Practical Strategies for Bible Reading
In my last post, Word Pictures, I tried to give a fresh perspective on why our time reading the Word of God is so crucial. And likely, many will affirm that knowing and loving the Bible key. After all, this is the foundation of our faith! Yet, in that quiet moment when you open its pages, the Bible can also be incredibly intimidating. Here are a few suggestions to make this task doable.
1. Read a book, not a verse.
Imagine you are given a book from a friend. How would you read it? Would you start in chapter 4? Or flip to random pages and look for the perfect one-liner? Never! This type of reading is a surefire way to be confused, misunderstand the intended purpose, and quickly lose interest. Why then do we read the Bible this way?
The Bible is composed of 66 different books. Historical books, poetic books, prophetic books, letters. Read the Bible book by book. Start in Chapter 1. Seek to understand the purpose of the book, the intent of the author, and the context. While it isn’t necessary to read the Bible in order, I think you need to be sensitive the historical timeline of the Bible. If you’ve never read from Genesis through Nehemiah in order, it’s so worth it.
2. Read through 2 books at a time.
Try reading through 2 books of the Bible simultaneously, 1 in the Old Testament and 1 in the New. For example, I am currently reading through Habakkuk and 1 Corinthians. Each time I pick up my Bible, I continue where I left off in one of those books. This allows for some variety in my reading. It also provides a plan for the inevitable moments when it’s hard to stay focused in one section of scripture. Sometimes it’s good to stick it out and ask God for help to understand, but other days I think it’s fine to flip to the other book your reading. Better to keep yourself in the Word than give up entirely.
3. Have a well-rounded intake.
Unfortunately, those of us who grew up in church sometimes have the most scattered familiarity with the Bible. A lot of the New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs, but 2 Chronicles and Haggai…. what are those books about again? How can we, who say the Bible is 100% true, not be well-read in all of it? If you have never read the first 5 books of the Bible, then make it a point to read them. If you are unfamiliar with the Gospels, work through those. Make it your aim to read the entire Bible, even if it takes years.
4. Read slowly.
Speaking of years, it may take that long. And there is nothing wrong with that. I started the Bible-in-a-year plan many times, only to give up in discouragement when I was still reading Exodus in July. Not only that, this fueled a view of Bible reading as something to check off my to-do list. But if the aim is to engage with God by getting to know Him, then understanding should be a higher priority than volume.
Slow down. Re-read passages. Underline things that jump out at you. Write your observations down in your Bible or a journal. Ask yourself questions like: Could I explain this passage to someone else? What is the theme of this chapter? Don’t move on until you have some level of comprehension. How rich and deep you will find the Bible to be when you simply slow down!
5. Read to get to know God.
The Bible is not a self-help manual. While it does give direction for our lives, it doesn’t primarily exist to tell us how to be better people. “If we could be made right through keeping rules, there is no need for Jesus to die.” (Gal 2:21) The Gospel reminds us that we are helpless on our own and in need of a Savior. We are saved by grace, not works. And we live by grace, not works, so that no one may boast (Eph 2:1-10).
Bible reading should first and foremost be about God, not us. Understanding who He is and what He has done for us through Jesus should be front and center. The Old Testament law showcases the holiness of God. 1 and 2 Kings reveal His love for humility and loyal worship. The prophets express His heart for His people. The Gospels show Jesus in action as our perfect righteousness and final sacrifice.
Here’s a practical suggestion: read until you have discovered 10 things about God. These don’t have to be new realizations, just 10 things about Him. For example, when you begin reading Isaiah 66, here is what it would look like:
Thus says the LORD, [1. God speaks] “Heaven is My throne [2. God is in charge in heaven] and the earth is My footstool. Where then is a house you could build for Me? [3. God is uncontainable.] And where is a place that I may rest? For My hand made all these things, [4. God personally created everything that I can see and touch.] thus all these things came into being,” declares the LORD. But to this one I will look, [5. God pays attention to certain people.] to him who is humble and contrite of spirit [6. God is attentive to the lowly and humble.], and who trembles at My word. [7. God is drawn to those who take His Word seriously.]
After 2 verses, I’ve already found 7 things! Of course some of these observations seem obvious, but reading this way focuses my attention on God, not me. In turn, this leads me to celebrate who He is and creates a desire for humility so He will look to me!
This simple exercise can help us see the Bible as a book showcasing our awesome God, not as a manual to for self-improvement.
6. Engage with God in prayer.
Resist the urge to simply learn about God. What you learn about Him should lead you to engage with Him. This may be as simple as thanking Him for specific characteristics of His you just read about.
From this Isaiah passage you might thank Him for not being silent or that His hand fashioned the wood for the table where you sit. You might begin asking Him to give you a humble and contrite spirit. You may already be aware of some pride in your heart from which you can repent and ask for forgiveness. Maybe there is something you don't understand; talk to God about it and ask Him to help you understand. The Bible is not an end in itself, but rather the primary means through which we hear from and engage with a Living God.
7. Have a plan.
If you do not have a plan before hand, you likely won’t do anything. Aimlessness leads to discouragement and frustration. At the same time, have a plan that is attainable. Consistent baby steps are better than huge goals that lead to burnout. And lastly, create a plan that fits you. While we should all be students of the Word, but the way we do that will look different.
Pick a time and a place to meet with God. If you aren't a morning person, don't do it first thing in the morning. If you fall asleep on the couch, sit at a table. No matter what, decide before hand, when and where you will read the Word. (A word to moms of littles: Try meeting with God at the first moment in your day when the kids are content and don't need you.)
When you finish a book of the Bible, don't end your time til you determine which book you will begin next. Otherwise, you may pick up your Bible the next day and find yourself aimless, trying to decide what book to study.
Decide the practical goal of your reading. Here are some examples: Read until you've found 10 things about God. Read 1 chapter. Read for 30 minutes. Of course, there will be times 1 chapter isn't enough or you look up and it's been an hour. But the purpose of a practical reading goal isn't for those days. It's for the days you feel uninspired. A basic goal, like reading 1 chapter, can keep you going through hard days.