Far too few of us are willing to pick up the pickaxe of sound exegesis to labor and uncover the treasure of truth in the Scriptures that awaits us. As Christians, we are people of the book, birthed and formed by the word of truth (John 1:18). Though we live in one of the most literate countries in the history of the world with easy access to God’s word, far too few are giving the Bible a cursory reading let alone searching the Scriptures with the sort of intensity God desires for us. We tend to reduce Bible reading to just another task on a to-do list. This “get-it-done” mentality appeals to our pragmatism and mirrors the shallowness that typifies our culture, but a superficial reading of the Bible robs us of the slow and meditative reflection through which the Spirit forms us by his word.Read More
God is a revealing God. He does not conceal himself, hiding away like the Wizard of Oz behind a curtain. God loves to show himself. David, in Psalm 19 is going to celebrate God’s revelation of himself both through the creation and through his word. God reveals himself generally through the cosmos, and specifically through the Scriptures. God’s gracious act of communicating himself to us is undeserved, but it is absolutely wonderful. If it wasn’t for God communicating himself to us, we would not know him. God reveals himself to us so that we might respond to his glory in worship.
v 1-6 - God has revealed himself in the cosmos. “The Heavens declare the glory of God.” Theologians call this aspect of God’s revelatory work general revelation. General revelation means that God has revealed himself to all people simply by creating the universe. We can see aspects of his attributes and character simply by observing creation. We can observe his grandness as we look at the immense size of galaxies or we can perceive his order and rule as he establishes the laws of physics. We can identify his creativity by looking at the his imagination at work in the many different organisms that populate our planet. We can comprehend his beauty by standing on a mountain watching the parting clouds over the red and orange tapestry of the sunset. The heavens are declaring the glory of God!
David tells us that each day is a mini sermon. The world itself is pouring out revelation. “Day to day pours out speech and night to night reveals knowledge.” The universe each day in rhythm continues its unceasing praise to God simply by its continual existence. The world is communicating something to us. The universe is pointing us to its creator, God himself. David says that speech doesn’t exist if the voice isn’t heard, but the voice of the cosmos of God’s glory is spread throughout the ends of the earth.
The voice of God’s general revelation goes out like the rising of the sun. The sun comes out each day like a bridegroom leaving his chamber. The sun runs its course across the sky with joy. It rises from one end of the sky and sets as the other. The light of the sun covers the earth and there is nothing hidden from its heat.
Everyone can hear the voice of creation testifying to its creator. Though many choose to ignore this message or drown it out, the message is hitting our ears if only we would listen to it. This complex, gargantuan, and beautiful cosmos sings like a choir in one unified message, “Glory to God!”
God speaks this message to every human being. We have all heard, yet we all reject God. Though God reveals himself generally to all, general revelation only condemns us. Though many people have yet to hear about Jesus and the Gospel, we are all witnesses to the general revelation of God and we have rejected him as God and have worshiped created things rather than the creator (Rom 1:25). Yet, even though our sin blinds us, the heavens speak, declaring the glory of God.
v. 7-11 - God not only reveals himself through creation, but God also speaks to us with words. Theologians call this special or specific revelation. The Bible, God’s written word is special revelation, and David begins to celebrate God’s revelatory work as he considers God’s word.
Verse 7-9 are a series of parallel statements describing and celebrating God’s word. The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul. Yes, how the word of God brings life to our soul! Though we are downcast, numb, and lifeless, God’s word comes in power restoring and reviving. The word of God brings life to those dry bones, so too does it revive those dead in sin and brings life.
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The word of God is a sure foundation. It is stable and firm. It is not filled with lofty and confusing worldly wisdom, but rather is simple and straight forward. It is a message that is clear to all people.
The precepts are the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart. God’s words brings joy to our hearts, because they are right and true. We delight in the truth, so we delight in God’s revealed words. They are precious to us and we long to read them and know them. They are our joy because through his right precepts we are able to know and love God.
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. Scripture is pure and righteous. As we read it we see who we truly are. Our eyes are opened to see our own brokenness and sin as we gaze at the righteousness of God.
