Visual Learners and Bible Study

Forgive the long post, but this is a topic on which I have desired to write for some time. For the sake of clarity I have split up this blessay, if you will, into four main points:

  • What defines a visual learner
  • How to stay focused during study
  • How to approach the Bible
  • How to connect

Preface
Seems formal when it has a preface, doesn’t it?

When I first began my job at Logos Bible Software, I had a hard time figuring out what exactly my job was. The two days of training I received were solid and thorough, the employees were helpful, and the managers patient. Regardless, I had a hard time connecting with the training material and fitting it into its proper space in my brain.

Weeks later, as I reflected about my experience and gradually began to gain a better grasp on my job duties, I realized one important thing: the information had been presented to me in logical order, bite by bite, step by step. This doesn’t work for me at all.

I learn best by seeing a global view; the overarching picture, and then biting off chunks within that to understand how they fit into the whole. One keen observer wrote,

“Learning, for visual-spatial learners, takes place all at once, with large chunks of information grasped in intuitive leaps, rather than in the gradual accretion of isolated facts,”

Once I realized the necessity to view the big picture, I was able to approach my supervisors and receive the guidance that I needed to understand my job.

Life often throws visual learners like me curveballs such as this. So in one of the most important endeavors of our lifetime, studying God’s Word, how do we be effective? How do we meditate on and try to grasp a God who seems to plop down a thousand page book in small print in front of us and say “Read it, remember it, then read it again”?

What defines a visual learner
Visual/spatial learners tend to understand the big picture, but may miss details. We read maps, charts, and graphs well, and we often enjoy creating solutions to problems (often in unusual or complex ways… Thank you Rube Goldberg). We are sometimes quite unorganized, tend to be sensitive to attitudes, creative, and can often be disenchanted with an idea quickly when it is associated with repetition.

These are generics, and I’m not a subscriber to the idea that a person can only be one learning type (the others are tacticle and audible) without any influence from the others. But this is a short list that may be helpful. If you chuckled while reading that and thought “Yeah, that’s me” then you probably have tendancies to learn visually.

How to stay focused during Bible Study
When I began giving serious thought to the issue of how to stay focused in my Bible study, I can honestly say my study improved drastically. Now this might all seem tedious, simple-minded, et cetera. Feel free to skip to the next point if you like, but you may find these four ideas helpful.

  1. Minimize clutter
    1. Even though we visual learners may live in a slightly messy environment, a cluttered study area will be visually and mentally distracting when trying to study. If you like to study in your bedroom, take five minutes to make the bed, clear off your nightstand, and put the dirty clothes in the hamper. This will go a long way.
  2. Get quiet
    1. Turn off the music. Though I know a lot of student-aged ‘kids’ are in the habit of studying to music, it’s generally true that such auditory distractions, even when playing quietly, can (and probably will) distract you from really digging into the Word.
  3. Be comfortable
    1. Physical discomfort can be a point on which we tend to fixate. It can also subtley affect our overall attitude, thus hindering our ability to cheerfully and humbly listen to the Spirit as we read the Bible. So make some tea, put your feet up, grab your favorite blanket. Get comfortable.
  4. Read out loud
    1. No, seriously. Most of the Bible was written to be read aloud, and doing so can, as John Barry so keenly observed in the latest issue of Bible Study Magazine, help to realize the intended flow and meaning of the text.

How to approach the Bible
A key trait of a visual/spatial learner is the tendency to better connect with the ‘bigger picture’. In light of that, it is best to approach the Bible from that perspective.

Begin by reading through the whole Bible. No, I don’t mean over a weekend; but have a plan. Just 15 or 20 minutes a day, and within a year you will have read the Bible, cover to cover. When you’re done, the most important step follows: start over.
[Shameless plug: Logos Bible Software is brilliant for developing a customized Bible reading plan. I use it every day, and I love it.]

