Ways to Read the Bible (and Actually Meet God)
Often we simply read scripture for information, to follow a rule, or as an academic pursuit. Reading to meet God sounds like a great idea and the ideal for a Christian, but how do we actually do it? How can we change our mind-sets to view Scripture as a living, rich revelation instead of a religious tome of instructions and history?
1. Read the whole story.
Many of us learned to read God’s Word from children’s Bible storybooks made up of individual stories—Adam and Eve, David and Goliath, Jonah and the big fish (of course it was Jonah and the whale back then), the boy’s five loaves and two fish, and so on. We learned to look for stories, snippets of Scripture. And usually these came with a moral lesson about trusting God, making the right decisions, being honest, serving others, or something else.
The other main way we heard the Bible taught was character centric, like a series of mini-bios. We studied the lives of Abraham, Joseph, Ruth, Saul, Solomon, Esther, Peter, and Paul. We were taught about their shortcomings and their faithfulness. We learned that they were examples for us to follow, just not perfect ones.
We must learn to read the whole story of Scripture from beginning to end. The Bible is God’s story of redemption, the revelation of Himself and His plan for the world. All those stories and all those characters are parts of the whole, characters in the drama, but none of them are the point. They all point to the point: Jesus Christ came, lived a perfect life, died an innocent death to save sinners and kill death and sin, and will one day return to right all the wrongs. Sure, some parts of the Bible are confusing and dry, but they fit in the whole too. And when we understand that there is a whole narrative, even those parts start to make sense in their context.
2. Look for Jesus.
This is the advice I would suggest to any Christian who finds the Bible to be stale and lifeless: look for Jesus. So much of what we miss in Scripture is because we look for characters and themes and lessons other than Jesus. But He is both the primary character and the primary plotline of Scripture. To look for anything else first is to rip out the heart of God’s Word. Because Jesus, as John 1 tells us, is the Word made flesh.
Every page of Scripture points to Jesus. It all fits together to point to Him and to glorify Him and depict Him and reveal Him. When we read the whole story and see Jesus throughout the pages, we see Him afresh, not as whatever preconceived notions we had. We see Him as more than a teacher, more than a healer, more than a model character. We see the breadth of Jesus from the man who sat with children and loved widows to the sword-wielding King of justice and glory.
3. When you see Jesus, get to know Him.
In the Bible we have the means to get to know Jesus. We have the means to move past observation and awareness and fact finding to a real, personal connection with Him. How? Like we do in any relationship.
Make it a regular thing. Go back to those Gospels over and over again. God’s word is inexhaustible and can always deepen your understanding and belief. We don’t limit ourselves in conversation with our loved ones because we “talked to them already” and neither should we limit ourselves in the reading of the Bible because we “read it already.”
Ask questions of Jesus in Scripture. Ask about His character. Ask about His values. Ask about His life. Ask about His priorities. Ask about His weaknesses. And let Scripture respond to you.
4. Don't shy away from the hard stuff.
One of the most significant weaknesses of most Bible teaching in the traditional church is the void where all the hard stuff in the Bible happens. Pretending the difficult portions of scripture don’t exist doesn’t delete it from the Bible. If God hadn’t wanted us to see it, know it, and think on it, He wouldn’t have filled up His self-revelation with it.
We must read it and consider it. We must be willing to wrestle with it. We have to look at it not as a bunch of isolated incidents and texts that might be problematic but as part of the whole. If we are going to read the whole story and look for how it all points to Jesus, then we need to see how the hard stuff fits in. It is all there on purpose because it all paints a picture of God. And just because we don’t understand doesn’t mean we can reject it.
5. Start small, perhaps with children's books, and mix in other resources, too.
The Bible is the foundation on which our faith is built. But it does not mean we read only the Bible. Other books by godly writers can serve to open up our minds and hearts to Scripture.
Some of the best materials are those written for children. After graduating from college and gaining a theology degree, after working in Christian publishing for several years and reading mountains of biblical teaching books, I still find these the freshest, best entry points into the message of the Bible. They make it fun by bringing out the story, and they make their points with clarity and gentleness.
Additional resources and books are helpful too. Some will prefer commentaries; others will gravitate to Bible study curriculum. Each serves a great purpose in helping us dig in and understand more. Don’t shy away from them. Find the ones that fit your learning style and take full advantage of them.
6. Don't read the Bible as a set of rules, but rather, as a book.
So many Christians lose touch with the heart of Scripture because for so long they have approached it under the rule of law. “You must read your Bible every day.” Reading your Bible every day is a great thing, but within its very pages it describes how the law introduces us to sin. When we make rules out of things, we tend to take the life out of them, no matter how good they are.
We need to approach the Bible as a book. After all, that is the form in which God gave it to us. For those who love to read, this means conscientiously moving it to the category of great literature in our minds, a great story, deep philosophy, a rich biography. When we think of it that way, we will see different things in its pages, yes, but more importantly we will practically be able to overcome the greatest mental block to reading it at all.
Distance yourself from the legalistic guilt of reading the Bible as law. That robs it of its wonder and steals the joy from your heart. It is so rich and deep; read it to discover and wonder!
7. Pray for the Spirit's help.
We have a helper and a teacher. Jesus even said we would be better off if He left because this helper is so amazing. Really? We’re better off without Jesus on earth with us? Yes! Because the Holy Spirit dwells in every Christian, moving us toward being more like Jesus, teaching our minds, and softening and convicting our hearts.
If you seek to do anything I’ve written in your own power, you will dry up, run out of motivation, get bored, become arrogant, lose faith, get confused, and turn from God. It is inevitable.
To connect with God through His Word is a miracle of the Spirit and not something that can be formulated. All the suggestions I just made are not the equation that adds up to relationship with God. They are ingredients that must be present, but only the Spirit can mix and prepare them in such a way that we see God in His glory and are moved to follow and honor Him. So beg the Spirit to open your eyes when you read. Plead with the Spirit to give you the inspiration to read. And He will. Maybe not in a flash, but He will. And as you delve deeper into God’s Word, you will find that the Spirit and God’s message in the Bible will change you.