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever. Yes, the word of God is clean. It is without error and without corruption. It is infallible and inerrant. As a result the word of God is fixed, enduring for ever. It never changes, because God never changes. As Jesus says, not one iota will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. (Mt 5:18)
The rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. God’s word is true and righteous. It is the good word and the right word. It is the objective standard of what is right and wrong, what is good and what is holy, and what is righteous and what is sinful.
What response to we have to this wonderful self-revelation of God called the Scriptures? Well as David tells us in v. 10, we desire it. We long to know it and to read it. These Scriptures are more to be desired than gold. The word of God is sweeter than honey. We delight and desire for more of God’s revelation. We long for more of his word. We would gladly trade all the treasures and jewels and money in the world in order to own a Bible.
If only we would desire God’s word in this way, but our hearts are so stubborn. We spend so much time seeking the gold of materialism and the sweetness of the honey called comfort. If only we would repent of lesser joys in order to seek the greater joy, God himself, as we experience him and know him through his word! The word of God provides instructions and warnings. In keeping the word of God and following it, there is great reward.
v. 12-14 - The Psalm moves to reflection and confession. As we think about God’s revelation of himself, the only response is humility. God has revealed himself through his creation but more specifically through his word. Through the word of God we receive the Gospel message of Christ that tells us of our salvation by the grace of God. As we think of God’s revelatory work may we respond like David in humility. May God declare us innocent through the blood of Christ and keep us from sin. Through the mercy of God may we be made blameless and innocent under the blood of Jesus Christ.
The Gospel of Jesus is the pinnacle, the highpoint of revelation. He is the one to whom all revelation points. As we see the arrows of the created order pointing us to God and as hear the words of God recorded in the Scriptures, the are all pointing to the glory of the redeemer, Jesus Christ. He is the one who takes away our sin and who makes us innocent and blameless. Praise be to God for his son and for his redemption. May we praise the Lord for his greatest work of revelation, as his word puts on flesh and dwells among us in the person of Jesus Christ.
v. 14 - The Psalm concludes in solemn prayer for God to find acceptable the words of David’s psalm. “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord , my rock and my redeemer”. Even time we get on our knees in prayer, as we meditate on God’s written word, or as we speak to others about God, may this be our prayer. May our words and may our thinking be acceptable to God. May we think and speak in a way that gives glory to God and is acceptable to him. We we rightly divide the word of truth, speaking clearly and accurately about this glorious God.
- Praise God for his created order and the beauty all around you that points to him.
- Thank God for revealing himself not only through creation, but through his word.
- Ask God to help you delight in his word more than gold or honey.
- Confess your sins before God and ask that through the blood of Christ he would make you innocent and blameless before him.
- Ask God to help you think and speak in a way that is acceptable this and honoring to him in all you say.
Have you thought about your new years resolutions? For the Christian, no better goal exists than to plan to regularly intake God's word. The consumption of God's word is essential for any believer who wishes to grow in godliness (and every believer will!) If you fail to shape your life by God's inspired word, spiritual growth is impossible. Paul's words to Timothy still ring true today, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16, ESV). So I want to encourage you to consider using a Bible Reading plan for 2016. If you've never used one, they can provide many benefits and it will help you grow in your knowledge and understanding of God's word this year. Here are three benefits in using a Bible reading plan.
1. Bible Reading Plans Provides Built in Accountability
A Bible reading plan helps keep you accountable to your Bible reading by letting you know when you've fallen behind. It helps you stay accountable to yourself and possibly to others. Doing a Bible reading plan with your family or with some members of your church can help provide group accountability to the discipline of Scripture reading.
However, one word of caution. Do not let guilt plague you when you miss a few days. It happens to everyone at times, and when you fall behind don't succumb to discouragement and give up. Rather, think of each day as a new day, catch up if possible, but if not it is not a big deal. The goal is not to check off a box or complete a plan, but to develop and maintain the habit of regular scripture intake. Forgive yourself when you fail, pick up your Bible, and begin anew.
2. Bible Reading Plans Track Your Progress
When you are utilizing a Bible reading plan you will be amazed at how much Scripture you can work through. When you have a written game plan for your Bible reading, you can look back over the progress you've made. Are you a little bogged down in your reading of Ezekiel? Look back on your plan and remind yourself of God and his faithfulness who got you to this point.
