Do you want to read God’s word consistently? More importantly, do you enjoy reading it? Or perhaps, like most Christians, you get stuck in the “duty and obligation” of the “ought to” attitude. Sure we “ought to” read God’s word, but there’s a better way! Reading, understanding, and applying the Bible is a “get to”, “want to” experience, and there’s a way to cultivate that heart of desire.
Growing Christians discover how to nurture an appetite—a desire for God’s word. They understand that the word of God is alive and powerful, and that it changes us in ways that we could never change ourselves (Heb. 4:12, 1 Thess. 2:13.)
In this post I would love to help you move beyond the “dutiful reading” God’s word and enter into a “desire-filled longing” for God’s word. More importantly, I’d love to help you move past the short, disconnected, daily snippets of “devotional reading” and enter into a more rich, full, global understanding of God’s grand narrative. This practical and broader understanding of God’s word affects the heart in a wonderful way, because understanding the Bible makes reading it so much more enjoyable!
At EBC, we’ve been studying a Sunday evening message series entitled Biblically Literate—Grasping the Grand Narrative of Scripture. (You can hear those messages at the link attached.) Through this study, we’ve examined the broader narrative of God’s Word, in hopes that our daily reading will tie together and give us a clearer picture of God’s message to humanity.
From this series, here are ten practical ideas for enjoying God’s word:
1. Commit to Consistency—Of course, reading God’s word daily is best. “As often as possible” is second best. The important point is this—everybody misses days. Yes, everybody! Even the person who tells you they never miss a day. Don’t beat yourself up over the discipline—that merely becomes a source of discouragement and causes you to quit altogether. The discipline of reading every day is not an end to itself. The continued commitment to consistency over many years is where the word of God has its greatest impact. There is tremendous power in the incremental spiritual growth that unfolds over decades of reading God’s word consistently.
2. Choose a Reading Plan—The strength of a reading plan is that it facilitates consistency and reminds you to keep making progress—like a good diet or exercise program. The weakness of a reading plan is that, again, it can divert your attention to the nagging duty and away from the enjoyable relationship. It’s hard to go wrong with a reading plan—but find one that works for you, and that doesn’t discourage you.
This past year I did a one-year chronological plan on the Olive Tree software for iPad. I greatly enjoyed reading God’s word this way, as this plan stitched together history with poetry and prophecy in ways that helped connect a lot of dots.
3. Decide on a Format—Will you read with a leather bible in hand? Will you use a device? Email? Audio? Regardless of the format—God’s word is God’s word. May I suggest a couple of critical things? Many Bibles are printed in columns with a lot of disruptive verse, chapter, and topical divisions. In many ways these divisions are helpful, but when it comes to simply reading God’s word, these things become real distractions to your eyes and mind.
Some time ago, I began using an app on the iPad that allows me to read the Bible by paragraph (which is critical to properly understanding it) and to minimize the chapter and verse divisions visually. Reading the Bible this way made it more like a book, and provided for a very different experience. It made the Bible read, as it is, a narrative, rather than a collection of disconnected quotes. This was immensely helpful.
4. Familiarize Yourself with the Context—Most people begin reading the Bible with themselves in mind first. The mental idea is sort of, “what’s in this for me and my life today?” While this is admirable on one level, it’s also short-sighted. May I challenge you to begin with context. When you begin reading a book of the Bible, take a few moments to do a bit of research in a study Bible or online. Find out who wrote this book, when, to whom, and why? What’s the historical context? What was the original message of the book? What were God’s original intentions through the human author? What did this mean to the original recipients and why?
There are many great resources that give this kind of information, and having the context in mind will help you not to misapply scripture to your own life. This approach will prevent you from taking a mystical approach to scripture that will cause you great distress in misunderstanding and misapplying scripture. Frankly you’ll always wonder where you stand with God and what He’s really trying to say to you, because you’ll never know how any passage fits into a sound theological framework. One day you’ll know God loves you, the next you will be certain that He’s angry at you. This is not a good way to approach God’s word, and will certainly keep you spiritually schizophrenic as a Christian.
Two quick words of caution. Be careful that you are consulting a reliable source for your biblical, contextual data. Second, always find the personal application within the context of the original intention and meaning as given by God to the first recipients.
5. Look for the Gospel in the Text—Look for Jesus every time you read. Jesus said in John 5:39 “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.” Every page, every chapter, every verse, and every story of the Bible in some way points to, pictures, predicts, reveals, or magnifies Jesus Christ and the story of God’s redemptive work. The entire Bible narrative is about Jesus. The more you see Him, the more you will understand the gospel and the transforming power of the gospel.
