What's the Best Way to Read the Bible?
A reader---a new Christian---wrote to ask what the "best" way for her to read the Bible might be. It's a good question.
My answer would be that the very best way to read the Bible is in coordination with the Holy Spirit. For that reason it’s a great idea to get into the habit of praying before you open the Bible to begin reading, of asking God to open your mind and heart to the full impact of his words.
Quickening the Holy Sprit before you begin to read the Bible is more than a spiritual formality. It’s essential to fully appreciating Scripture. Since the Bible was written by God through man, it only makes sense that it’s best read by man through God. Some say that it’s not even possible for a non-Christian to read or comprehend the Bible for any length of time all, that invariably a non-Christian who tries on his own to swim through the sometimes murky, always deep waters of the Bible will give up, finding the text too dense or abstruse to get through.
There’s real truth to that. The Holy Spirit is almost like a decoder that works to make the Bible clear to the believing reader. So before you start, say a little prayer to God. Ask him to join with you as you read.
Another piece of advice I would give is to read the Bible every day. Do what you can to read it first thing in the morning, and last thing before you go to bed. Opening and closing each of your days by spending quality time with God will improve your life in ways that you can’t begin to imagine if you’ve yet to make reading the Bible twice a day part of your life. Trust me on this: Your life will go from black and white to color. Pretty soon, you’ll be just dazzled by life. It’s that dramatic a change. Try it, and see for yourself.
As for what to actually read in the Bible, get a plan. At least one of those shelves in the “Christianity” section of the bookstore will offer any number of books suggesting daily reading plans for the Bible. Peruse the “Read the Bible in a Year” type books. See what they have to offer, what kind of reading plans each suggests. Ask your pastor and friends what Bible reading plan they use.
If you really want to take your Bible reading seriously, the best thing you can do is to join a Bible study group at your church. Doing so will not only provide you a solid Bible reading plan, it will pretty much ensure that you actually do the reading involved with that plan, since it’s a rare person who is comfortable being the only one at a Bible study group meeting who didn’t do the reading the group has come together that week discuss.
That’s not why you will inevitably have finished the week’s reading, though. You’ll have done the reading for the same reason that people in Bible study groups always do the reading for the week: because life affords few pleasures as rich as sitting around with fellow believers who are openly and honestly discussing their thoughts and feelings about the same passage of Scripture. It’s just an astoundingly thing. People you may or may not care to hang out with in regular life become precious to you in a Bible study group. Before God all people who are studying his word become, if only for that little while, angels. Bible study groups produce in the air this presence of sublime peace, this palpable divinity that you really must not fail to experience.
It’s almost like concentrated, super-personable church, in a (very real) way.
So, yeah, you’ll do each week’s reading. And you will find that you, just like everyone else in your group, will fairly crave the personal insights, experiences, questions, and revelations that your fellow study group members will share about each week’s reading.
You know how in intimate, friendly group settings you tend to want to be the one talking? How fun it is, to be the one to whom everyone else is paying attention? That most basic of human characteristics changes in a Bible study group.
There, you’ll find, nothing beats listening.