In one of the college courses I teach, the students discuss barriers that prevent them from reading their Bible on a consistent basis. Three of the most common barriers the students list are a lack of time, a lack of discipline, and a difficulty in understanding the Bible. So today I shared with them the following advice. I am posting it here on my blog in the hope that others will find it useful as well:
In last week's discussion forum, many of you shared your struggles with reading your Bible consistently. Thank you for being so open and honest with one another. By being open we can help each other become the people God wants us to be. Let me provide you with a few simple things you can do to help you read your Bible more regularly and understand it better.
First, I would encourage you choose a Bible translation that is easy to understand. Don't pick up a King James Version Bible and expect yourself to stay motivated as you sludge through difficult language. Instead, choose a translation that is easy to read. The English Standard Version (ESV), Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), and the New International Version (NIV) are three that I recommend.
Second, I would encourage you to read at least one chapter a day. A chapter is a small enough chunk to complete in short amount of time (so you are more likely to actually do it!) but it is a large enough chunk for you to understand the context of what you are reading. Understanding the context is key to interpreting the Bible correctly. So one chapter a day is a great place to start. If you can do a little more, I recommend reading one chapter in the Old Testament and one chapter in the New Testament.
Third, I would encourage you to read the Bible from start to finish. Moving through the Bible from front to back helps you understand better what you are reading. For example, when later books talk about Abraham, it helps to have already read about Abraham in Genesis. If you are reading one chapter a day, it will take a while to get through the whole Bible, but speed is not the point. The point is growing in your understanding of the truth God has given us in the Bible. (If you take my recommendation of reading one chapter from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament each day, start in Genesis and Matthew. You will finish the New Testament first. When you do, just go back to Matthew and start over while you continue to work your way through the Old Testament.)
Fourth, if you have trouble understanding what the Bible is saying, I would encourage you to read from a study Bible. Study Bibles provide introductions to each book and have footnotes at the bottom that explain the more difficult verses. The MacArthur Study Bible is one that I highly recommend. The ESV Study Bible is another good option.
Last, to get the most out of your Bible readings, look for one key takeaway from what you have read. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- What does this chapter teach about God's character? This is especially helpful when you are reading one of the stories in the Bible. Biblical stories usually tell us something about how God has dealt with his people in the past. What does this passage tell you about God? Do you see him punishing sin? Do you see him extending mercy? Do you see him rescuing His people from harm? Look for God's hand in the story and then apply that to your life. You serve the same God that Abraham, David, Isaiah, Peter, and Paul served.
- Are there any positive examples for me to imitate in this passage? Are there any negative examples for me to avoid? The Bible provides us with characters who do both godly things and ungodly things, and it often shows us the consequences of those actions. So look for what God would teach you through the lives of the characters in the stories. For example, do you see someone who was selfish? Where did that lead them? Do you ever struggle with being selfish? Where could that sin lead you?
- Are there any commands from God in this chapter that you need to obey? You have to be careful with this question because the Bible records commands that God gave to ancient Israel or to certain individuals that do not necessarily apply to us today. But often times you will run across a command that applies to God's people in every age or applies specifically in the church age where we live now.
Once you have your key takeaway, write down the one or two verses that teach this truth. You can write it in a journal, a note file on your computer, or an app on your phone. The place you write it down doesn't have to be anything fancy, and you don't need to write very much. Personally, I just write down the verse that contains the truth I want to focus on for that day. I have a daily to do list on my computer, so I copy-paste the verse from my Bible software into that list. I also have a little notebook I use for my prayer time, so I write the verse down on the page that contains that day's prayer list. Then I talk to God about that verse during my prayer time.
If all this seems overwhelming to you, don't try to do it all at once. Just start with the first three steps: choose a translation that is easy to read, start by reading one chapter a day, and start in Genesis. You can add in the other things later. The important thing is just to start.
Photo courtesy of BiblePlaces.com; Pictorial Library of Bible Lands, vol. 18.