The gospel is not merely the door through which you become a Christian, it’s the power that sanctifies and transforms you as a Christian for the rest of your life. And the gospel, in some way, is in every part of scripture. Finding the gospel in all of scripture will help you properly understand and apply each part of the Bible personally. As a Christian, if you ever move past the gospel, you have moved past biblical Christianity and the message of God’s Word.
6. Expect God to Speak to You Directly—Hebrews 4:12 says “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Yes, the Bible always has a historical context, but it also has a present day, personal application. When God gave His word, He had both the first recipients and you in mind at the same time. And your personal application always flows from the context of the original recipients. In other words, without the historical context, it’s fairly easy to make scripture say whatever you want it to say—which is really dangerous.
For instance, take this beautiful verse—“If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine.” (Luke 4:7) This powerful thought was even printed in an inspirational calendar. But there’s a problem with it, and if you are discerning, just reading it probably struck you oddly. It doesn’t sound like a truthful promise. Well, the truth is, these words were spoken by Satan while tempting Jesus! Expect God to speak to you, but expect Him to do so through a right view of the true context of what you are reading.
7. Journal or Share What God Shared with You—One of the greatest ways to process and retain what God is teaching you is to write it down in your own words, and then to somehow share it with others. This can happen over social networking, in conversation, in a note, or in a ministry setting. God doesn’t give you truth to merely absorb and hold in. He gives it to be disseminated—planted like seed in the hearts of others.
Before you put away your Bible or journal, ask this question— “Who can I share this with, and how?” Teach it. Become more than an retainer of truth. Become a transferrer of it! (2 Timothy 2:2)
8. Engage in Other Ways of Hearing God’s Word—Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” Move beyond the reading of God’s word, and take it to another level. Listen to music that teaches you truths of scripture. Read books or blogs that expound and explain scripture. Meditate upon it. Memorize it. Listen to it read out loud. Listen to others teach or preach it. Sing it. Write it out. There are many effective ways to take in God’s word, and each one will help you cultivate your desire for it.
9. Set Times to Binge-Read—This is my favorite point. Several years ago I set aside an entire morning to read the gospels. I chose a quiet, comfortable spot, made some coffee, opened my app, and began with Matthew. On this day, there was no schedule or devotional plan. This was just me, God’s word, and an unscheduled morning. For about five hours, I simply read the life of Jesus through the eyes and experiences of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. This was the first time I had ever done this type of relaxed, un-rushed reading of God’s Word, and it was a lot of fun, and truly transforming.
Binge reading God’s word is a bit like watching an entire season of your favorite TV show—except it’s good for your soul! Rather than reading the God’s narrative one chapter at a time, set aside a longer period of time to read an entire book. Perhaps you’ve never thought of it this way, but most of us think nothing of sitting for two hours through a riveting movie plot, and would almost never watch a full movie in five minute increments over 24 days. When is the last time you sat for two hours reading God’s plot line for all of time and eternity? Seriously, this exercise will give you a very different perspective and understanding of God’s word.
One more illustration. Over the years I’ve read the Bible on a one-year plan many times. I have to be honest with you, getting through Leviticus was always the hardest part. Well, last year I decided to embrace Leviticus. This time I used the “Faith Life Study Bible” app—a free software. And I made a decision to read not just the book of Leviticus, but also every single study note or explanatory note as well—while I worked through the text. Believe it or not, through that reading (which took place in two sittings) Leviticus became one of my favorite books of the Bible.
Do some binge-reading—you might find out it’s addicting. You will definitely find that the Bible makes a lot more sense this way.
10. Give it Ten Years or More—You Will Be a Different Person! Jesus said in John 15:7, “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.” Ten years from now, you will be a different person—one way or another. You are changing whether you want to or not. Will you be healthier spiritually or further from God? Will you be well grounded or easily tossed? Will you be prepared for the unexpected trials, or shaken with every wind and storm? Will you be more spiritually and emotionally mature, or still easily discouraged or angered? Will you still be wrestling with all of the same fleshly areas of weakness, or will some of them have been transformed by the renewing of your mind? Will you be more in love with Jesus and more understanding of the unsearchable depths of the gospel or will you be merely skimming the surface of a two-inch deep biblical understanding?
The answer to all these questions hinges upon whether you consistently cultivate your desire for God’s word. It will change you. No doubt. But for that change to happen, you have to get into it.
The wonderful news is, getting into it can truly be a lot of fun! So go for it… start enjoying God’s word!