The Bible is a weird book.
A weird, ancient, written-in-foreign-languages-but-translated-into-our-own kind of book. A book of different books (66 to be exact). A book of different genres (history, law, poetry, letters, etc.). A book with familiar and unfamiliar names (James and John–easy, Mephibosheth–Mefibawhhaat). A simple book and a difficult book.
And it’s not always easy to know how to read the Bible. Maybe you didn’t grow up in church, so it’s hard to know where to begin. Or maybe you grew up in church, but you never really learned how to read the Bible for yourself. You have a Bible (maybe, somewhere) and sometimes bring it with you to worship, but don’t really do much with it during the week because it’s big, scary, and weird.
If you want to read your Bible, or get more out of your reading, this is for you.
1. Find a Good Translation
Because the Bible is a collection of 66 books written over thousands of years, the original texts were a mix of languages: Hebrew for the Old Testament, Greek for the New Testament, and a little Aramaic in between. But you don’t need to learn the original languages before you start reading! You just need to find a good translation. Not all translations are the same, but today we have a number of reliable English translations, which means they’re really close to the original wording/ideas, and an ever-growing number of translations in other languages, too. I read and study the ESV (English Standard Version). But I’ve also used an NASB, NIV, and NKJV throughout the years.
Go to a book store and pull a copy of the ones I just listed, pick a passage, and see which one you like (which one you’ll want to read).
2. Write as You Read
Write in your Bible. Write alllll up in your Bible! Highlight, underline, circle, star, heart–react as you read. If you make a mistake, spell something wrong in the margins, or accidentally cut off a word when you’re underlining (been there), don’t stress. God will not smite you for trying to understand His Word. Engaging the words you read will help you notice and remember more; remembering throughout the day/week is a way to meditate on God’s Word so that God’s thoughts become your thoughts and God’s ways become your ways. When you read your Bible, you’re sitting with God: spending time with Him, getting to know Him, figuring out what He’s like, what He wants, what He loves, what He hates, what He’s doing in the world, and how you fit in to His plans. Linger there with God. Writing in your Bible will force you to read the words slower, more intentionally. It’ll keep you from skimming to ‘hurry up and get done’.
And as you write in your Bible, write your Bible out–write Bible verses on notecards or post-its and memorize them. Start with a few verses a week. Yeah, it’s hard. At first, you’ll have to work at it. We’re not a memorizing kind of culture. We have access to info 24/7, and we can always Google what we don’t know if someone asks. But memorizing Scripture isn’t really about you reciting information. It’s about the Word of God getting deep into your heart and mind. Lingering with God a little more. As you memorize, there will be verses you didn’t really notice before that come alive in a way you didn’t expect. You’ll move beyond reading to knowing the Word of God. And that’s a good place to be.
3. Read Often
Every day if you can. (And you can.) It’ll feel weird at first. Lots of names you don’t know. Lots of places you can’t find on a map without help. You’ll probably have to use the Table of Contents. But just start somewhere. You don’t have to read your Bible for three hours (though as you grow in your faith, there will be days you want to…days you need to). Start with 15 or 30 minutes. Wake up a little earlier. Use your lunch break for something different.
I’m currently reading through the Bible using the F260 Reading plan (that also has verses to memorize each week!). A reading plan is great way to give you structure and help you read books/passages you might not have thought about before.
4. Listen After You Read
When the original texts of Scripture were written, most people learned through hearing. Paper as we know it today didn’t exist or was too expensive for most. So they listened. People would gather together and listen as someone read them the Word of God–in deserts, in synagogues, in homes, and even in the streets! We’re not very good listeners today. Not because we’re awful people, but because we’re so accustomed to reading/writing and learning. We’re not always adept at listening and learning. But most texts of the Old and New Testaments were read out loud. After you read a passage and mark it up, pull up a bible app and listen to the passage. (I use YouVersion.) You’ll often notice things you didn’t notice as you were reading. This takes practice (especially if you’re not use to listening to audiobooks or podcasts), but it’ll change how you relate to the Word of God. God’s Word will come alive! Listen while you do dishes or fold laundry. Listen in the car. Listen as you fall asleep at night.
5. Take Your Bible with You
We call Sunday “the Lord’s Day” because the ancient church, made up of mostly Jewish converts, wanted to make a distinction between the Sabbath, recognized on Saturday as a day of rest, and this entirely new day of celebrating and worshipping Jesus. When we meet together on Sunday, it isn’t primarily to ‘get something’ from God (like encouragement) or even to learn something about God. It is primarily to worship God together. To celebrate who God is and what He’s done through Christ in the world and amongst ourselves. We gather together because God commanded us to do so. Sundays are not days of rest anymore, but days of worship. And as you read your Bible you’ll see that the primary act of worship on the Lord’s Day isn’t singing songs or drinking coffee together or even gathering in small groups; it’s the public proclamation of the Word of God, the Bible, by the act of preaching—a pastor standing before the people of God as God’s representative to proclaim what God has already said. A good pastor will do so by walking through Scripture verse-by-verse. He’ll reference plenty of other verses as he preaches. He’ll ask you to look at specific words, phrases, verb tenses even. He’ll explain the historical background and the literary nuances. He’ll stand before God’s people, a weighty act, and stay as close as humanly possible to what Scripture says. To follow along, to worship as you participate in the proclamation of the Word of God, bring your Bible. And bring your Bible to Sunday School/small group/Bible study. Every good preacher and teacher will encourage you in this.
Try not to use an app in worship. You’ll probably get distracted (by texts or sports updates or Poshmark offers). Go old school and bring your hard copy Bible–thick build, crinkly pages and all! It might feel awkward trying to find different books at first, but that’s ok. (We do things that feel awkward all the time.) And you might have to use the Table of Contents for a while, but you won’t for long.
Show up ready to hear what God has to say.
Something happens when God’s people gather together to worship Him and hear from Him, in purity and truth–something that can’t happen when you only read your Bible alone.
Something that’s made much sweeter and more holy when you’ve been reading your Bible all week.