3. Bible Reading Plans Diversify Your Bible Reading
The Bible is God's word, yet there are always personal favorite passages. Perhaps its the Gospel of John or Paul's letters or the Proverbs. All of God's word is good and profitable. Yet, we must seek to engage with ALL of God's word not just our favorite passages. A Bible reading plan forces you to diversify your Bible reading as you pick up the book of Lamentations or Leviticus. You need to encounter the full counsel of God's word, and a Bible reading plan will keep you from only studying your "hobby" passages.
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Bible Reading Plans Are Easier than Ever
It is easier than ever to find a Bible reading plan. With the advent of Bible smartphone apps you can manage your Bible reading plan on your phone. In addition, you can find a plethora of different types of plans just with a simple google search. However, here are a few tips as you find the right plan for you.
- Don't bite off more than you can chew. If you are new to the spiritual discipline of Bible intake, don't start off with a plan that takes you through the whole Bible in 3 months. Rather, pick a plan that involves reading 1-3 chapters a day.
- Find a plan that takes you through the whole Bible. You can read the whole Bible with just a few chapters each day. Many plans will take you through the whole Bible atleast once.
- Keep it Simple. Your plan doesn't need to be complicated. One time I tried a Bible reading plan that involved reading 10 chapters from 10 different places in the Bible. Needless to say the complexity and scale of the plan didn't bode well. I switched to a simpler one after a few weeks.
- Remember, the goal is spiritual formation not puffed-up information. The goal is not to simply get through the plan, but the plan exists to help daily conform you to God's word. As a result, pray and ask the Lord for help in finding the right Bible reading plan for you and begin each day in prayer asking for God to reveal more of himself each time you pick up your Bible.
As you prepare for 2016, I hope you will consider a Bible reading plan, and that your Scripture reading for 2016 would propel you (with the Spirit's help) to incredible spiritual growth.
Ligonier just posted a great comprehensive post for Bible Reading plans for 2016 with PDF copies for print. You can check them out here.
This is part two of "How to Read the Bible for Yourself". To check out part one of click here.
7. Develop the Daily Discipline of Spending Time with God
This is often called a quiet time. It doesn’t matter what you call it but you need to form the habit of daily spending time with the Lord in word and prayer. Bible study can be like any skill. Practice does make perfect. The more you read the Bible the more you will understand and the new treasure you will discover. Not only do you need the Word for your own soul each and every day, the daily discipline of studying the Bible makes you a better Bible reader.
If you have not developed this habit in your life, this is the most important you need to begin to do immediately. You need to study God’s word daily.
8. Get a Daily Bible Reading Plan
Nothing gets done unless you plan. Sometimes the hardest part about Bible reading is, where to begin. A Bible reading plan moves you through different parts of the Bible at a regular, consistent, and daily pace. It can help chart the course for you in what to read each day. If you just simply google “bible reading plan” you can find hundreds of different types. I’d recommend that you pick one that moves you at a good pace throughout all of the Bible. The discipline of using a Bible reading plan forces us to work through passages we tend to avoid. In addition, it helps us from just jumping to our favorite passages all the time. It helps us to come face to face with the whole counsel of God.
Now how much should you read each day? Well it is largely up to you. I you can only handle a chapter or two a day and you really dig in and study it, than go for it. If you read a brisker paced want to take 8–10 chapters a day, than go for it. There is no hard and fast rule to follow here.
My personal plan, if you are interested, is that I read five chapters every day. Each year I keep a checklist of every book of the Bible. I tend to focus on one book at a time, meaning I’ll read five chapters from it everyday until I’m done with a particular book. When done with the book I check it off and choose which one I’d like to read next. This why I have a disciplined structure but still freedom in what I will read. I find this is helpful for me to take breaks from certain genres that tend to be a little more taxing. For example a few weeks ago I read through Leviticus. Although reading it was fruitful, It was mentally draining so I jumped over to the Gospel of John which was narrative and a little easier to read. With the plan I use I’m guaranteed to read the Bible once ever year, and it gives me the freedom and flexibility to go where the Spirit leads.
Whatever your plan, the important thing is that you read the Word every day!
9. Apply it to Your Life with Journaling
My thoughts are often clouded and jump all over the place. Writing helps me focus my thoughts. This is especially helpful with studying and applying the Bible. Taking some time after reading a passage and writing about what I learned can be very helpful. Journaling helps me think through how I can apply it to my life. I’d encourage you to try the same. I am a journal digitally and my go to app for journaling is Day One.