As you are reading through to get the overarching view of the text, it is important to still be getting the most out of your daily readings. Here’s what I encourage you to do: grab a pen(cil) and paper, and make yourself an outline of each book that you read. What are the themes of Genesis? What did God say to you specifically through the text of Genesis? Be sure, as you read, to be taking notes. If a particular verse jumped out at you, make a note of it, and say why! If you don’t know why, note it anyway. Later, with prayer and an attitude of humbleness, revisit the text and ask God what He wants to show you.

Once you get into the New Testament, and even before then, be thinking about how what you are currently reading relates to what you have previously read. Are the books and writings chronological? In Matthew, would Jesus have read the book of Isaiah? How would the two books play together? What about the Gospel of John and the book of Genesis?

Don’t forget to deconstruct Christianese. There are so many phrases and words in Christendom that can sound great, but can be foggy in our minds. Grace, righteousness, holiness, forbearance, passover lamb, redeemed, et cetera. As you run across these words, write them down! Later if you come across a verse that helps you to understand these concepts, add it to your notes. You will begin to see the puzzle pieces of the Word of God come together into something truly beautiful.

How to connect
This point is difficult for me. As a visual person, when I miss someone I picture them in my head. When I am trying to solve a problem, I visualize it. To remember a phone number I just need to remember what it looks like. So with such a strong abilitiy to visualize, how do I, and those like me, connect emotionally, spiritually, and mentally with a God who is so, for lack of a better word, foreign to us? Can we picture what God looks like when we meditate on Him?

Yes, we can. I’m sure that we really have no idea what He looks like and will be shocked when we get to Heaven, but God places incredible imagery in the Bible; sometimes I think specifically for people like me.

Revelation 4:2b–6
and there in heaven stood a throne, with one seated on the throne! 3 And the one seated there looks like jasper and carnelian, and around the throne is a rainbow that looks like an emerald. 4 Around the throne are twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones are twenty-four elders, dressed in white robes, with golden crowns on their heads. 5 Coming from the throne are flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and in front of the throne burn seven flaming torches, which are the seven spirits of God; 6 and in front of the throne there is something like a sea of glass, like crystal.

Psalm 77:16–19
16 When the waters saw you, O God,
when the waters saw you, they were afraid;
the very deep trembled.
17 The clouds poured out water;
the skies thundered;
your arrows flashed on every side.
18 The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind;
your lightnings lit up the world;
the earth trembled and shook.
19 Your way was through the sea,
your path, through the mighty waters;
yet your footprints were unseen.

Revelation 1:13–16
13 and in the midst of the lampstands I saw one like the Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest. 14 His head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining with full force.

Exodus 19:16–20
16 On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, as well as a thick cloud on the mountain, and a blast of a trumpet so loud that all the people who were in the camp trembled. 17 Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God. They took their stand at the foot of the mountain. 18 Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because the LORD had descended upon it in fire; the smoke went up like the smoke of a kiln, while the whole mountain shook violently. 19 As the blast of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses would speak and God would answer him in thunder. 20 When the LORD descended upon Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain, the LORD summoned Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up

Daniel 7:9–10
As I watched,
thrones were set in place,
and an Ancient One took his throne,
his clothing was white as snow,
and the hair of his head like pure wool;
his throne was fiery flames,
and its wheels were burning fire.
A stream of fire issued
and flowed out from his presence.
A thousand thousands served him,
and ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him.
The court sat in judgment,
and the books were opened.

Floods, fire, doves, clouds, light, thunder, lightning, blood, beasts, and crosses. Our God speaks to us in very visual ways. We have so many things to meditate on, gain understanding from, and praise Him for.

If you are having trouble connecting with the material, picture it. Close your eyes and see the flashes of lightning; hear the thunder. Imagine the glory of God descending on the Tabernacle. Be there when the Israelites follow YHWH in the desert. Be among the crowd as Jesus is on trial to be crucified. Feel the sting in your eyes as Jesus appears to Paul on the road to Damascus. These things all show God’s character and glory. Meditate on Him, and praise Him that He is a God who loves beauty and gives us visual people a chance to truly connect and be affected by the sheer power and glory of our God.

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