Jazmin N. Frank

How Not to Feel Overwhelmed When You Read the Bible

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I’m leading an online study right now through the book of Hebrews and it’s going phenomenally. As we got started I found a comment left by one of out participants that said she hasn’t read the Bible much in the past. She knows she should it’s just all a little overwhelming.

Reading the Bible. It’s something we’re told we should do as Christians. It’s a way to know God and receive some direction and wisdom as we navigate this life, but if I’m being honest, sometimes the Bible is just a little bit overwhelming.

It’s that fact that has kept me, and maybe you too, from reading the Bible like I should at times.

So today I’ve got 5 helpful tips to help you read the Bible without feeling overwhelmed:

1. Understand the Bible’s purpose

The very first thing that will help with conquering that feeling of overwhelm is realizing why the Bible was written in the first place.

Often times we can come at this big book as if it will tell us exactly how to live and we need to do everything perfect or else. And the Bible can act as a guidebook in part. There is much wisdom and direction to be found in these pages as we seek to live holy lives. But I would argue that isn’t the sole purpose of Scripture.

The Bible is meant to show us the heart of God. It is his story from beginning to end.

This is not a rule book or a book to make you feel bad about everything you’ve ever done wrong. It is not a book you “have” to read in order to be on good terms with God. It is one that reveals God’s heart for you and one through which he shares what abundant life looks like.

When we’re able to recognize the Bible as an avenue of relationship with God, the pressure falls away. Then, when we sit in Scripture, it’s almost like we’re sitting down with God for coffee and good conversation.

2. Understand how the Bible is organized

Another thing that adds to our overwhelm when it comes to reading the Bible is that it’s organized differently than most books we read. We learned from an early age that books are meant to be read front cover to back cover and that there is generally a chronology to them. The Bible isn’t organized chronologically, or by the order events happened. Instead it is organized by genre.

The Bible is made up of 66 individual books that hit on different points in history and are written as different genres. A genre is a category of writing. So when people ask what kind of books you like and you tell them, “I’m really into mystery and contemporary romance” those are genres. The same idea applies in the Bible.

In the Old Testament you will find the books of history, poetry, and prophecy. In the New Testament, genres include the Gospels, letters (also called epistels) and prophecy.

When you know what genre a particular book of the Bible falls in, you’re better able to understand what you’re reading.

For example, if I open to the book of Revelation and start reading it as if it were a book of history, I’m going to be majorly confused and probably a bit weirded out. But knowing that Revelation is a book of prophecy, I can read knowing that there’s going to be a lot of figurative language, visions that are more symbolic rather than literal, and that the things being talked about relate to future events (both future from the time this book was written, and since Revelation is also about the end of the age, future from our perspective as well).

Daily Grace Co.* has a nifty Books of the Bible chart* that color codes different the different genres and includes a checklist to help you track your reading.

Books of the Bible Reading Checklist

3. Understand what works best for you.

Reading the Bible isn’t about checking a box on your spiritual disciplines list; it’s about knowing God and deepening your relationship with him. Because of that, there is no one-size-fits-all model.

You are free to read the Bible in whatever way works best for you. Follow a reading plan to chunk the reading into daily bite-sized pieces. Read the Bible chronologically or cover-to-cover. Read the entire thing in a year or two. Start reading and keep reading, as long as it takes. Read entire books in one sitting, read slow and meditate on short passages as you go. Read in order or skip around.

Truly the possibilities are endless.

Don’t let your overwhelm come from the idea that you have to do this a certain way. Instead, invite God into this practice of reading the Bible. Allow him to lead you and read freely knowing that, whatever and however you read, this book is his story and it’s meant to point you back to him.

4. Understand this will take time and it is supposed to.

One of the reason you’re probably overwhelmed by the Bible is the sheer size of this book. It is definitely not a small one. It’s like it’s own miniature library bound in one volume. And because of it’s size it’s going to take time to read.

And I don’t just mean time to read it once through. If you’re super dedicated, there are plans out there that have you reading the whole Bible in as little as ninety days. But however long it takes you to read it through once, that’s not the end.

The Bible is a book for life, not just showing us how to live, but one we are meant to read over and over again throughout our lives.

You won’t understand everything the first time, or first five times, you read it. That’s okay. Keep coming back. Keep inviting Holy Spirit to give you understanding and make his word clear.

Allow your reading of Scripture not to be a sprint, but a life-long marathon.

The Bible was never meant to be overwhelming in a way that causes anxiety. It was never meant to be something we shy away from because there is no possible way we could ever comprehend what’s in those pages. Rather the Bible is an invitation–to know God and be in relationship with him.

Community Question: What has you most overwhelmed when it comes to reading the Bible? Any extra tips to help conquer overwhelm?

Related: How to Put the Most into Your Devoted Time

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