Wednesday, October 28, 2015

How to Read the Bible

“I can’t understand what I’m reading!” This is a common remark that I hear when a person desires to grow in the Christian faith and he/she has been encouraged to read the Bible. The Bible is not one book, but rather, sixty-six! It is quite important to understand that it is not necessarily a chronological ordering of the books it contains, but rather a collection of works that the Church prayerfully agreed are the inspired words of God. It includes law, history, prophetic messages, poetry, perspectives on the life of Jesus, and even letters.


“Where do I start?” That is a great question! Some would prefer to start at the front, in the book of Genesis, with the creation account. Others just want a simple book to ponder on a spiritual level. A simple book about the life of Jesus is the book of John. Another basic read about some of the basics of Christianity is the book of James, written by one of Jesus’ own brothers. For a raw and heartfelt perspective about life experience, reading the songs and poetry in the book of Psalms (most by Israel’s former king David) would be valuable. For wise principles to conduct your business or relationships in your sphere of influence, you might consult Proverbs, written by King David’s son, Solomon. It’s your choice, but these are a few pointers to help you read to understand.

Understanding the Bible:

1)      Pray for understanding. Ask God to guide you and help you discover truth to apply to the way you live.

2)      Read everything in context. The author had intent and purpose when he wrote the text under the influence of the Holy Spirit. The events happened at a particular time in history. When anyone attempts to make a point by sharing a particular verse with another person or group, the fact needs to line up with the message the author desired to convey. It must harmonize with the message of all the other verses in the 66 books of the Bible. Understanding the author’s background, the time in history that the book references, the main purpose of the book, and the audience to whom the author was writing, all help to make what is written meaningful. In many study Bibles, much of the background information is included.

3)      The Bible wasn’t written or organized chronologically. Please view this basic historical timeline (located at the bottom of this document) to help you understand the historical period related to each book in the Old and New Testaments.

4)      Use helps. Maps, commentaries, and even Google can be helpful in investigating content in the Bible. Caution -- as with any research project, be aware that all sources of information aren’t reliable.

5)      Ask yourself questions as you read the text. “Is there a command for me to obey? Is there a promise for me that relates to my situation? How will I live differently now that I’ve read this? What truth may I apply to my life today? Is there a word/phrase that is being repeated or a message that is being reiterated?”

I hope these suggestions will make your reading a valuable experience and that your understanding will grow. As the Holy Spirit teaches you, you will grow in your spiritual walk as you learn to assimilate the Scripture into your daily life. It’s a discipline that has amazing results.

“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.” Joshua 1:8

Time alone with God -- it’s essential…

I am amazed at how many people who claim to be “Jesus-followers” overlook the necessity each day of spending focused time centered on their relationship with God. Even Jesus, God in the flesh, made it a priority. In my own life, I struggle to keep a balance like anyone else, and when life pitches out of balance, centered devotional time with the Lord may suffer.
Here are a few pointers to make your time with the Lord effective:

Place- Have a place where you can be alone for this important time each day. The New Testament referred to a prayer closet.  So be creative, but make sure it is a location that helps you focus on the attributes of our great God.  When you were in pre-school, I’d make sure I was in a room where you weren’t playing, asking me questions, or wanting me to see you. The best places are void of distractions.

Posture- Your posture makes a difference in the act of meditating. Walking while you pray may aid your concentration more than reclining in an easy chair. Prostration or kneeling can express your humility before God almighty.  Choose what you sense points your heart and personhood toward full surrender to Jesus.

Period- A chosen time in each day helps with continuity and prioritization. If a devotional time is important to you, it will be in your schedule. If I don’t set a time each day during the week, it is amazing how other activities make it to the top of “to do” list. 

Plan- It’s nice to have a plan when you embark on a meaningful, scheduled time. Whether you read through the Bible in a year, concentrate on a few chapters or verses, or follow a study written by a Christian author, it should be a blueprint to grow in knowledge of God and how you relate to Him. Essential in making it meaningful is a way to record your insights for future reference and review. I’ve used a journal for years, just to write down insights, prayer requests, and strong impressions from the Lord through His word. 

Provisions- The supplies you need are up to you. I prefer a study Bible with a journal and pen. You may have a Bible downloaded on an electronic device. Some like meditational music in the background or have books of historical hymns or prayers from Christian history. As you endeavor to make this period effectual and meaningful, your list of materials will change to meet your needs.

Presence- When you enter into your time, you need to be fully present. Turn off the distractions and focus. And remember -- the Omnipresent One is with you. I think faith in Jesus allows for the verses from Scripture and impressions on your spirit to connect with your life and its circumstances so that you and your perspective are transformed. You will be better prepared to meet the day as you believe that you’ve met with the Lord.
Adequately expressing the kind of joy or comfort of a word from God to the heart of my soul is beyond me. When you are sure that, “God must have meant that, just for me…,” when you are spending time focused on Him, there are few inspirations in life that surpass it. Make your time with God a discipline. It will pay off in dividends.

"Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” (Mark 1:35)

"But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed." (Luke 5:16)

“God’s acquaintance is not made hurriedly. He does not bestow His gifts on the casual or hasty comer and goer. To be much alone with God is the secret of knowing Him and of influence with Him.” E. M. Bounds