Reading the Bible is an important part of the Christian faith. The Word strengthens our faith, helps us to know God, and produces fruit in our lives.
Reading the Bible, however, can sometimes prove difficult. The Bible is not exactly written like Harry Potter or a Tom Clancy thriller. It is not organized chronologically. Some parts seem vague and other sections seem to drown in detailed lists.
But don’t worry, the Bible is far from a boring book. The Bible is a story, and it is full of action, irony, philosophy, comedy, drama, redemption, poetry, and more.
Whether your trying to figure out how to start reading the bible or you’re looking for fresh ideas after reading it for years, the following principles will help you, as they have helped me, unlock the marvelous words that fill the Bible.
1) Pray before reading the Bible
God speaks through His Word, and prayer is an essential part of preparing our hearts for Him. Specifically, pray that the Holy Spirit will illuminate the Scriptures for you. Pray that He will make the words come alive and speak to your heart. Pray that He will give you answers when you encounter difficult passages.
It is an incredible experience when this happens. I love how God will make a passage I’ve read a dozen times take on new meaning and completely change my perspective. For instance, I’ve been a Christian for two decades. But every time I read the Sermon on the Mount, one of the most fundamental Christian texts, I am completely blown away.
Another moment I love often occurs while struggling with a difficult passage. I look at the text, read it three or four times, and feel confused. As I consider it, out of nowhere, God turns on the lights and I suddenly understand it. I’ve grown to expect these moments, but they still excite me.
Prayer is essential because it prepares our hearts and minds for His Spirit to move in us as we read the Bible.
2) Allow the text to speak for itself
God’s Spirit also helps keep our biases from interfering with our time in the Word. So often, we read the Bible in the hopes that it will agree with our opinions. For instance, I might believe that God “is love” and therefore wants me to be happy, regardless of what I do. If this were the case, my Bible reading would consist solely of passages that will make me feel good about myself, regardless of my actions.
I will ignore the parts about taking up my cross and suffering for the Lord. At best I might brush those uncomfortable bits off as old and dated. Then, when I find words about God’s blessing, I will treat it like most important text in the Word and strengthen my belief that He just wants me happy. I could then justify sins because they make me happy. I might stop giving or start stealing, no big deal, I’ll be forgiven! God just wants me to be happy after all, and extra money makes me happy.
You see, we miss out on the riches of God’s Word when we look for our own beliefs to be written in the Scriptures. Rather, we must look at the Bible and allow it to speak for itself. This can be difficult, and proves the importance of prayer and humbly approaching the Word.
3) Understand the context
One way to help ensure you understand the Bible is to know the context. One problem with sporadically reading random verses is that you will not see the full picture. As we all know, you cannot appreciate a completed jigsaw puzzle by only looking at one piece.
While there is certainly value to reading only Romans 8:38-40, it carries far more impact and meaning in light of the rest of Romans 8. Likewise, Romans 8 carries even more meaning in light of the rest of Romans. While you cannot read everything in the Bible at once, do your best to understand it in the right context.
A great resource for grasping the context is the Bible Project. They create 5-10 minute videos for each book of the Bible that provides an excellent overview of what’s happening in the story and how it fits into the overarching narrative of the Bible. Their resources are available for free online The Bible Project.
4) Meditate (or chew on it)
As Psalms 1 said, we are to meditate on the Word, day and night. But what is meditation? That word might make you think of Eastern religions like Buddhism. Are we to sit on the floor with our legs crossed and chant while we read?
Actually, it simply means to ponder or contemplate. I have heard that the Hebrew word in Psalms 1 is similar to the same word used to describe cows chewing grass. If you have ever witnessed a cow chewing, you know it is a long process.
Once the grass is in their mouth they move their mouth back and forth, tossing the grass from side to side as they break it down. They then swallow the grass into one of their stomachs. A few hours later, however, they regurgitate the grass and continue to chew on it.
And this is what we need to do with Scripture. When a thought enters our mind, we need to spend time on it. Toss it around your brain and break it down. Consider the different flavors and messages. A few hours after reading, maybe while in the car or during exercise, bring those thoughts back into the forefront of your mind and continue chewing on it.
5) Apply it
I’ve spent time in numerous Bible studies where we did nothing except point out the cool things we saw in the text. “I liked this verse” and “this passage was really interesting.”
There is nothing wrong with liking parts of the Bible, but it should also change us. When you read, constantly ask yourself, how does this affect my life? How should the love of Jesus change the way I love others? Who in my life am I not loving well? How can I love that person better?
The more specific you get with the application, the better. We prefer vague applications like “love others” because they do not demand anything specific of us. Specific applications like “pray for other drivers instead of cussing at them for bad driving” or “love Johnny by paying to have his car fixed” can be a greater challenge, but they often lead to greater rewards.
The Best Place to Start Reading the Bible
Now that I’ve shared a few principles on how to read the Bible, I’ll conclude by sharing a couple places you can start reading the Bible.
If you would like to learn more about Jesus, then I’d suggest starting with the book of John. All the Bible points to Jesus, and all of it is important, but the gospel of John helps us understand the identity and claims of Jesus. These Life Issues booklets by Randy Pope are a great study built around the gospel of John.
If you want to understand the full story of the Bible, then a great place to start is the beginning. Genesis sets the stage for God’s incredible story. The first few books can be long and include challenging content, so don’t be afraid to take advantage of content from the Bible Project or the free course on the story of the Bible we offer here.
They say the best form of exercise is the kind you will actually do. Likewise, the best place to start reading the Bible may be the part that you actually want to read. Want to learn about the early church? Start with the book of Acts. Want to hear the real version of the story of Jonah and not the Sunday School version? Read the book of Jonah. Interested in Chaldean history? Check out the story of Daniel.
Got a favorite book of the Bible? Share it below in the comments – we’d love to hear from you!