6 Ways to Read the Bible Better: Part 2
In my last post I offered 3 ways we might begin to read the Bible Better: Read Relationally, Read Joyfully, and Read Missionally. You notice that I laid the foundation with “heart” issues. If we are not reading for relationship, with joy, and for mission, our reading of the Bible will not be sustained over a long period of time. In this post I add 3 other ways to read the Bible Better, these focusing a bit more on reading practices that build on a right heart orientation: Read Resourcefully, Read Rhythmically, and Read “Praxically.”
4. Read Resourcefully. All of us need resources to help us understand the Bible better, and I joyfully admit that I access such resources every day. Amazing Bible reading and study tools have been produced in recent decades, and they are one very important embodiment of the gift of teaching that God has crafted into his church. Why do we need such tools for Bible reading? Because frustration is deflating. If I keep hitting “I don’t understand this” walls day after day, I simply won’t keep it up, and I will miss aspects of what God wants to say to me through his Word.
Don’t get me wrong. You don’t need a Ph.D. to hear God speak to you in his Word. You can take up the Scriptures and read and understand and enjoy; but to read really well, sooner or later you and I are going to have to have some help, and we are going to have to learn healthy reading “habits of the heart and mind” that will help us read better. Thankfully, we have a wealth of very accessible tools to help us. Which ones are you using on a regular basis?
To begin with, if you don’t have one go out and buy a really good study Bible, like the ESV Study Bible, the new NIV Study Bible, the HCSB Study Bible, or the NLT Study Bible. Each is chock full of notes giving detailed insight into every page of Scripture. I will have much more to say about other great tools and methods for Bible reading and study in the weeks and months to come! But you can start there.
5. Read Rhythmically. John Newton, author of the hymn Amazing Grace, wrote,
I know not a better rule of reading the Scripture, than to read it through from beginning to end and when we have finished it once, to begin it again. We shall meet with many passages which we can make little improvement of, but not so many in the second reading as in the first, and fewer in the third than in the second: provided we pray to him who has the keys to open our understandings, and to anoint our eyes with His spiritual ointment.
One of the spiritual disciplines believers through the ages have found to be foundational for their walk with God, is the practice of daily Bible reading, and research over the past few decades shows unequivocally that such rhythmic reading is the #1 indicator of whether a person is thriving spiritually. In our world of sound bytes, hyperlinks, and Facebook, we need the quiet focus that comes with sustained reading of the Scriptures. The Story of the Bible orients us. The rich beauty and astounding grace of that Story nourishes us, and God’s wisdom embodied in the Story leads us. But we have to make space in our lives to hear God speak, and we need to hear God speak to us more than we need anything!
There are at least two “settings” we need in rhythmic reading, and both are important. First, we need to read broadly, moving through the Story of Scripture every year or two. Such reading can be done in a year, for instance, in about 20 minutes a day for most people, and for plans to use, see the resources page of this website. Broad reading helps us connect the dots of the biblical narrative and the threads of various aspects of biblical theology. We need the big picture to make the smaller parts understandable.
But second, we need to meditate on the details, and there are a couple of ways to do this. You might consider alternating a year-long reading plan with a period of deeper meditation on a smaller portion of Scripture, whether for a month, or a quarter, or a whole year. Or as you are reading through the Bible, getting the big picture, zero in on one key point or verse from each day to meditate on, study more deeply, or apply in a very tangible way. This balance between reading broadly and meditating on the details can give a balanced diet of personal interaction with God’s Word. But whatever approach you take, make space each day to focus on God’s Word in a rhythmic way.
6. Read “Praxically.” Finally, as you are reading Scripture, apply what you are reading and share it with others. “Praxis” is a word that simply means, “move beyond theory and do something!” Martin Luther once wrote, “You may as well quit reading and hearing the Word of God, and give it to the devil, if you do not desire to live according to it.” In short, God spoke the Word into the world to change us, and we should ask ourselves whether we are characterized by adjusting our lives based on what we are hearing God say to us, and do we know the joy of sharing what God is doing in our lives with others? Application can take a number of forms, including worship, changing our thinking on the basis of a teaching in the Bible, or doing some tangible action in response to God’s Word. The Christian life begins to come alive when we see positive change taking place.
In the coming weeks and months we will unpack each of these 6 reading practices in much greater detail, but these principles can help us evaluate where we are in the process at this point in time. Stay tuned!