10. Memorize Bible Verses
If you really want to learn to read the Bible for yourself, memorize it. When you memorize passages of Scripture you saturate your mind with the Word. The Spirit then can bring that verse in application to your life at any moment in addition he deepens your understanding of that verse. I’d encourage you to make scripture memory a regular part of your time with God. Start off with taking just a verse a week. Rehearse each day and then review weekly.
For those of you that are serious about Bible memorization, let me encourage you to memorize extended passages of Scripture. This is a discipline I began earlier this year and has done wonders in my relationship with the Lord. For how I’ve gone about it check out Andy Davis’ An Approach to Extended Scripture Memorization. Using his method I’ve memorized the book of Philippians and I’m currently working on the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7). It takes a good 20–30 minutes for me to reverse and memorize each day, but the fruit it has brought in my life is worth it.
11. Start a Bible Study with your Friends
We tend to have a “just me and Jesus” attitude when it comes to reading the Bible. Yet, Christ has given us the church for a reason. We need one another and often the Spirit teaches us through one another. If you want to learn to read the Bible for yourself start a Bible study with you friends. Meet before work or on your lunch break with some friends once a week just to study the Bible together. You will be amazed as your friends bring new meaning to a text that you largely missed. Reading in community can be an encouragement to everyone, so start a Bible study with your friends.
12. Get Involved in Your Churches Bible Studies
I’m sure your local church involves a lot of different Bible studies. Get involved in them! Listen to how the teachers of the church interpret the Bible. Ask questions, go deep, discuss the Bible with the people in the class. Learn how to read the Bible from other people. It will help you greatly in reading the Bible for yourself!
13. What How Your Pastor Interprets the Bible When Preaching
If you have a good pastor, he carefully teaches the Bible. I preach every week to my people at Forest Hills and I’m not only trying to teach the what the Bible says I’m trying to teach them how to read the Bible for themselves. So when I have a point in my sermon I want them to see that I’m not making it up, and where it comes from in the Bible. Watch how your pastor reads his Bible, listen how he arrives at the main points and learn to study the Bible like your pastor does. Follow his example.
14. See Jesus in Every Text
All of Scripture points to Jesus. To miss this is miss the message of the Bible. Jesus says, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me,” (John 5:39, ESV). At another point Jesus on the road to Emmaus showed the two disciples how every Scripture pointed to him. Read your Bible and see how every passage points you to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This doesn’t mean we force Jesus in every passage, but we see how every passage points to him or anticipates him. Much could be said on this point, but for now I’ll point you to a few resources to check out.
15. Read the Bible!
Sounds simple doesn’t it? If you want to read the Bible for yourself, start reading it! If you want to get better at personal Bible study you are not going to get any better at it unless you read it. No one learns how to ride a Bike by reading blog posts, books, and articles on how to ride a Bike. You’ve got to get not he Bike and just start peddling! Bible studies the same way. Start reading the Bible and you will be amazed how God will begin speaking to you through his infallible and inerrant Word.
I hope these fifteen tips have been helpful for you as you try to read the Bible for yourself. What tips would you offer? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!
There is nothing more important to the health of a Christian than a regular and consistent intake of the Scriptures. It is so important to spiritual vitality that I would go to say that it is near impossible to grow in Christ-likeness without the Word of Christ. However, every Christian knows the importance of reading the Bible, yet it continues to be difficult for us.
The Bible can be a very intimidating book. For one, it is big! Sixty-six books can be intimidating to us in which the most many of us read are short blog posts. To crack open the Bible to read it can feel overwhelming. As a result, due to a lack of discipline and priority many just avoid the Bible all together. We know we should be reading it and we don’t really even know how.
Get Off the Training Wheels
Enter the plethora of bible study booklets. There seems to be no end to Christian publishers creating new Bible Studies for Christians. They have bible studies marketed towards teenagers, men, women, moms, dads, senior adults, college students, and well the list goes on and on. We shouldn’t condemn these books, as they can be very helpful. Yet we must call them what they are, training wheels. You remember training wheels don’t you? When you are first riding a bike they are the wheels that you can attach to your bike to help keep you balance. Sure you can ride a bike with the training wheels, but every kid wants to get them off and keep balance himself. So although these bible study books can be helpful, we should be eager to take the training wheels off and get into the word of God on our own.
