Application is often the hardest part of a Bible study. With all the work it takes to learn what a passage means, first for the original audience and then for us, we can run out of time to dig deep into how those truths should change us. Sometimes it’s a heart issue—we shy away from getting deep into application, which requires vulnerability, honesty, and a willingness to forsake our cherished sins.
The ‘head, heart, and hands’ framework can make application easier.1 It avoids the common trap of focusing only on what we need to do in response to a passage. Instead, we think holistically about how biblical truth should transform our thoughts and feelings.
Recently I read a section of Psalm 119 which demonstrated these three spheres of application in a striking way, and particularly showed how they relate to each other. This psalm is a lengthy prayer by someone who loves and lives by God’s Word. As you read this section, note how the psalmist’s head, heart, and hands have been transformed by the Scriptures.
97Oh how I love your law!
It is my meditation all the day.
98Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies,
for it is ever with me.
99I have more understanding than all my teachers,
for your testimonies are my meditation.
100I understand more than the aged,
for I keep your precepts.
101I hold back my feet from every evil way,
in order to keep your word.
102I do not turn aside from your rules,
for you have taught me.
103How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!
104Through your precepts I get understanding;
therefore I hate every false way.
Transforming the mind
The psalmist clearly thinks about God and his Word often: it is his “meditation all the day” (v. 97). If he lived today, he would not be a Sunday Christian who listens to the sermon at church without giving God’s voice any airplay during the week. His thoughts would be primarily fixed on God, rather than on his favourite television show or the worries of his family life.
Because the writer has soaked his mind in Scripture, he is wiser than all the most worldly and educated people around him (v. 98–100). He intimately knows the God of all wisdom. This is not wisdom we can attain on our own—God himself teaches us (v. 102). We too will grow in wisdom if we pay attention to what God has generously revealed to us in his Word.
As you read the Bible, allow it to shape the way you think and understand the world.
Enthralling the heart
For the psalmist, hearing Scripture is not merely an intellectual exercise. He exclaims: “Oh how I love your law!” (v. 97). There is deep, tender affection. Likewise, we ought to love the Bible because it is the Word of the Lord we love so much.
The Bible has radically shaped what the psalmist love and hates. He has been changed right down to his affections. Even the sweetness of honey cannot compare to the taste of God’s words (v. 103). No worldly thing that we can experience with our senses can match the joy of knowing and loving God. And so the psalmist hates every evil way. Sin is intolerable to him because he has tasted the richness of God’s holy commands.
As you read the Bible, allow it to capture and transform your affections.
Changing the life
A changed life must flow out of a mind and heart that has been transformed by the Bible. The psalmist lives out costly obedience, forging a path that is distinct from everyone around him who claims to be wise. He repeats multiple times that he keeps God’s commands (v. 100b–102).
This clearly isn’t half-hearted obedience, or skirting as close to sin as possible without quite crossing the line. The psalmist’s only path is the one that leads directly away from evil. He refuses to turn aside from what God has taught him (v. 103).
As you read the Bible, allow it to set the trajectory for your hours and days.
Thinking holistically about application
You may have noticed that these three spheres of application can’t actually be separated out so simply. This psalm shows us that our head, hearts, and hands are intertwined. No mere “action point” will bring us lasting change if our minds and hearts are not being constantly renewed by God’s Word.
The connection between these domains is illustrated in different ways:
What our minds dwell on reveals what we truly love—for we naturally meditate on what we value most (v. 97).
Wisdom is not about mere head knowledge, but living out this knowledge in righteousness (v. 100).
As our minds are filled with more knowledge of God, we grow to love holiness and hate sin more (v. 104).
An example from the Bible
In all these ways and more, we need to consider how each Bible passage we read should change us holistically. Let’s consider an example that my Bible study group looked at a few weeks ago. In Matthew 13:44–46, Jesus tells two short parables:
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”
We’d just heard a sermon on the passage the Sunday prior, so we had a good grip on the interpretation of the passage. In our time together we focused primarily on how to apply it. Here are a few applications we drew out, some of which combine our head, heart, and hands.
- We must believe the truth that the kingdom of heaven is more valuable than anything else we could have in this world, because Jesus tells us this is true.
- By reading the Bible and spending time in prayer daily, we’ll grow by God’s grace to love and value the kingdom more than our earthly lives.
- In an even more immediate application, we decided to read this passage every morning for a week, praying over it and being reminded daily to put Jesus above all else.
- As we make decisions about how we spend our time and money, we should consider what we’re placing our value and hope in. Knowing and serving God is more important, so our lifestyle choices should reflect that—e.g. prioritising evangelism in the workplace over getting that highly-paid promotion.
So as you read your Bible today, allow it to change every part of you. The writer of Psalm 119 gives us a beautiful vision for the joy this will bring:
“Blessed are those whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the Lord!
Blessed are those who keep his testimonies,
who seek him with their whole heart,
who also do no wrong,
but walk in his ways!”