I worked through Dr. Jim Berg’s DVD series, Quieting a Noisy Soul, a couple of years ago, and in one section about studying and meditating on God’s Word, he suggested using a Bible dictionary to look up the major words. My first impulse was to brush that aside as unnecessary, especially for familiar passages. But then he assigned a study of I Corinthians 13: 4-8 as a way of meditating on God’s love: we were to read the passage, list the qualities of love mentioned, look up the words in a dictionary, and write the verse in our own words using those definitions. And I’ve found that that is an excellent way to open up very familiar passages that we almost glide over because we think we know them so well.
For instance, verse 4 says “Love suffers long.” “Suffers” means “endures pain, distress, agony, discomfort;” “long” means “an extended period of time.” So love endures pain, distress, agony, or discomfort for an extended period of time. That really makes you stop and think, both about God’s longsuffering toward us and our need for longsuffering toward others.
Verse 8 says that love never (“Not ever; on no occasion; at no time, not at all; in no way; absolutely not”) fails. Look at all these definitions of the word “fail,” and rejoice in all the ways in which your God will never fail you (it’s helpful to read “God will never…” before each phrase): “To prove deficient or lacking; To perform ineffectively or inadequately, To be unsuccessful, To prove insufficient in quantity or duration; give out, To decline, as in strength or effectiveness, To give way or be made otherwise useless as a result of excessive strain, To cease functioning properly, To disappoint or prove undependable to, To abandon; forsake, To omit to perform (an expected duty, for example), To leave undone; neglect;” (from Dictionary.com); “to fall out of, to fall down from, to fall off, to fall from a thing, to lose it, to perish, to fall, to fall from a place from which one cannot keep, fall from a position, to fall powerless, to fall to the ground, be without effect” (from the Online Bible).
You can take this a step further, as I did above, if you have a Strong’s concordance or some kind of Bible computer program, and look up the definition of the original Hebrew or Greek word used. That’s often even more enlightening, and can clear up confusion. But don’t worry if you don’t have access to these things: you can gain a lot just by looking up the English words in a regular dictionary. A great online one is Dictionary.com.
You can find more tips that will work for you at Rocks In My Dryer.