 Corinthians 10:11, “These things happened to them as examples for us. They were written down to warn us, who live at the end of the age.” (NLT) The writer of Hebrews documented a splendid promise to a New Testament community in Hebrews 13:5. He addressed the entire community saying, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Do you know that the writer of Hebrews plagiarised this promise from the Old Testament? Ha! This daring writer personalised a promise to a community of Believers that was, in fact, originally directed to a single individual, hundreds of years earlier in Joshua 1:5.

Note: What do you look for in the passage you are reading?

  • A characteristic of God,
  • A privilege,
  • A promise,
  • A commandment,
  • A sin,
  • A good or bad role model.

A is for Application

This is where the rubber hits the road. God’s Word is not a newspaper, a textbook, or a news feed that we simply scan or scroll through and then hit “like.” Our habit of hearing from God daily should be characterised by application, not by the acquisition of information. Hearing from God’s Word requires our obedience (Matthew 7:24-25), and it is only in applying God’s personalised Word that we can ensure a solid foundation and a root system that is firm and immovable (Luke 8:13). Applying the Word into your daily life supernaturally translates a concept into spiritual nutrition.

The scripture often likens God’s Word to bread. It even comes in gluten-free varieties. We read that Job treasured God’s words more than his daily bread (Job 23:12), Jeremiah consumed God’s Word as he would his three meals of the day (Jeremiah 15:16), and Jesus Himself also contrasted God’s Word with bread (Matthew 4:4). So, what is this obsessive similarity between God’s Word and bread? 

Well, needless to say, they both require personal consumption. No one can spoon-in, chew, and swallow for us, right? The saying that states, “You are what you eat” is more profound than it sounds, and it also applies in the spiritual sense. God’s Word is your nutrition, but only as you personalise and consume it. Only then does it become uniquely yours. Making God’s Word uniquely yours requires you to ask the question, “What is God saying to me today, and what am I going to do about it?” 

Having said all that, we all need the enablement of the Holy Spirit to help us apply God’s daily whispers into our lives, so be sure to ask God for His enablement throughout your day. Stay focused on God’s message to you throughout the day, and He will ensure it richly transforms you.

P is for Prayer

Once you sense that God has spoken to you, then respond to Him accordingly. It’s about speaking and hearing and then speaking again. Think of someone you know who talks continually without letting anyone else get a breath in sideways; that’s not cool, right? We all avoid people who have verbal diarrhea and speak our ears off, so let’s not do that to God. Just remember, prayer is a dialogue, not a monologue, and so, respond to God based on His specific message to you. God doesn’t require Shakespearian brilliance when it comes to the way you pray. He’s your Heavenly Father, and to Him, your heartfelt stutters are worth their weight in gold.

As you develop this worship habit, some days you will receive huge, life-altering revelations that almost bowl you over with how accurate and timely they are. And on other days, your SOAP will seem simple and ordinary, maybe even mundane and very un-profound. That’s OK. Not many people feast on a buffet breakfast every day, and if they did, it would lose its excitement and require a cholesterol check-up. There’s only so much bircher muesli and yogurt, scrambled eggs, bacon and hash browns followed by croissants and apricot danish that one can eat for breakfast in any given week. Hearing from God follows that same rationale, it’s OK if some days it’s just Vegemite on toast. It’s still nutritious, even if it’s not gourmet and elaborate.

Will you give SOAP a go? The power of SOAP is not always in the grandness of the revelation, but rather in the genuineness of the application.

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