How to Read the Bible for Yourself - Part 2

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!

How to Read the Bible for Yourself - Part 1

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!

4 Tips for Better Bible Study

The Word of God is powerful. It is sharper than any two edged sword. It cuts down to our very being and leaves us exposed to the truth. However Bible, study is not always easy. Studying the Bible and interpreting the Bible well does take some work. Here are four ways you can improve your Bible Study.

1. Pray A lot of times we approach Bible study as a purely intellectual exercise. We rush in self-sufficiency and think the only tool we need for understanding is our minds. This is totally false. Our intellects are sinful and faulty. We need the Holy Spirit to reveal to us the truth of Scripture. "The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned." - 1 Corinthians 2:14

2. Pay attention to Context When most people read the Scriptures they often rip verses kicking and screaming out of context. They ignore the sentences surrounding it. They ignore the context and purpose of the entire book. Do not make this error in your Bible Study. Always ask yourself, “how does this verse fit into the context of the book”

3. Do not Moralize The Bible does teach morality. It teaches us how we ought to live, but it also tells a story. The true story in which God is fixing all that’s gone wrong in this world through His son Jesus Christ. Rather than thinking David and Goliath is just about you standing up to your boss at work, begin to think through a Gospel lens. All of Scripture points us to Christ (Luke 24:27). So David and Goliath is not so much about you and your boss, but about pointing us to Jesus, the greater David who defeats the enemy called sin and death!

4. Always Make Application A danger we make in studying the Bible is that we never get to application. We learn a lot of facts. We learn the historical context. We learn the outline of Paul's argument in Romans, but we never make that step to apply it to our lives. Why? Because studying the Bible is easy, applying the Bible is tough. However the only Bible study transforms us is the study that we apply to ours lives. We must put into practice what the Spirit teaches us through the Scriptures. If we do not, our Bible study is incomplete.


Taking time to Delight in God

If you are in ministry, active in your church, or just a believer in Jesus Christ, so often we get super busy. With so many responsibilities, we get so distracted that we forget to just enjoy God.  Even when we sit down to spend our scheduled 15 minutes with God, it becomes a ritualistic and we seem to spend the time simply asking God for things we need as we rummage through our to do list.  We keep ourselves so busy, that we have a hard time simply sitting down and delighting our God and King.

The truth is so often times we get distracted by good things!  However the very ministry we do for God sometimes hinders our delight in God.  We get so distracted with busyness that we become like Martha.  We have Jesus sitting down waiting for us to spend time with him, but we are so busy and distracted we forget to enjoy Him.  I know that all of us are guilty of this, especially me.

I challenge you to take some time today, get away alone with God with no other agenda but to enjoy him.  Forget the to do list for just a little while.  Read his Word and converse with Him in prayer for no other reason, but simply because you love Him.

Taking the Steps to Delight and Meditate on God's Word

Tonight in our youth worship I taught on delighting and cherishing God's Word from Psalm 1.  I showed this video before I stepped up to preach.  It is a powerful video that brings me to tears every time I watch it.  It is more than worth the time to watch: [youtube=]

I also told my students that if they needs some beginning steps to cherish God's Word that I would provide some helpful resources here.  So here are a couple quick ideas to get you started.

Blogger Justin Taylor always puts out a collection of different Bible reading plans every year.  You can check it out here to see different Bible reading plans that might be a good fit for you.

Also, I would suggest making an investment in a good study bible.  They are more than worth their cost (which isn't too much) and if you are a teenager I am sure your parents would love to buy you a good study Bible if you ask for one.  For those just getting started with studying God's word,knowing background information and what is happening in the historical context can be a little overwhelming.  A great study bible like the ESV Study Bible can be a great resource to help you understand God's word.  The ESV Study Bible is one of my favorite Study Bibles and I use it regularly for my own personal devotion.

The best advice I can give to you is to just pick up your Bible and start reading it! If you are not sure where to start or you are hesitant to begin a Bible Reading Plan just pick one of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John) or one of the apostle Paul's letters and just read through that particular book.  Pray and ask God to reveal himself to you as you read.  Ask the Holy Spirit to give you understanding.  After spending time daily in the Bible over months and years you will be amazed how God will increase your knowledge of his Word, but it starts with beginning that journey today.  Once you have hidden God's Word in your heart you will be amazed how God will recall verses or passages in your mind as you live out your life.  Start today and begin to meditate on God's Word.  Get some help from a pastor or a good Christian friend and begin your life long journey of experiencing and knowing God through His Word, the Bible!

As always if there is ever anything I can do to help you our encourage feel free to contact me.  I am here to help and to serve you any way I can.