Christians are always encouraged to read the Bible. It is God’s Word, the way we know about God, the way we know of salvation and how we might respond to God well. It is vital for us, but this blog assumes you probably already agree with this.
The question I want to explore is this: how do you actually read the Bible? Let me outline some of the common ways I have come across (and used myself), considering the good and bad aspects of them as we go.
- The ‘random verse for the day’ method
This one seems eternally popular. You open your Bible and do whatever it says to do. You know the thought process: “It’s all God’s word, so it must all be good, so I can’t really go wrong. Introducing some element of chance means it is God choosing what I read instead of me choosing. There are accounts of people going on mission to specific locations based on this, so it must be godly and helpful, right?”
Well, no. Of course it might be helpful, and often will be. But it assumes that the context of the passage you read doesn’t really matter at all. And without knowing the context, there is a very real chance whatever application you draw from it will be incorrect. To use a somewhat silly example, you could read “there is no god” and miss the bit before it that describes the one who says this as a fool.
You also usually open randomly somewhere in the middle; you are more likely to end up with a Psalm than Genesis 4 or Revelation 17!
- The ‘when I think of it’ method
This one is more about a lack of consistency than an actual method. Many of us, myself included, need help when it comes to discipline and godly habits. We think it more godly and sincere, perhaps, if we only read the Bible when we feel like it rather than at a regular time each day.
But just like this kind of thinking won’t get you fit if your exercise happens just when you feel like it, this won’t help your godliness much either. We are sinful people and often will not feel like reading God’s word; that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t read it!
Consistent times in the Word mean you always have the Bible running through your mind and colouring your day. A small amount often is good for you.
- The ‘have to tick the box’ method
I love lists and plans, and often use a Bible reading plan to encourage me to read the Bible regularly. But I also have limited time and a lot of things to do. So sometimes I just do what is needed to tick the box to say this task is completed – I read the passage really quickly, tick the box, and move on. I can then feel somewhat good about myself for having done my holy task for the morning.
But I know that’s not good enough. If I listened to my wife that way, half listening and wanting to get away as soon as I could, I know that would not be good for my relationship with her. Why would I think this would help my relationship with God? It is revealing the sinfulness of my own heart by doing this, not my godliness at being able to tick a box.
- The ‘feast then famine’ method
You know how this one goes; you start the year deciding to read the Bible in a year. You read large slabs of it while on holidays, then life gets busy and it goes to a trickle then nothing. Then you feel guilty about it, spend a significant time for a few days reading again, then again it dies. You can have your Bible reading practice guided by guilt.
Needless to say, this is not helpful for you and reflects a wrong understanding of Bible reading as well. We don’t read the Bible to make God love us more, to be ‘better Christians’. We do it because we love the One who is speaking to us and has graciously given us this book. Don’t see this as a chore, but a joy and a great opportunity to know God better. This shift in attitude will be reflected in an increased enthusiasm to read it, and less guilt.
- The ‘listening but no talking’ method
Bible reading is part of the Christian life, but not all of it. In a relationship we need to listen and talk; likewise with a relationship with God we listen (through the Word) and talk (through prayer). Without prayer the danger is that we grow in knowledge but not relationship, in intellect but not character and humility and joy.
It’s not rocket science. Bible reading is best done in combination with prayer, on a regular basis, and in some systematic way. As a Christian, it is something we should look forward to doing, not dread and feel guilt about.
The Word of God is a wonderful gift. Let’s use it well.