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This is the two-hundred-twenty-first lesson in author and pastor Mel Lawrenz’ How to Live the Bible series. If you know someone or a group who would like to follow along on this journey through Scripture, they can get more info and sign up to receive these essays via email here.
I shudder to think how close I came to giving up on the Bible. Like many people, I tried for years to read Scripture in ways that were doomed to fail. My way of reading made the Bible hard to understand, and it made me think this book was perhaps too inscrutable or too out of date for me to pay attention to it.
Yes, it was convenient when other people picked out the good bits and made juicy quotes just perfect for a bumper sticker:
- “The LORD is my shepherd” (Ps. 23:1)
- “Do not worry about tomorrow” (Matt. 6:34)
- “Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps. 37:4).
And then there is, “God helps those who help themselves.” Oops! That’s not actually in the Bible. But like many biblically illiterate people, I thought it was.
This was dangerous. I was missing the word of God. Worst, I was misinterpreting the word of God because when we quote a verse out of context, we usually twist its true meaning and use it to reinforce our preconceptions. The solution is to read Scripture on its own terms. To read it widely and repeatedly. To accept the fact that these are ancient documents written in a time and place far removed, and so it takes patience and work to understand. But as any gold miner knows, it’s worth as much time and effort as it takes to get gold out of the mine.
[Read the Bible Gateway Blog post, The Bible Table of Contents]
What is the most natural way to read the Bible?
1. We need to learn the context of the particular biblical book we’re reading. We read Jeremiah differently than we read Ephesians or Revelation. These are all the word of God, but given to us through the words of three very different men in different circumstances. If you have a good study Bible, all you need to do is carefully read the introduction at the start of the book, where the biblical scholars will outline the author, circumstances, and content. Look up the biblical book in a Bible dictionary or encyclopedia, and you’ll get much more information—and more yet if you read the introduction in a commentary.
[See previous – The Many Voices of the Bible]
2. Read the Bible translation that you can understand and that motivates you to keep reading. Remember, the best translation for you is the one you’ll actually read. There have been times in my life when reading a thought-by-thought translation was the best thing to do (see What About Bible Translations?), and other times reading a word-for-word translation. It’s best to settle into one version you’ll typically read and reread.
3. Read at a reasonable pace and try to ignore the chapter and verse numbers. We would all understand the Bible much better if we read it freely and naturally, rather than like a step-by-step instruction manual. When you get a letter from a friend or relative, you just sit down and read it through because that’s the best way to understand his or her message. No one watches movies in 5-minute installments, and no one would say that after viewing still photos of a movie, you have seen that movie. Yet reading a “verse of the day” is very popular. If you take 20 minutes instead of 5 to read a biblical book, you’ll get through Romans in three sittings, Genesis in about six sittings, and many biblical books, like the epistles, in single sittings. Reading for comprehension is all about synthesis—connecting all the small ideas with the large controlling ideas. The payoff is enormous.
[Read the Bible Gateway Blog post, How Long Does It Really Take to Read the Bible?]
4. Follow a reading plan. No one wants to open the Bible randomly each day and read what’s there. There are many excellent reading plans that organize a comprehensive reading of Scripture. Some go from Genesis to Revelation, but many help the reader by moving about the Bible, going back and forth in the Old and New Testaments, for instance. Many offer a way to read the whole Bible in a year. This is not too difficult. It takes only 15 minutes a day.
However, this is the key: Don’t get bogged down when you’re doing that 15 minutes of reading and you’re having a hard time understanding it. This is why most people give up. Just keep reading. Read if you understand and read if you’re in a passage you do not understand. If you’re reading the word of God as a lifestyle, you’ll come back to that passage again and again. It may be that you’ll understand it the fourth time you read it, or you’ll understand it when you get to the end of the book. If you have doubts you’ll be able to be committed to reading 15 minutes a day, then choose a two-year reading plan, which takes just seven minutes a day.
[Read the Bible Gateway Blog post, Explore the Many Ways Bible Gateway Helps You Study the Bible]
Look at it this way: God is there for you for your whole life. On good days and bad days. And the word of God is there for you for your whole life. Just read. Just read. Just read.
[See previous – Finding Good Answers]
[If you believe this series will be helpful, this is the perfect time to forward this to a friend, a group, or a congregation, and tell them they too may sign up for the weekly emails here]
Mel Lawrenz (@MelLawrenz) trains an international network of Christian leaders, ministry pioneers, and thought-leaders. He served as senior pastor of Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin, for ten years and now serves as Elmbrook’s teaching pastor. He has a PhD in the history of Christian thought and is on the adjunct faculty of Trinity International University. Mel’s many books include Spiritual Leadership Today: Having Deep Influence in Every Walk of Life (Zondervan, 2016). See more of Mel’s writing at WordWay.
The post How to Live the Bible — Reading Scripture Naturally appeared first on Bible Gateway Blog.
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