Thursday, May 28, 2009

How do you read the bible?

How do you read the bible?
Do you have a system?
Do you read along with another guide?
Do you just open it randomly and read whatever you find?
Do you only read familiar passages?
Or, if you were really being honest, perhaps do you just not read it at all?

I suspect all of us struggle at times to find a way that works for us to read our bibles. And while we want to read God's word and grow in our knowledge and love of him, other things take precedence. Not only that, but even when we find the time combined with the ability to think clearly, we can feel like we are just 'going through the motions'. A kind of 'yes, tick the box' - I have read my bible today, although I couldn't tell you much about what I read and I didn't bother thinking about how it applied to me. Sound familiar?

I think what I have come to realise in recent years is that (like every aspect of growth in the Christian life) this too is a journey. Sometimes I long to sit down and dwell in God's word and other times, quite frankly, I would prefer to do almost anything else.

So, what do we do then when it's all a bit of a struggle?

I suggest two things: 1) Just do it. & 2) Mix it up.

1. Just do it.

Really. Get on with it. Find 10 mins & sit down with the bible open. If you have no idea what to read, start with a Gospel - at least then you will be reading the words of Jesus. There have been many times over the years where I have not wanted to read my bible - it may have been due to tiredness, busyness, feelings of depression, feeling distant from God, feeling like I just didn't care. But in the end, sitting down with God's word was something I tried to force myself to do. Sometimes I was just 'ticking the box', and other times a verse would leap out piercing straight to my heart.

And, by not giving up - we are forming a habit. A habit that says - no matter what, no matter how I feel, I want to let God's word speak to me and change me.

2. Mix it up

There are a lot of resources out there that help us read our bibles and understand them better. Sometimes, it's a hard slog reading through parts of the bible (eg. Isaiah or Ezekiel), especially when we don't really know what they are talking about. However, we still want to read these books and not ignore them because they are a bit scary!

So, here are some resources that appeal to different people:

1. Don Carson's For the Love of God, vols 1 & 2. This excellent guide follows the M'Cheyne bible reading plan over the course of 2 calendar years. Carson has listed the 4 readings for the day and he makes comments on one of them in detail. Its advantage is that it gets you reading through the bible (all in one year) and adds insightful comments for further thought. You can see a sample page here. And really, anything that Don Carson writes is worth giving a go!

2. The Daily Reading Bible (14 vols), published by Matthias Media. These are collated readings and notes from The Briefing magazine Bible Briefs. There are 60 days of reading, designed to cover 3 months. These are short snippets, which start you thinking. Each reading is included (so you only need the book not a bible as well). Then there are 3 questions, something to ponder and a suggestion for prayer. I have done these on and off over the years, and at times they have been very helpful. However, they vary in quality (all are authored by different people) and I find that they are too short. Also, I don't really want to encourage people not to use their own bibles - for then you can't easily look up cross-references, etc. You can see a sample of them here. Don't let my hesitations put you off though, they may be perfect for you!

3. Something new we have recently come across is John Stott's Through the Bible, Through the Year. Stott, another highly respected Christian author has put together this resource, taking one through the Christian calender. He has divided it into three 4-month blocks. The first (Sept-Dec) covers the Old Testament (the Life of Israel), the second (Jan-April) is an overview of the Gospels (the life of Christ) and the third (May-Aug) is from Acts to Revelation (Life in the Spirit). I can't comment on this one in detail yet, as I am only up to week 2 myself. What I can say so far is that I like the idea, and Stott's insights are always worth reading. However, there is often one one verse that the comments are based on. So this is certainly worth reading, but probably also combined with some other larger chunks of scripture. You can see the whole book online here.

4. Various commentaries. If you decide you want to tackle a book of the bible, but don't really know much about it, ask around and see if someone (your minister perhaps?) can recommend a good commentary on that book. Look for a short one, one based on an English version (not the Greek or Hebrew) and one whose style you can easily read.

What are some other bible reading tools or guides you recommend?

HOWEVER, all of these are just tools - nothing beats reading the bible yourself and trying to figure out what it means. Sure, use resources that are available, but last not first - do the work yourself first. So, get your hands on:
  • a wide margin bible - this is the best bible I own, there is heaps of space for me to write comments in it;
  • a travel bible - my normal bible is too big and heavy to throw in a bag or take away on holidays, so I also have a little bible that fits into my handbag;
  • lots of bookmarks - to put in where ever you are reading - privately (if you follow M'Cheyne's reading guide you need 4!), to follow along with church sermon readings at home & what you are doing in bible study;
  • pencils, highlighters, whatever you want to write in your bible. It took me a long time to be comfortable writing in my bible (it felt too holy to write in!). In fact, I still refuse to mark any normal book I read, but now my bible is scribbled all over.
And aim to read more of the bible itself than someone's notes about it.

Which leads to me to what I am doing at the moment, for those that care!
  • I want to cover some larger amounts of scripture - so I have just reprinted the M'Cheyne reading guide and am going to try to work through it. I just started it again today, so got going at May 28. It's amazing when you do this how often the readings are related to each other.
  • I am also reading Stott's Through the Bible, Through the Year at the same time. This helps me to think in a bit more depth about a small passage or verse.
So, if you know me and see me around - ask me how I am going with it!

Photos from stock.xchng


Mark Schultz said...

Hi Wendy.

Couldn't agree more with your comments. As someone who knows the difference getting into the Bible can make to your life, and who has a pretty short attention span and capacity to tolerate tedium, both of your points are well made from my perspective.

The other thing I would add is: Expect to be changed by what you find. It is really easy for us to pick up the Bible and be challenged, inspired or just learn. But if these things aren't doing something to make a change in who we are, either in the short-term or long-term, it is possible that we are allowing God's Spirit to work through God's Word. It may be nothing earth-shattering - sometimes simple and practical is the best. Keeping a journal of what you are learning and the changes starting to take shape can be a good way to do it.

Do you want some other resources to chase down? There are some interesting and helpful things on line too.

Thanks, Wendy.


Wendy said...

Thanks for that Mark - always nice to have new commenters!

I agree completely - yes we should expect to be changed and to see those changes taking place as we continue to read the bible. And using a journal is a great way to see change over time - just as it can be a great way to also to see how God answers prayer over time.

Send any resources my way, if you have time - maybe it can be info for another post...!