So how can you read the Bible for yourself? Well recently I taught a class to a bunch of teenagers answering that exact question. I put together a series of random but practical advice that has been helpful for me in my own discipline of reading the Word. So let me give you 15 tips to help you read the Bible for yourself. I'll give you the first seven today and I'll put the rest up in a second post!
1. Pray that God Would Give You Understanding
We greatly underestimate prayer, especially in the study of the Word. You would thin we would ask the Spirit that inspired the writers to pen Scripture for help in understanding it, but more often than not we just barge into the Bible filled with fleshly self-confidence. Yet, Spiritual truths are spiritually discerned. If we are going to read the Scriptures, we need the Spirit’s help in understanding them. Therefore, the best way to begin to read the Bible for yourself is to get on your knees each time you open it and ask God for understanding.
2. Know the Plot-line of the Bible
We must not think the Bible is a bunch of random and disconnected stories and books. The Bible tells one grand story or a meta-narrative. If you don’t understand the plot line of the Bible you will find it difficult to see how Ruth fits with the rest of the Bible. A failure to miss the grand narrative of the Bible will cause you to miss the forest for the trees. Although I don’t have time to flesh out the whole plot line of the Bible in this post, the plot line follows four basic movements:
Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration
I preached a 4-week sermon series a while back on the plot-line of the Bible. If you want to see how the Bible fits together you can listen to them here.
3. Understand the Different Genres of Scripture
If you pick up your favorite classical music albums (anyone have any of those?) what would you except? Well you’d expect complex music filled with the grandeur accompaniment of a orchestra. If you grabbed a good jazz album what would you find? A repetitive yet complex chord structure filled with extended improvised saxophone or trumpet solos. If you picked up your favorite rap album what would you find? Well a heavy beat, with quick and rhythmic beat. I think you get the point.
Each of these are musical genres with their own different style of music. You would do yourself a great injustice to listen to R&B in the same way you listen to a country song. They are two completely different categories often focusing on different themes and instruments. Just as there are many genres of music, there are often many genres of literature.
The Bible features all sorts of different genres from poetry, to lament, to narrative, to law, to epistle, to apocalyptic, and the list could go on. If you try to read the book of Leviticus like a poem, you just are not going to understand the book. In the same way if you try to read Song of Solomon like the book of Acts you will misunderstand it. Know the different genres of scripture and study how to interpret them better.
4. Learn the Historical Background of the Books
The books of the Bible were written to a particular people in a particular context. If you ignore the original context you will lose a great deal of meaning or worse misinterpret the text. It is important to learn the historical background of each book. For example, if you are reading one of the minor prophets, at which point is the writing taking place in the history of Israel? Is it before the exile or after?
Another great example is Lamentations. You might read that book and you might begin to wonder what has this guy so bummed out? Well Jeremiah is writing shortly after Jerusalem has been destroyed by the Babylonians. He is in mourning and in grief. If you don’t know the historical background what you read will largely make little sense.
Well you might be asking, how can I learn the historical background of the different books of the Bible, well that leads us to the next point.
5. Get a Good Study Bible
A good study Bible can be a great tool for anyone trying to read the Bible. I still regularly consult mine for help. My study Bible of choice is the ESV Study Bible. It is a great resource. A good study Bible will tell you the background of each book your reading including the setting and even a basic outline of that particular book. It can be helpful for you to catch the big picture before you start reading the individual verses.
In addition, study Bibles provide brief commentary underneath the text of Scripture. This can be helpful, especially if you are just completely confused about a verse, but be careful not to use it as a crutch. The goal is to get off the training wheels, not replace them with a newer model.
6. Read a Book on How to Interpret the Bible
If you are trying to take your Bible study seriously, why not read a book on how to read the Bible? A lot of what I’m discussing in this post is described in much greater detail in other books. The field of biblical interpretation is called hermeneutics. In addition to some great academic works there are also a few easier books written for the lay level. I’d recommend to you How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth and Grasping God’s Word.
Come back tomorrow for part 2 of this post!