We all know that we should read the bible. We need to read it.
But one of the most sought out questions among Christians is, “How do you read the bible?”
Is there a best way or more fruitful way to read it? Is there a right way or wrong way? Do I just read a few verses and then close it? Or should I have multiple resources next to me explaining literary device, genre, context, and parsing for the original language? (Should I look up what the word parsing even means?)
All these questions are totally valid. And they’re all questions I’ve thought through a bit more after seminary. The way I would read a passage of scripture for my Greek class is different from the way I would read it for preaching class. And each of those is different from the way I’ve been reading scripture as a regular spiritual discipline.
Even still, I don’t come from a long line of family members who I could look to as an example on how to read the bible. So I was never really taught how to read it. I’m sure that during some youth camp I was given an acronym on how to read the bible…but I don’t remember that. So I can empathize with the struggle of feeling like you have no idea what you’re doing when you open your bible.
So here are a few things I’ve learned over the years that serve as good reminders when you’re reading your bible.
Remember that context is important.
When I was younger I would open up the bible, read a verse or two, and then pray. But without knowing it, I would often understand scripture out of context. I look back on some of the notes I would keep from my readings, and I clearly had no idea what those verses were about. And that’s because I pulled them out of context. This wasn’t intentional. It’s just that I had no other understanding of the verses outside of what I just read.
There’s great danger in flipping open your bible, landing on a page, reading a verse or two, and then closing it. Especially if you’ve landed right in the middle of a book. You need to look at what comes before and after each verse in order to understand that verse’s meaning within its context.
This is one reason why I tend to shy away from most devotionals. I’m not saying they’re all guilty of this, but many are. Devotionals often take one verse, offer some practical application for your life, and then maybe an encouraging statement. But the author doesn’t always make sure that application is actually related to the context of the verse.
It’s practices like these that allow us to take a verse like Philippians 4:13 (“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”) and stitch it to our gym bag. That’s not an accurate reading of that verse.
Now, I don’t think you need to always have a commentary sitting next to you to explain how all Pauline writings speak of one particular subject matter in order to grasp the meaning of a verse or passage. That’s overwhelming and incredibly intimidating. But many missteps in understanding scripture can be avoided if we maintain the practice of reading a book in scripture from the beginning to end, instead of a verse here and a verse there from throughout the bible.
Many missteps in understanding scripture can be avoided if we maintain the practice of reading a book in scripture from the beginning to end, instead of a verse here and there from throughout of the bible. Click To Tweet
Remember that it’s okay to not understand.
I’m currently reading the book of James, and I’m still struggling with how some of it fits together. It seems like he starts talking about one thing and then we jump to a different subject and then back to the original subject. Which means I’ve found myself re-reading the same few sections for the last few days.
When it comes to scripture, there are large theological, literary, and historical components that I still don’t understand. So sometimes there are moments like these where I’m just not sure how it all fits together.
It’s okay to hang out in these places a bit. You don’t have to rush on to the next set of verses. It’s okay to not fully understand it in the same day. Or even in the same week.
When you don’t understand, it can mean drawing on other resources, re-reading, and praying for wisdom. To not understand is not a reason to skip over verses, or (my own personal confession) to just move on to another book.
The bible is more than just a spiritual discipline to check off your list. It’s the word of God that was given to us to know him and have our lives transform. So it’s okay to wrestle with it. It’s okay to not understand. It’s okay to sit in that place with the Holy Spirit praying and seeking wisdom.
Sometimes it’s during the times of not understanding that I eventually end up with a greater understanding than I ever had before. That’s when those nuggets of truth that I had never seen before arise to the surface. I think, “Wow, I’ve read that verse so many times and never saw that before.”
It’s because I took the time to wade into difficult passages rather than simply rushing through them that I gleaned spiritual benefits that I otherwise might have missed.
Remember to pray, pray, pray.
The bible is unlike any other book you will ever read. It’s not a history book, though it has history in it. It’s not a textbook, though it has doctrinal truths to be studied. It’s not a storybook, though it has countless stories of real life people.
This is a book that was written for us to know God and to know how God relates to us. It unfolds the story of who God is and his plan of salvation for his creation. Aspects of it are as simple enough for a child to understand. And yet a person can dedicate their entire life to studying it and never fully uncover all its truths.
We must seek the wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit to open our eyes to the truth of scripture. For him to reveal its treasures. For our hearts to be open. For us to not only be hearers of the word of God but doers of his word.
The impact of scripture on our lives should be so much more than memorizing words on a page. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, our encounter with the bible should change and transform our lives.
This doesn’t mean you will always walk away with one practical point of application. But you should know more of Jesus after your time spent in scripture.
A Few Things I Do Regularly
When I was younger, I wished people would have shared practical examples of what they do when they read their bible. So here are a few things I regularly do. They aren’t necessarily strict rules to follow or standards to abide by. They’re just some principles I’ve found to be helpful. They’ve allowed me to be intentional about my time spent in scripture.
1. Get to an undistracted place.
I usually go to a place where it’s quiet and I can’t be distracted. I even put my phone on “do not disturb.” I always start in prayer or singing a few worship songs, because I find my mind is running a million different places.
I want my heart and mind to be intentional about spending time with Jesus. And that means allowing other thoughts to either be prayed about or silenced. Then I will pray for the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth of scripture and not for me to come in with what I think I already know.
2. Focus on big chunks.
I usually read through a book in scripture, though not typically in one sitting. Sometimes that takes me a really long time to get through a book. And sometimes it doesn’t.
When I read, I usually have a notebook next to me just to write down thoughts or key points I understood. I try to keep reading until there’s a clear section break. Sometimes that’s a few verses and sometimes it’s a few chapters.
If I get lost or confused, I will re-read that same section the next day. I only move on when I’ve gained some clarity.
I will meditate on what I read for a bit and pray for the things of 2 Timothy 3:16-17 to be true in my life.
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (1 Timothy 3:16-17)
3. Be faithful to show up.
My time in scripture doesn’t always look the same. I don’t always come away with an epiphany, application, or answer to a prayer. But I always come away with having spent time with Jesus. That’s what our hearts need the most. We need more of Jesus.
My time in scripture doesn't always look the same. I don't always come away with an epiphany, application, or answer to prayer. But I always come away with having spent time with Jesus. Click To Tweet