Learn to Read Your Bible and Enjoy It
I have not always loved reading the Bible, but that was not entirely my fault. Growing up in the church, I learned a lot of things about my Bible, rules about how long I should read it, how often I should read it and that questioning it was WRONG, wrong in every way. This ruined the way I read the Bible until recently. I am about to say something that sounds crazy, but it is true, listen carefully: The Bible is an epic story. It is a book that is made up of a collection of stories, poetry, and letters that tells one unified story and you should read it like you read all the other books. Reading is one of the great loves of my life and I had allowed myself to be cut off from all the tools I use to read well and deeply. When it came to the Bible I turned all those tools off especially the questioning the author as I read because God wrote this book and you just don’t question it. My Bible reading was little more than a chore. Sure, I loved some passages or themes, but they were all in isolation from the bigger narrative. I read it because I felt like I had to. I felt the guilt of every sermon that started like this: “What if we read the Bible with the same enthusiasm we . . . read novels, go to movies, watch tv, participate in sports, fill in the blank.” The list can go on and on, but it did not help me love reading scripture. It only made my burden heavier. If you are struggling to read your Bible let me tell you three things that made a difference for me. I changed what I was reading, how long I was reading, and why I was reading the Bible and it has made all the difference in my growth as one who belongs to God.
What to read: a new translation
I started this journey with a different translation of the Bible, so the words were fresh, new and modern to me. I chose The New Living Translation (“NLT”) because I don’t have to stop and puzzle over the vocabulary or the word order. The study Bible I chose is also full of maps and notes and pictures that help me trace the context of the original ancient reader. In addition to changing to a new translation that I like, I also got a NLT Chronological Bible, that is, the Bible is organized by the history of time rather than by book or genre. This is an essential feature for me because it allows the Bible to be read like a book by taking all the pieces apart and putting them back together sothat I follow the story from the beginning of the world and the people of God historically. The story makes so much more sense to me when I read it like one story, instead of snippets of stories in isolation. It reads like a book with a beginning, a middle and an end. It is easier to pick up patterns and notice details and connections that are often lost in isolation.
How to read your Bible: allow the story to unfold with time as you just turn the page
I also had to give myself the freedom to read as much or as little as I could that day, whenever and where ever I could. For so many years, well-meaning people who love God had looked at me solemnly and told me that it is so important to read the Bible through every year. Sadly, I started to think I should do that while my house was full of little children and the job of mothering was at the peak of difficulty. So, for several years I started each January by getting up an hour early to make sure I could get in a full hour, finding one single solitary place to read, never missing a single day. Never. Ever. Trust me, there was nothing holy about reading words on a page in the dark morning hours fighting to stay awake and dreading the exhaustion of the afternoon. It was a burden I could not lift for long. By the time February came, I always found myself exhausted, confused, unmotivated and guilty for wanting to read something else or staying in bed so that I did not have to face the guilt of my quiet time. I finally and gradually released that burden. The freedom to get carried away in a story came to me as I read the Bible chronologically. I started to see the story take shape and with everything rearranged I was fascinated to find out who lived when and reigned where at the same time as this other guy. Instead of reading for an hour, I just read the story that is in front of me that day and sometimes I could not help myself, I had to read more. I gave myself the easy guideline that if I was in a hurry and could not linger, I would just read the two-page spread in front of me and stop at the heading when I turned the page. My new mantra became, just turn the page. That gave me an easy and digestible passage. I could take that much of the story with me through the day and think about it.
Why read your Bible: to understand
By changing what I was reading and how I was reading, I started to figure out why I was reading. Instead of just words on a page, I started to see things I had never seen before in the text. Because it was in chronological order I could not avoid the narrative. Nor could I turn off the reader’s brain I had been developing with all the other reading I had been doing. I stopped over a word choice of the author like I do when I read poetry, to look up that word, that place, that person. I started thinking about the men who wrote these words so long ago and though we were separated by thousands of years, geography and culture, they were saying something true and I wanted to understand it. My new goal was reading to understand what is true about God, about His people, about this world? It is actually the same question I ask of every book I read: what is true here? I am no longer afraid to ask the questions for fear of being wrong. Now I read and ask lots of questions of the text and of God and trust that the Holy Spirit will guide me.
It is no longer a surprise to me that Micah 6:8 does not include reading the Bible and praying hard as what God requires of a people he calls his own.
Here are some resources that will free you to read the Bible:
I love this podcast, The Mortification of Spin, because they take the issues they are discussing seriously while not taking themselves too seriously. Their witty banter never fails to entertain. They treat their listeners like adults as they discuss and I often find myself confronted with facts or an historical figure I have never heard of before. I am free as you are to agree and disagree with any number of things they discuss in their episodes. This one, called Devo Nouveau, really put words to what I had been feeling about having daily devotions and make me more free to enjoy my Bible.
The next thing I want to do is introduce you to Dr. Michael Heiser. I hope he is not new to you. I am currently reading Unseen Realm right now and it is completely changing how I think about the context of the Old Testament. His podcast, The Naked Bible Podcast is so good, so fresh! He thinks that we have been too protected from our Bibles. He does not skip over the hard things, he says the weird things in the Bible are important and then explains them like you have never heard before. Here is where I recommend you start because the amount of material this scholar has produced is pretty vast.
And the list could go on and on, but I will just get you started here and let you decide if you are willing to fall down this rabbit hole with me.
Let’s go and read the Bible like we love it