A woman came in about a month ago to the Christian bookstore where I work. When she walked through the doors I greeted her, asked how I could help, and listened as she told me her journey of trying to understand the Bible.
In recent months she had purchased a stack of Bibles–different translations, study Bibles, even a few other helpful resources to try and get her head around the overwhelming and often confusing parts of the Bible. But still she was struggling to understand what she read.
I loved her heart, because it’s mine too. I want to understand God’s Word, and not just understand it, but live it.
But what I’ve noticed–in myself and the woman who came into the store–is that often we forget the most important thing we can do when it comes to understanding Scripture: there is no shortcut to grasping what we read in the Bible.
Commentaries, study Bibles and reading through different translations are great. I love that we have access to so many resources all focused around explaining Scripture, helping us understand cultural context, and giving insight into confusing passages.
One thing, however, that has hindered my understanding of the Bible in the past is that I keep thinking I need another resource, another study Bible. I keep looking for that special secret tool that must be hiding on some shelf somewhere–one with that will instantly help all aspects of the Bible make sense to me.
I’ve wanted a quick fix. An all-in-one resource. But it doesn’t exist. There is no physical book that will magically help me understand all the pieces of Scripture because, as the writer of Hebrews puts it, “God’s Word is living and active” (4:13).
A person can spend a lifetime reading and studying the Bible and still not glean all of the wisdom and insight hidden like buried treasure in it’s pages.
If you want to know the secret to understanding God’s Word, the truth is, it’s really not a secret at all.
Just read it.
Read God’s Word.
We’ve gotten so used to quick fix solutions, but if we really want to understand the Bible, we actually have to take the time to sit down and read it.
Of course, it’s easy to say “read your Bible” but how do I read my Bible? Where do I start? How often should I read?
Let’s talk about practical ways to approach this “secret.”
1. Read and reread
If we’re going to understand the Bible, we actually need to read it. Not just once. Not twice. We need to make our life about studying this book and seeking to know God through it, rather than trying to find that super secret tool that will help it all make sense.
And can I let you in on another secret (a bonus secret that also isn’t actually a secret)? We already have that super secret something–or rather, Someone–to help shed light on what we read in the Bible.
His name is Holy Spirit, one of the members of the Trinity, that person of God living inside of us, whispering to us, granting us understanding and wisdom.
2. Read with Holy Spirit
Asking Holy Spirit to help me understand the Bible was a game changer for me, because if anyone is going to be able to help us make sense of Scripture, it’s the One who inspired it’s words.
When you sit down to read your Bible, before you crack open that cover and remove the ribbon from the place where you last left off, take a moment to pray. It doesn’t have to be a long prayer. Keep it short and simply invite Holy Spirit into your reading time.
Don’t try to do this alone. Ask Him to give you wisdom and insight, to help you understand His Story. Because this is about Him–Father, Son, and Spirit–how this three-in-one God is holy and loving and good, and how He has been pursuing restored relationship with humanity from the beginning.
Claim Holy Spirit as your Bible reading buddy, and allow Him to show you want this book–this story, His Story–is all about.
3. Read often
If Bible reading and study aren’t a normal part of your daily routine, I want to encourage you to make this a priority. The more often you read, the more the Bible will begin to make sense. You’ll begin to see connections. Those things you didn’t understand the first time–or fifth time–might make more sense when you come back to them again.
Bible reading isn’t some thing to check off your Christian to-do list. It’s an essential piece in building your relationship with the Lord and some of the most important minutes of your day.
Don’t settle for occasional reading. Even if you can’t read a lot in one sitting, keep coming back to God’s Word.
4. Read slow
There is a myth floating around that if you’re going to read the Bible you have to read large chunks of it in one sitting. And while there is something to be said about getting the big picture of a book or the Bible as a whole, there is also something to be said about reading slow.
Back in November I started reading through my Bible cover-to-cover. And let me tell you it’s probably going to take me a good two years to get through it all because I am reading slow. And I mean S-L-O-W. One chapter a day. Sometimes two if I’ve got extra time or I’m super into what I’m reading or if the chapter break just feels like it’s in a weird spot.
Reading slow has allowed me so sit a little longer in each passage, think a little deeper about it, and enter into conversation with God.
Not to mention, it also eliminates the excuse of not having enough time to read my Bible. Generally, my Bible reading time takes anywhere from 10-20 minutes each day. Not much of a time commitment, but it makes a huge difference.
5. Read different translations
Sometimes looking for the “right” translation can get in the way of our understanding the Bible because we never read any one translation long enough. However, taking time to read the Bible in different translations is helpful in gaining a full understanding of God’s Word.
Reality is, the Bible wasn’t written in English. When the Bible is translated, it’s either done word-for-word from the original text, or thought-for-though. The latter way makes it easier to read because it focuses on getting the main ideas across without complicated vocabulary, but sometimes the wording isn’t as powerful as the way the original languages put it.
Reading through different translations over time, or looking up a particular verse in multiple translations will help give you a fuller understanding of God’s Story as you see the various ways it is translated in English.
6. Read with a plan
Maybe sitting down to read the Bible isn’t the issue for you. You just don’t know where to read, what to read. The Bible is a massive book. How do you know where you should land?
My first answer will always be to pray. Ask God to show you what to read. He knows what you need for this season and what He wants you to understand about His character.
I also encourage people who need a little more structure for their reading to find a reading plan to follow. Whether you want to read the Bible chronologically (in the order events actually happened), cover-to-cover, the whole thing in a year, or read through a particular book or section of books, there are tons of reading plans floating around out there.
Reading plans are beneficial not only for providing structure, but they will also help you read books you wouldn’t normally end up reading on your own. (I always have trouble getting to the minor prophets at the end of the Old Testament, and let’s face it, Leviticus isn’t on the top of everyone’s reading list). Reading plans are great tools to help you read the Bible in it’s entirety and see how each book contributes to the larger story–God’s Story.
Every passage of Scripture, every book gives revelation about who God is. Nothing should be left out or skipped. You won’t understand everything you read the first time, but that’s okay. The Bible wasn’t meant to be read just one time, but multiple times throughout our lives.
Though commentaries, pre-written Bible studies, and other study tools are useful for digging deep into God’s Word, don’t let yourself get caught up in trying to find the perfect resource that will help everything make sense.
Just read your Bible. Read it and reread it. Read it with Holy Spirit and allow Him to make sense of it for you and direct you to extra materials when it’s beneficial. Read the Bible often. Read it slow. Read different translations of it, and use a reading plan if that helps you.
Live in His love!