I remember when one of my Sunday school teachers told me that he had read the whole Bible all the way through: I was stunned! Such a large book and he had read it all!
Then, as I pondered it, I was inspired. If he could do it, then surely I could too!
Somewhere in my teenage years I got hold of a new Bible and I started reading from the beginning, underlining every verse that stood out to me. I don’t remember how long it took, but I did it a little bit at a time. Day after day, I’m sure missing days here and there but keeping to it when I could. And after somewhere between 1-2 years I finished it. The whole lot. I was actually surprised at how much I had learned elsewhere, especially of the Old Testament stories and I was fascinated to read the Bible and find out what God had really said about heaven or the Messiah for myself. I was also shocked by how direct Jesus was. He did not mince his words. He said things like: ‘If you don’t forgive others, God won’t forgive you.’ He said that if someone asked you to borrow something then you should give it to him and not ask for it back. He said that if your eye caused you to sin you should rip it out. (I was aware it was a metaphor, but I still felt the strength of his words tear at my soul!) As I read the Word, I began to see a God who was consistently loving and all-consumingly holy. I was both attracted to, and as I was aware of my sin, repelled by God.
Over the years I have read and studied the Bible in many different ways, but as I was praying about what to write today I felt that God wanted us to keep three points in mind:
1. Keep it simple – ask for Help!
The Bible is a book which would take you 6 months to finish if you read it for 40 minutes a day. It is vast and looking at it as a whole can seem overwhelming. Although I do believe that God wants us to be familiar with the whole Biblical text, He doesn’t expect us to be in such a short time. It is about faithful day in, day out engagement with His Word. It is meant to be a journey and He has provided a Guide and He wants us to ask Him to help us!
There are many ways to engage with Bible and you just need to choose one and be faithful with it! Don’t make it complicated. Just keep walking and allow the Holy Spirit to guide you.
What are your favourite ways to engage with the Bible? Over the years I have chosen a book to read, picked up study guides to accompany a book or theme, or read the Bible out loud.
Listening to the Bible can be really helpful and has been one of the ways I have engaged consistently with the Word in the last year. At first it felt a bit of a cop out to listen to it, because it was so ‘easy’ compared to reading it for myself, but when I thought about how up until the past 100 years most people couldn’t read and write and would have listened to the Word, I realised how silly that was – listening to the Bible is a totally legitimate way of engaging with His Word! I also realised that as long as I wasn’t distracted by other things, listening to the Bible actually helped me to imagine what was being said and to pick up on things I would have otherwise missed.
Many of the different translations have free audio on the Bible Gateway app, but I am currently enjoying Brian Harding’s podcast ‘Daily Audio Bible‘ which reads a section of the Old Testament, New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs each day and gives bits of background here and there. It takes about 20 minutes a day and will go through the whole Bible in a year.
2. Little and often – don’t worry about what you remember or forget
I think it was Eugene Peterson who said that we should read the Bible as regularly as we eat and not to worry if we don’t remember all we are reading. If I asked you to tell me everything you ate last week you would be hard pressed to remember all the different meals, but that does not mean that those meals did not sustain your body. In the same way, we should not be discouraged that we can’t remember all we have read in the Bible – it will still be sustaining our soul. If we know we need to eat regularly to keep our bodies energized and well, why do we think any different of the Word of God? Is it any surprise we get so spiritually faint and full of doubt when we so sporadically feed our souls with His truth?
I can be anxious about things I don’t even realise, and then I read a Psalm and it hits home fast. Suddenly I realise how much energy I have wasted in worry when God’s promise, right there, hits me slap in the face, telling me that ‘those who seek the Lord will lack no good thing.’ (Psalm 34:10)
It is great to get creative with how we can engage with the Word throughout the day – we may scatter open Bibles in different rooms, we may write up verses and stick them on the walls or use a whiteboard marker to write up a verse for the week on the kitchen window or bathroom mirror. It isn’t about the quantity of what we read, but whether we are feasting on His Word and allowing it to feed our souls continually.
3. It is a living text meant to point us to relationship with God
God inspired so many authors over many millenia from a variety of different backgrounds and cultures to write about His story and show us how we fit in with it. Although God wants us to engage with the text, discover its treasures and its nuances, the point of Bible study is never to make us know more. The point is to help us to know Him personally.
In Spanish there are two verbs which translate to the English ‘to know’ – ‘saber’ – to know about something, to know a fact or piece of information, and ‘conocer’ – to know someone personally. You can know about someone – all about them, but never have met them personally. In the same way, we can read the Bible and study all the Greek and Hebrew and never encounter – really know – God Himself. At times people are wary of us seeking ‘experiences’ with God. They feel it will make us flakey. But could you imagine being married to someone and saying: ‘I am not going to seek an experience with my husband, I am just going to read his diary to know more about him. Anything beyond that is sin!’? God of course does not desire for us to stray from the truth of His Word, but the whole point of His great long story is to show us over and over how He encountered man and came and dwelt with us so we can be in personal, experiential, life-giving, Spirit-breathing relationship!
So whilst study guides are really helpful, we need to remember the point of our engaging with the Word is not to gain information, but to receive revelation. As such, the way we read should begin by asking Him to speak to our hearts through His Spirit as we read the Bible and to highlight what He has for us today. What is today’s daily bread for our lives? Will we take time to listen to Him through His Word and grow in faith?