It’s no good having a Bible and not reading it. God designed the Bible to help us in every aspect of our lives. Having said that, it is a difficult book to read. People have lots of questions when reading the Bible, and many of us get discouraged and run out of steam after a month or two. I would like to share with you seven suggestions on how to make reading the Bible more effective.
1. Choose a Bible that works for you
The Bible was originally written in Greek, Hebrew, and a little bit of Aramaic. One would think that there would be only one English version of the Bible, but we are quite privileged because there are a number of different versions of the Bible available. Over the last 200 – 400 years, multiple teams of scholars have approached the Bible using the original text and translated it – but not all translations are the same.
There are also a number of Bible apps and online versions of the Bible – and I think all of those are great – but in my opinion, there is no substitute for using a hard copy of the Bible… you become familiar with the pages, the geography, where the different books of the Bible are and how it all works together.
2. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you understand the words
The Bible is God-breathed – the Holy Spirit gave the authors of the Bible the words to write. It is like a map for life that God has given us. In John 16:13 we read: “When He, the spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth.” The Holy Spirit is present with us when we read the Bible and it’s a good practice to pause before reading and pray this prayer: “Holy Spirit, please help me understand these words, please speak to me through your words today.” That prayer quietens us and reminds us that the Holy Spirit is right there with us, helping us to understand the words we are reading.
3. Find a reading method that works for you
It’s a great idea to have a plan to read the Bible systematically. The Bible is a library of 66 books which have been put together, but it’s not that easy to read from the front to the back (as you would a novel) because some of the books – Leviticus for example – are quite difficult to understand.
There are many Bible reading methods but I would like to suggest three that have worked well for me:
• The first is what I call “the three bookmarks method”. I take three bookmarks and I put one bookmark at the start of the Bible, at Genesis 1, another at Psalm 1, and the third bookmark at Matthew 1. This more or less splits the Bible into three equal portions, and then I read a little on each bookmark daily. When a bookmark reaches the end of it’s section, I loop it back to the beginning and start again.
• A second method is to use a plan that has a set number of chapters each day. For example, a Bible reading plan that goes through the Bible in one or two years. For people that are very disciplined, this is a great method. The chapters for each day are listed and you know that by following the plan you’re going to get through the entire Bible in one or two years.
• A third method is to use a Bible reading record which lists all the chapters of the Bible and as you read, you mark off the chapters as you complete them.
It’s not the method that counts, but the fact that we have a systematic approach to reading the Bible. If a method is not working for you, look around for another way of reading the Bible. Over a lifetime we will be reading the Bible multiple times – even if it takes 2 or 3 years the first time. There will be a massive impact on our relationship with God by doing this.
4. Make notes while reading the Bible
A United States Air Force study showed that the average person forgets 90 – 95% of everything we hear unless we write it down. So if we are just reading the Bible, we take some things in, but if we make notes, it helps us to engage with the Bible a whole lot better. Some suggestions of what we could write down are key verses, thoughts, questions and prayers.
5. Prioritise Sunday services and small group meetings
We were designed to understand the Bible in community. Just like when a child is born he/she is not designed to be fed through a tube – a child’s growth actually depends on a connection with other human beings, whoever they may be. In the same way, our spiritual development happens in a church family.
In the book of Acts, chapter 2, is a beautiful description of the early church: “They devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching and to fellowship”. The Apostles’ teaching was teaching the word of Jesus – teaching from the Bible. Fellowship is connecting with other Christ- followers. To be able to discuss Bible verses or concepts with other people really helps growth much more than just doing it on your own.
6. Memorise special Bible verses
Psalm 119 says, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I may not sin against you.” I love that idea! Finding Bible verses and hiding them in my heart speaks to remembering them. If there are verses that are special to you, some ways of memorising them could be to write down the verse and stick it up where you’ll see it every day. If you have a cell phone, use a wallpaper image with that verse. The more you see it and read it, it gets inside your mind and inside your heart.
7. Undertake occasional special study projects
There might be occasions where you have a little more time or space to pick up a special study project related to the Bible. For example, you might pick up a topic study e.g. patience, and search for every verse in the Bible that lists the word patience – write them down and make that a study. Another idea is to do a book study. Pick a book of the Bible and make it the theme of your study for a while e.g. the book of Ruth is a beautiful story of love, commitment and faith. A third idea is to do a character study. The Bible is full of stories – it tells of other people’s stories to help us in our stories. You might come across a character in the Bible and you may like to find out everything the Bible says about that person. As you dive into the character of the person, Peter, for example – he spoke too quickly, often before he thought – you think “there is hope for me, I very often speak before I think.”
These seven suggestions that I have shared are not seven rules for Bible reading, but hopefully, seven tools to help us engage with the Bible more effectively.