The Bible is intimidating. It is a combination of 66 books/letters written over the span of 1,500 years by over 40 different authors. Understood rightly, it can change your life. Understood wrongly, it can be discouraging and cause you to hate God and his people. Yet, it is God’s main way of communicating himself to his people. So here are a few things that have helped me to read it and understand it over the years.
HAVE A PLAN
When I first started reading my Bible I would flip open to a random page and start reading that page. This always led to a lot of confusion and discouragement. So my first recommendation is to have a plan. I would suggest reading whole books at a time. The New Testament books start with Jesus and are often easier to understand. Once you read those, it will be easier to understand the Old Testament. So, I would suggest starting with the book of Mark, or Luke, or consider reading the entire New Testament. A plan will help you to understand the whole context and it will also make it easier to pick up where you left off. As they say, “failing to plan is planning to fail.” Here is a great resource for some Bible reading plans: https://www.bible.com/reading-plans
Consider listening through your Bible instead of reading. You may be a person who doesn’t like reading. You can download audio versions to listen through the Bible for free. The http://www.youversion.com app is a great resource.
KNOW THE CONTEXT
When it comes to interpreting anything, context is king. Every piece of Scripture was written to a specific group of people, during a specific time, going through specific circumstances. If you want to know how the Bible applies to you today ask the questions: Why was this piece of Scripture written? What circumstance is it trying to address? How might my circumstance be similar?
Study Bibles and commentaries are helpful for finding these answers. A good study bible is http://www.amazon.com/ESV-Study-Bible/lm/R247PV70M5J7A (which is also available at our Living Stones Churches Bookstore on Sundays). A good commentary resource is:http://www.blueletterbible.org/commentaries/
LOOK FOR THE CHARACTER OF GOD
Contrary to popular belief, the Bible is not mainly a book about instructions for life, but rather a book that reveals God to his people. So, when you are reading, look for God and his character. Ask: What does this say about God? Why does that matter?
LOOK FOR THE GRACE OF GOD
The one thing that separates Christianity from every other religion is grace. The Bible is full of it. Grace can be defined as “God’s love for us, that has nothing to do with us.” (Paul Zaul) Grace is what enables us to have a relationship with God. So look for it. If you read the Bible and don’t look for grace, you are missing the point.
Grace is most clearly shown in the Bible through the person and work of Jesus. In Luke 24 Jesus says the entire Bible points to him. When you’re reading, ask: How does this text point to Jesus? Next week I will provide another Blog on how to find Jesus throughout scripture.
PICK ONE THING TO PRAY AND THINK ABOUT
It is easy to get overwhelmed when reading the Bible. My suggestion is to pick one thing or idea about God to meditate on and pray about. Take it in bite size pieces. Don’t worry about what you don’t understand, just hold on to one thing you do understand. Think about a rainstorm. You don’t have to catch every rain drop to get wet. It is the same with the Bible. You don’t have to retain every detail to soak in the truths about God. One truth about God is sufficient to bless your soul and further your relationship with him.