One of the Bible’s most consistent themes is the need for God’s people to bring themselves regularly into contact with God’s word—in Old Testament times the Jews were required to regularly attend the Temple for the reading of God’s word—and in fact the very placement of the Temple and before it the Tabernacle right at the centre of the nation—literally—with the 12 tribes arrayed around it—was all designed to make the point that the central issue in the life of God’s people was not their worship of God but his word to them. The Temple was where you came to hear God’s voice, to discuss and think through what it meant and then to go away and day by day, week by week act upon it. In many ways the Tabernacle was a tent-shrine for the Ark of the Covenant which held the Ten Commandments and the Torah—the first five books of the Bible.
In the New Testament the focus on the word of God is only expanded and made more pointed.
1 Tim 4:13 “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.”
2 Tim 3:16-17 “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
1 Peter 3:15 “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…”
How can we have a Christian mind if we never read what God has said? How can we be profoundly influenced by that which we do not know? If you are filled with God’s word, your life can then be informed and directed by God. We so often ask for God to direct our ways—and then maybe are disappointed by the seeming lack of response from God. If we refuse to read what he has already caused to be written how can we expect him to speak again? The reality of my life, and many Christians testify to this—that God so often answers my prayers with his written word.
Do you find it hard to read God’s word? Maybe it’s different to other things you’ve read but read as it is written, with a sensible program of reading to guide you, it is not difficult. Sure, there will be plenty of things that first up do not make sense or are difficult to work through—but there a multitude of passages will make perfect sense.
If you’re new to reading the Bible my suggestion is you start with one of the four gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. You could start at Genesis and just keep going, though by the time you get to Leviticus you may be battling to go much further. Better to start with Christ himself—Mark’s gospel for example is a great story as much as a vital link in our understanding—in Mark’s very concise account we get the no frills version of Jesus’ life—the important bits in a shortened version and in relatively easy English. Make sure you use a modern version—the NIV remains my choice because it is a clear reasonably accurate translation, though with the demise of the NIV84 we will all be looking at the next ubiquitous version. You could also use the NASB, NRSV or ESV, or the Holman Bible. Use a version that is as close as possible to the original, rather than interprets the text through paraphrasing. If you find reading particularly difficult then The Message or the NLT might be helpful. Regardless don’t use a King James—the language is archaic and often misinformed. And if all you have is the King James then read on!
So… you have your Bible, and you know where to start—what do you do now?
1. Set aside some time—if you can grab 15-30 minutes a day for prayer and reading this is ideal—if not put aside at least 10 minutes to start with plus some time to pray.
2. Try to get some personal space when you read and pray—the last thing Satan wants is you reading the Bible… so the phone will ring, the kids injure themselves, the dinner will burn and so on if you try to read and pray whilst doing other things. Many Christians call this time a “Quiet Time” – time out with God—and it’s certainly worth making it special time. If you can’t do this at home maybe you could try at lunch time. If you drive a long way to work you could listen to the Bible on CD and pray—just don’t close your eyes.
3. Pray—a simple prayer is more than enough—God knows what you are doing and he’s all for it. “Father—please be with me now as I read your word. May your Spirit be at work in me to understand what I read, to apply it day by day and to make me more like Jesus. Amen”
4. Start—read a small section at a time and work through it slowly—a chapter or smaller. Most Bibles are broken down not just into chapters but sections as well—so you could simply read up to each new heading. Just remember that the headings are not the Bible—they’ve been put there by well meaning editors but often as not can be misleading in understanding.
5. Meditate—no, not crossed legged on the floor saying a mantra—consider what you have read. Ask yourself what the passage is about. The simplest form of study is to ask five questions of the passage and answer them honestly.
- What does the passage say…
- … about God?
- … about Jesus?
- … about me?
- … about the World?
- What should I do in response to this passage?
Not every question will apply in every passage but in most they will.
6. Pray—in response to the passage, about yourself, family, friends—everything.
There are many ways of studying God’s word, some of which we’ll investigate over the coming months—but the hardest part is starting. Having started you will find like so many others that the word of God becomes an indispensable part of life. If you’re starting off, or trying to get going again why not ask your growth group to pray for you, and tell your minister or ministry minded friends and get them to pray too.
Psalm 119:103-104 “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path.”