In over forty years of pastoral ministry, one of the questions I hear most often is a question that perhaps you have asked at times as well. It is a simple question, and it is one of those that in some ways has a simple answer. Simply put, the question, even though it is phrased in many different ways is, “How do you read the Bible?”
In my experience, most people who ask this question or one like it have attempted to read the Bible but have found it confusing at best, boring at worst. After a couple of attempts, they then determined reading the Bible or understanding is a task for the professionals, seminary-trained pastors and priests, and close the book never to open it for themselves again.
I want to emphasize to you and for you that the Bible is God’s tool to help you and me in the process of developing a closer walk with Christ. God wants our study of the Scripture to result in lasting spiritual change in our lives as followers of Jesus Christ. This is the goal we all should have when we read scripture—we don’t read it just for information; we read it to experience transformation. It’s not about accumulating knowledge; it’s about generating lasting change.
I recently read a book that I thoroughly enjoyed called “Read All About It: The Greatest Moments in the History of Ohio State Football.” I enjoyed the stories of legendary coaches and players, and all the events that contributed to this great football tradition. I learned a great deal about their history; I can now discuss it at length. I also developed some pretty strong opinions about which coaches were best, which games were most exciting, and which were the defining moments in Buckeye history. The book was entertaining and informative, but it wasn’t life changing. When I finished the book, I had more knowledge, but I didn’t have more character. I was still the same person that I was before.
Unfortunately, this is how some read the Bible. They’re looking for information. To them, it’s just history. It’s all about the Jebusites and the Malachites and which ruler followed which ruler and how close is the Sea of Galilee to the city of Jerusalem and on and on. Or they’re looking for something to argue about. They want to be able to support a certain doctrinal position or a certain view of the end times. Their focus is not, “What is God saying to me?” but “How can I use my Bible knowledge to prove you wrong?”
Of course, knowledge of Bible history is good. It’s not only interesting, but it helps us to understand what is happening in the world today. Knowing doctrine is good, too—it prevents us from being led astray by false teaching. But the Word of God has a greater purpose in our lives. God didn’t give us the Bible just so we would know about the Jebusites, or just so we could out-debate those who disagree with us. He gave us the Bible so that we might know him, so that we might know his son, so that we might become Christ-like. The purpose of the Bible is not information, its transformation. Reading the Bible works to bring about that transformation. Pastor John MacArthur said, “I have found that my spiritual growth is directly proportionate to the amount of time and effort I put into the study of Scripture.” The same is true in my life. Is it true of yours?
The question most often asked is, “You tell me to read and study the Bible each day, but how do I do that?” I am so glad you asked!
I would like to suggest a simple process for you and I to follow to help us read and study the Word of God so we indeed can “live by the Word” on a daily basis.
First, simply pray: “Open my eyes that I may see.” In doing this, you are inviting God to reveal himself to you as you read His Word. Prayer opens your heart to him, and allows him to show you the eternal wisdom from his Word.
Second, read the Word. All too often we make judgments about God and his word when we have not read it. Take the time to read the Bible slowly, reverentially. It may be a chapter, a paragraph, or a single verse or two. But read it, allowing God to speak to you through it.
Third, meditate on what you have read. That means to think about the words you have just read. What is the passage saying? What does it mean? How does it work for you? This is the time where you may want to write down some of your observations and thoughts. You may want to conclude your notes for the day by completing the sentence, “Today, I need to…”
Fourth, and finally, pray. Actually, this is a practice you should consistently be observing throughout your time in the Word – well, yes, even throughout your day! May I suggest you begin by trying this process on a psalm or two or a verse or two in Proverbs?
We read in Joshua 1:8 that we should “keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” We all want to be prosperous and successful, don’t we? The key to achieving that is to actively, passionately, read and study God’s Word!
Chuck Tabor is a regular columnist and a former pastor in the area. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.