Many Christians find regular Bible reading difficult and the idea of study quite intimidating.
Alongside prayer and evangelism, Bible reading is one of those areas of our Christian lives which we think we ought to be ‘better at’ than we are and so we tend to feel guilty for our failures. It is a sure-fire winner for the preacher to launch those guilt-inducing rhetorical questions from the pulpit: ‘Are your reading your Bible (or praying, or witnessing) enough?’ To which the answer can only be, ‘No, probably not’, accompanied by a quietly despairing sigh. It’s another load I can’t shoulder very well.
But it really doesn’t have to be like that. If you receive a letter or a newsy email, from a loved one or a close friend who is currently away, it isn’t a chore to read it. It’s all to do with appetite. You want to find out how they are, what they are doing and thinking, because your relationship with them matters so much to you both. It’s a delight to refresh it, especially if you can’t make verbal contact.
Relationship with God
The Bible serves precisely that function. It is through its witness that we come into relationship with God in the first place, for we could know nothing about him if he had not chosen to reveal himself to us. He speaks in Scripture, because he is the only true and living God, utterly unlike all the man-made idols, which are merely projections of human imagination. Having created us in his image, he endowed the human race with language, the ability to express our thoughts in words and so engage with one another (and with him) at the deepest level of our being. The 66 books of the Bible are God’s word to mankind, culminating with supreme clarity in the word made flesh, our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom all of the Scriptures find their focus and fulfilment.
Book of a lifetime
There is enough to occupy us for a whole lifetime in the Bible’s revelation of who God is and what he has done for us. But we need a way of accessing these riches to benefit from them. If you never actually read your emails, however important their message might be, you would never develop any relationship with their senders. And in our busy world today it is very easy for the Bible to remain a closed book, even to believers. We expect it to be remote, or difficult, or just perplexing in its size and variety and, when we dip into it at random, or always turn to a few favourite passages, our suspicions tend to be confirmed.
Here is a better way. Buy yourself a small hard-backed note book and decide to read progressively through a book of the Bible which you don’t know very well. If you can do this for a few minutes every day, that would be best, but you may find it easier to set aside on hour once a week at the weekend, and use what you discover as a set of daily messages to take with you into the coming week. Don’t go for an obscure or especially difficult book — Leviticus or Lamentations may have to wait a while! And don’t feel you must work non-stop all the way through a longer book. It can be sub-divided into manageable units and tackled in blocks, at different periods. The Bible is like the ocean. A child can paddle in its shallows and a whale can revel in its depths. The important thing is to be in it!
Ask the questions
So, try to arrange for a few minutes of undisturbed time daily. Sit at a table, with your Bible, notebook and pen (or laptop). Pray that God will reveal himself to you, so as to encourage your faith, as you read, and start on your chosen Bible book. Take just a few verses; it’s not a race to get to the finish. Quality matters more than quantity.
Here are four questions you can ask of any passage — most of which it will answer. (1) What is God teaching me about God here? Remember it is his book about himself, before it is mine. (2) What do I learn here about myself? This will usually lead me to repent, but also to rejoice. (3) What good examples are there here for me to follow, in the Lord’s strength? (4) Are there promises here, which I can claim for today, as I respond in trust and obedience? Write down whatever strikes you most and then pray it in to your own life circumstances. Next time, we’ll look at how to proceed from here.
David Jackman is the past President of the Proclamation Trust and writes the ‘Notes to growing Christians’ column for EN.