A question I am often asked is “How do you study your Bible?” or “What does your Bible reading look like?” As Christians, we recognize our dependence on God’s Word for all things in life (2 Timothy 3:16), but we often feel deficient in our Bible reading. We wake up, read a few chapters, pray, and then move on with our day (often forgetting what we read about mere hours later!). So how do we maximize our Bible reading?
Here are a few principles to keep in mind: First, we need to know the Bible as a whole. I call this studying for breadth. When someone asks you “what is the Bible about?” you should be able to give them a fairly simple and concise answer in just a few sentences. A great practice for studying the Bible in breadth is by reading large chunks at a time (like 7 to 10 chapters). I would even recommend getting a Reader’s Bible. A Reader’s Bible does not have chapter or verse numbers, and is laid out just like a regular book (Crossway has a beautiful 6-volume set that I picked up a few years ago–I would be happy to show it to you if you are interested). That way, you are not distracted by various markers or footnotes in the text, but you can just read it like a book and stop at natural breaking points. This will help you see the bigger picture of the Bible.
When I first started reading the Bible in breadth, I read the entire gospel of Mark in a matter of a few hours (with the help of a Reader’s Bible). I picked up on several key themes that I had never seen before. I was so used to studying the tree, that when I backed up and saw the forest, I realized how much I had been missing. So try it; don’t focus on the verses and chapter numbers, and just read. And keep reading. This will allow you to see how the writer connects one concept to another over a broad section.
The second principle is that we need to study the Bible in depth. The Bible tells us that every word is inspired by God, and thus we need to read it with that level of fervency. Dig into a word or a verse. Seek to understand every nuance and cross-reference. You could even try to diagram the sentence, dissecting the parts of speech to grasp the main point (particularly helpful in Paul’s letters). Grab a couple commentaries to help with the historical context and the original languages. Memorize verses and pray that God would give you understanding into the deep well that is in those verses.
Think of it like a love letter. Back before the digital age of texting and AOL (the Gen X and Gen Zers have no clue what that is), people would write letters back and forth. Remember those days? You would write a letter to your significant other, and either mail it to them, or, if you went to school together, slip it into their locker. No doubt, if you received such a letter from your significant other, you would practically memorize it. You would read each sentence carefully, almost hearing the other person speaking it as you read. You may come across a vague sentence, and so you read it again. And again. And you ponder what they might have meant by it. So you read further, hoping for a clue. Eventually, the letter is practically falling apart because you have read it so many times. And you cherish it, because it was written for you by someone you care about.
That is exactly how we need to read the Bible in depth, because it is written for our instruction and edification, and it was written by someone who loves you and cares for you far more than your grade-school crush will ever love you (no apology to every teenage Hallmark movie).
Reading the Bible both in breadth and in depth is a great way to make the most of your quiet time in God’s Word. “But,” you say, “that is so hard! I’ll never fully understand everything that is in the Bible.” That is absolutely correct. Have you ever considered why the leaders in the church are called “elders”, and the fact that they are held in such high esteem? It is because they have spent their entire lives searching out the Scriptures to understand what God says. They didn’t just sit down and master every aspect of Scripture in a week. That’s impossible. They have been studying and reading for many, many years in order to grasp the character and person of God. Studying the Bible is a life-long endeavor.
So be patient with yourself. If you are not able to understand deep, theological concepts right now, don’t beat yourself up. We live in a world where everything we want can be on our doorstep in 2 days. Studying the Bible is not so; it takes time to learn and to grow, so be patient. It is God who provides the growth, and that growth takes place in His timing–so much so that our discontentment with where we are in our walk with God can be sinful. Instead of praising God for how we have grown, we have our own desires of where we ought to be, thus placing ourselves above God. Don’t do that. Be patient with your understanding of God’s Word. It takes time.
So where do we start? Do we just open our Bibles and begin reading? You can, but before doing so, we have to understand the foundation of the Bible. When it comes to God’s Word, it is critical that we have the right starting point and the right contextual mindset. It is like wearing special glasses. Sometimes, we put on darker sunglasses because we are working in a context of alot of light. Or, we need to wear blue-light glasses, because we sit and stare at a computer screen all day. It is important to have the right “glasses” on before we start reading.
For Scripture, the big question we are asking before we start reading is, “what is the theme of the Bible? What is this entire book about?” A simple, 4-word answer will suffice: God and His glory. That’s it. The entirety of Scripture is focused on God and His glory.
Many Christians, when they read their Bible, they tend to think that the Bible is about them. So they read the story of Joshua against Jericho, and they think that the story means we need to be more persistent in life, since it took 7 trips around Jericho to make the walls fall. Not to mention that some see this story and think the point is that we need to exercise more! The problem is that they have the wrong starting point and the wrong theme. The Bible is not about you, but it is about God and His glory.
If the theme of Scripture is God and His glory, this means that whatever passage you are reading, whatever story you come across in Scripture, we need to be asking, “what does this say about God and His glory?” In doing so, we ensure that we are asking the right questions and that we have the right starting point. It also removes our selfish thoughts about the Bible. The reason we cannot see ourselves in the Bible is because we are not there. The Bible is not about us.
This does NOT mean, however, that the Bible doesn’t apply to us, because it does. By asking the right question, “what does this say about God and His glory?” we can follow that question with another: “How can I apply this understanding of God and His glory?” In my opinion, one of the best ways to apply Scripture is simply by knowing it. You ask, “how can you apply the Bible just by knowing it?” Thanks for asking. Think about this: there are many people today who are terrified that the polar ice caps are going to melt, thus resulting in a world-wide flood. But we as Christians do not have that fear. Why? Because we know that God promised to never flood the earth again in Genesis 9. Therefore, we can apply that knowledge by not being fearful of a global flood. Simply by knowing what God says in His Word, we can better understand His character, and thus better understanding how we ought to live as a result.
The Bible is a deep well of truth with which we have been entrusted by the almighty God. Therefore, we need to study it, and then study it again, and keep studying. It cannot ever be fully “dug up.” So we keep digging!