Saturday, August 15, 2015

Bible 101, Question 5: Getting started: Approaches to reading the Bible

So far in this series we have established that the Bible is the inspired word of God, that the Bibles we hold in our hands are accurate texts of the words God inspired, that the differences in translations should not trouble us, and that the Bible should have a place of priority in the life of a believer. If you're with me this far, I assume you are ready to get started, or restarted, making the Bible prominent in your life.

But how? Where do you begin? You might have heard the old joke about the man who had a random approach to reading the Bible. The story is told here:
The first verse he happened to turn to was Matthew 27:5 which says Judas "went and hanged himself." Since he was not sure how this verse applied to himself, he flipped to another passage and the Bible fell open to Luke 10:37: "Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise." The man was quite upset and he did not know how he could ever obey that, so he decided to turn to one more place. Again he opened the Bible at random and to his horror his finger fell upon John 13:27: "Then said Jesus unto him, That thou doest, do quickly."
It's easy to see the pitfalls of that method! So what's a Christian to do instead? This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I've included some approaches to the Bible that I personally have found helpful over the years. I hope one or more of them works for you!

Reading through the Bible
My personal opinion is that every Christian benefits enormously by consistently working on a Bible read-through. It's the only way to be exposed to all of Scripture on a consistent basis, and God never fails to teach me something new every time I go through. There are so many ways to do this. Many Christians do a "through the Bible in a year plan"; your church might have a guideline for that. My grandfather's plan was two chapters of Old Testament and one of New Testament every day. Chronological Bibles set up daily readings across several books so you don't flip back and forth.

Personal confession: I've read through the Bible 6 times, working on 7th, but I've never read through the Bible in a year. I'm so task-oriented that I get focused on "checking off my list" and the words zip past me. Instead, I read a chapter a day, or occasionally two because when I'm in Psalms I typically continue in my other reading as well. It takes me 3 years to read the 1189 chapters of the Old and New Testaments; if I didn't double up on Psalms it would take about 3 1/4 years.

Each time I read through the Bible I try to use a different translation, or one I haven't used in a while. This gives a different "flavor" to the familiar words and forces me to slow down and pay more attention. I also keep notes of what God teaches me in each chapter. Some read-throughs I have challenged myself to focus on different things: Chronology of event, Attributes of God, Jesus in the text, and my personal favorite challenge was a personal application from every chapter of the Bible. Boy, was that fun in Chronicles and Leviticus! I still remember one lesson from the detailed description of priest sacrificial offering requirements: "Ministry is messy."

I also take a break from my read through every Holy Week (Palm Sunday through Easter) to read the Passion Week accounts in my Harmony of the Gospels. On Palm Sunday I read the Palm Sunday events; Monday the Monday events; and so forth. It focuses my attention on that week in a way nothing else does.

Devotionals are short readings, often from Bible teachers or pastors (but not always), typically arranged in some sort of thematic fashion. Devotionals can be a helpful tool in establishing a daily quiet time, and provide a great resource for those whose time is truly limited (moms of toddlers come to mind!). Devotionals are most helpful when used in conjunction with the recommended reading for each day. If there is not a suggested reading, then reading the chapter from which the devotional passage is taken is a helpful tool.

Personally, I find devotionals of most value as a supplement to my Bible reading and study. My husband and I read a daily devotional together at breakfast, after we have each had our quiet times. It often reinforces what God is speaking to each of us individually.

In-Depth Study
By "in-depth study" I don't mean a particular method, but any intentional, systematic study of a portion of God's word. This can be an inductive study of a book; a topical study; a character study; and much more. There is a wealth of options for guided in-depth Bible studies, some with video and audio components plus a workbook; others with workbooks alone. I have done many such studies and typically always have one going that I do each day in addition to my Bible read-through. If you choose to do an in-depth study, I recommend that you talk to your pastor or Bible teacher at church for suggestions to start with. Then, as you continue you can branch out to other authors. At some point you will encounter teachings that might be different from what your pastor teaches. I would encourage you to talk to him about those differences. You will find that in the vast majority of cases the differences are on non-essential aspects of the faith.

Another way to do an in-depth study is to learn how to study the Bible inductively on your own. I'll go into more details on Biblical interpretation in the next post, but for now I will just recommend Kay Arthur's "How to Study Your Bible" as a starting point. The companion "Inductive Study Bible" has been an invaluable resource for me for almost 20 years; my notes fill its pages and I've learned so many things through my own studies.
Memorizing Scripture
I wasn't raised on Scripture memory. I tucked away John 3:16 and Psalm 23, and that was about it, until I started doing in-depth Bible study. One study challenged me to memorize a verse a week. Other verses stuck in my mind simply from continual contact with them in the course of a week's study. A few years ago, though, God prompted me to become more intentional about Scripture memory. I memorized some longer passages and an entire chapter (Isaiah 58). It was after memorizing the Psalms of Ascent (Psalm 120-134) that I was hooked. I find that I learn so much from the repetition. As I consider the verse for the purpose of memorization, I understand the meaning more. Remember, our books were initially read aloud, so reading or memorizing out loud gives a cadence that we often miss in reading silently. Now I am always working on some significant chunk of memory work.

There are as many ways to memorize as there are learners. I'm a tactile-kinesthetic learner. I have to take notes to remember anything from a sermon; I have to write things down; etc. The way that translates to my scripture memory is that I write out the verses on spiral note cards, then learn them while walking our dog (I joke that she knows more scripture than any dog alive!). I review them while driving, swimming, anything that involves movement. I review them when falling asleep, usually not getting very far but often waking up during the night and picking up the next verse. The passage really becomes part of me in a unique way.

So there you go - four different approaches to being in the Word. Each of these are part of my life on a daily or almost daily basis. As you begin or continue your journey in God's Word, I hope that my experience can help you grow in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ!

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