How to: read the Bible well
The more a Christian plumbs the depths of Scripture, the more he may live for Christ because spending time in God’s word is spending time with God. While we live in an era of incredible access to the Bible, we do not always see the desired fruit in our own lives from our Bible reading. How can we change that?
These six fundamental Bible reading habits may help us better apply God’s word to our lives.
- Read prayerfully.
- Read large portions of the Bible at a time.
- Read seeking the author’s message of the whole book.
- Read seeking how each book fits into the whole Bible.
- Read consistently day after day.
- Read in Christian community week after week.
Good Bible reading begins with prayer because it is through prayer that God brings His will upon earth and on our own hearts. In prayer, we seek for God to illumine the biblical text so that we may both hear and heed what we read. The same Spirit who inspired the biblical book’s writing also teaches us and changes us through the collision of God’s word and Spirit in our hearts as we read. Prayer softens the soil of our hearts for this very purpose.
Read Large Portions of the Bible at a Time
The details of a biblical book must be understood through the prism of its big picture by devoting large amounts of time to the very act of reading. There are no shortcuts. It takes time. When we dedicate time to reading in this way, the Bible’s patterns become more obvious and relevant. It helps us soak in the narrative world of the Bible so that its viewpoint can shape our own perspective of what we read and how to live.
Read Seeking the Author’s Message of the Whole Book.
As we read in large sections of the Bible, we end up focusing on whole books. We witness how a biblical book’s beginning, middle, and ending work together to teach, guide, rebuke, inform, and encourage. Every beginning draws us into the book’s world, and every ending answers or echoes this beginning in some manner. Within his book, the author not only tells us what happened but what it means. The ending becomes, therefore, the author’s final word that highlights what he has been saying throughout the whole book: his message. Good Bible reading requires us to seek the author’s message and prioritize it over our own.
Read Seeking How Each Book Fits into the Whole Bible
The Bible is one book made up of many smaller books. Together and individually, biblical books draw readers into God’s grand story with man of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration. Good Bible reading tasks us to recognize where a biblical book fits in this larger story and how it develops its specific story as part of these larger movements. Each book echoes the past, reflects these same truths in the present, and promises both future conflict and God’s final triumph with His people through Christ. Biblical books bring meaning to the reader’s past, present, and future by drawing out the language of other biblical books and calling us to recognize these patterns across the canon and in our own lives because the Bible requires us to see our lives as part of its story.
Read Consistently Day after Day
Good Bible reading calls us to read for the sake of spending time with God Himself whether we feel like it or want to do it. Jesus is our Lord, not our emotions. We keep reading because God is all the reward we need to keep reading. It gives us more of Him. The daily liturgy of returning to spending time with God in His word declares genuine affection for Christ. Such steadfast consistency in returning to God and His word over time yields God’s wisdom and character into every part of our lives.
Read in Christian Community Week after Week
Our private Bible reading is a part of a larger approach to reading and obeying God’s word. We must (and I mean must)read within a community of committed believers who are also trying to walk with God: a healthy local church. God shapes His people within a local church to do His will together. Because our lives with Jesus are group projects, our Bible reading must also develop into a group project. To be with His people in God’s word is to be with Him, especially as we pray, read, and obey God’s word together as one people on one mission. Such Bible reading not only changes us but also the world, one heart at a time.
Dr. Peter Link is a professor of Christian studies.