By Sam Romine
As Christians, we understand the importance of reading and studying the Bible. This book contains the very words of God, it is the means by which He chose to reveal Himself to us, and in it, we find everything we need to live a godly life (2 Timothy 3:16). The problem is that this task can be incredibly overwhelming, and many of us do not know where to begin.
While there are so many good books that address this topic, most are very long and very difficult to read. If you have the time and the energy, I have listed a few recommendations at the bottom of this blog that I strongly encourage you check out. But for those of us who don’t have time to read a multi-hundred page hermeneutical textbook, here are some practical tips and tools that I have found helpful as I seek to understand and apply God’s Word in a way that is both faithful to the original author’s intent and also fruitful in my everyday life.
- Pray. This may sound obvious, but begin each time in God’s Word by humbly and sincerely asking the Holy Spirit to lead you into truth. Reading the Bible is a supernatural task. Only by the Spirit’s help can you understand its meaning and be molded into the image of Jesus. (Heb. 4:12; 1 Cor. 2:14)
- Get alone with God. We live in a world filled with so many distractions, so many things fighting for our attention. It is vitally important that our time meeting with God is spent completely focused on Him. Get rid of tv, facebook, food, people–anything that can take your mind off of Him. If possible, I recommend making it a priority to spend uninterrupted time alone with God reading the Bible the first thing you do each day. This is not just my opinion, but also the habit of Jesus (Mark 1:35).
- Write down questions you have. Don’t be discouraged if something doesn’t make sense. If you have a question, write it down. It is important to not get hung up on it, or completely neglect it. Write it down, move on, and come back to it later. God gave teachers to the church for a reason. If you have questions, ask your pastor for help, or find a good commentary or Bible handbook to help clear up your confusion.
- Read sections of text as a whole. One common mistake people make in reading the Bible is to do so in an unorganized manner. I hear of so many people who read seemingly random sections of the Bible each day. It is important to read sections and books as a whole. The authors wrote cohesive thoughts that connect to and build off each other. Unless you are reading Psalms or Proverbs, start at the beginning of the book, and read it from start to finish. This will allow you to comprehend the context of the passage. Without context, error and misunderstanding/misinterpretation will abound. This results in confusion, discouragement, and most dangerously of all, wrong doctrine.
- Leave your preconceived notions and biases behind. One of the most common pitfalls in wrongly interpreting Scripture is to read meaning into the text. We all have experiences and knowledge from the world around us that shape our understandings and beliefs, and many times those things are the lens we use to interpret the Bible. We bring the meaning to the text, instead of getting meaning out of the text. Let the author of the text speak for itself, don’t make the interpretation fit into a box that you have already created.
Questions to Ask:
- What does the text say about God? God is the author of all Scripture, so His fingerprint is everywhere. Write down everything you learn about the character, nature, and work of God, and specifically Jesus Christ.
- What does the text say about people? As God’s chief creation, people are also everywhere in Scripture. As you read, write down what the text reveals about the nature of mankind. Look specifically for the actions, attitudes, and attributes of godly, righteous people, and also those of ungodly, sinful people.
- How can I obey the text? We don’t read the Bible simply in an academic manner, or just to store up head knowledge. We read and learn so that we can obey the God who saved us and who we now serve with joy. As Paul says, “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Cor. 8:1) Make sure that you are using your time in God’s Word to obey God and love others, not just for selfish gain.
- What should I pray? Paul tells us in 1 Thess. 5:17 “to pray without ceasing.” What better way to pray than to pray the things we read in the Bible? Ask God to help you live out what He calls you to in His Word, ask Him to make you more like Jesus, and ask Him to reveal the hidden, sinful tendencies you have so that you can better reflect and love Christ.
- Who should I tell? The Christian life is not a solo life. It is meant to be lived in community with others. What you read in the Bible is meant to be shared, not kept in your head. Each time you read, identify either another believer you can encourage/challenge with the Word, or a non-believer who needs to hear the good news of what you read!
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col. 3:16).
Resources for Further Study:
Grasping God’s Word by J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays
How To Read the Bible for All It’s Worth by Gordon Fee
How to Study the Bible by John MacArthur