Some of you may think that in Part One I asked you to do a lot of work every time you pick up the Bible. I am asking you to do some work. But as you study and read it gets easier. Over time you remember who the Ephesians were and why Paul was writing to them. If your practice it to read through entire books, you do your homework first, read the commentary and your study Bible notes and then you read the text. If you are not in the habit of doing this, I suggest you try it. You will be surprised at how much just that small about of information will help you.
The other Bible reading suggestion I want to make is this. Take your time. For some reason in our culture we want to read the Bible in a year. I don’t know how many times I have tried this and failed. I don’t know how many people I know who have tried this and failed. Why do we do this? What exactly is the rush? Also, I don’t think for most of us it is particularly necessary to read every single word in the Bible. Many of us are just better off skipping large parts of Leviticus. ( Now, please, I’m not saying Leviticus has no value. I am saying it’s a tough read for many of us and perhaps not where we want start early in our personal Bible reading and study.) Never the less, I do think it is vitally important for us to read lots of the Bible, start to finish, in a systematic way.
Here’s what I suggest, try using the daily lectionary or the Sunday lectionary to guide your reading. The daily lectionary is a two year reading plan. Every day you read part of a Gospel, an Epistle, the Old Testament and the Psalms. I did this for several years and found it very helpful. It does skip some parts of scripture, but you may read those on your own if you want to.
The Sunday lectionary is a three year cycle. If you use this you would stay with the same passages ( Psalm,Gospel, Epistle and Old Testament) for a week. This is my current practice and I find value in staying with the passages for several days. Both lectionaries are designed to have you read the major stories and themes of Scripture.
If you read through either lectionary cycle, especially if you do it more than once, you will be surprised at how much of the Bible you will know. You will find yourself understanding your pastor’s preaching better because you will know where he or she is in the Biblical story. You will have a bigger picture and that will be helpful.
My next suggestion is to remember to pray before you begin. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you. If you are not sure what to pray, here are two suggestions.
God, source of all light, by your Word you give light to the soul. Pour out upon us the spirit of wisdom and understanding that, being taught by you in Holy Scripture, our hearts and minds may be opened to know the things that pertain to life and holiness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
Blessed Lord, who caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
From the Book of Common Worship, (Westminster/JohnKnox Press: Louisville, Kentucky, page 91)
Finally, reading and studying by yourself is good and necessary. But it is also good and necessary and important to read and study with others. Being a Christian is a community event. We need each other. The Bible is meant to be encountered in a group. We help each other grow and understand the Bible and the life of faith.
Lets think now about what these practice suggestions say about this approach to reading the Bible. Pretty clearly, I’m not a fan of the “pick it up, read it, and whatever I think it says, it says” method. I think we need to have some background information before you read. The Bible was written in particular times and places and that shapes the text and affects how we read it. The Bible definitely speaks to modern people, I firmly believe that. But at the same time, we have a responsibility to the text. Taking the Bible seriously means we respect its history and culture.
There is some effort involved in reading the Bible this way. It takes some time and it takes a little work. It is a practice, a spiritual discipline. I think it is important and worth our effort because reading the Bible matters. It is important that we do it well.
For the Bible to shape us, to influence us we need to take the time to prayerfully and thoughtfully read the Bible. I don’t mean we must spend hours every day. I do think it is a good idea to read 15-20 minutes several days a week, week in and week out. Like all spiritual disciplines, reading the Bible is done over a lifetime. It’s something we are in for the long haul. That may sound boring, reading the same book again and again. But amazingly, there is always something new to discover. If you are not in the habit of regular Bible study and reading, I invite you to try it. What I have offered in these two posts are what I have found helpful and I hope they help you.
I’d like to know, what do you think?
Next week, we’ll consider what we’re doing when we read the Bible. After that, we will think about what the Bible is. What does it mean for us to say the Bible is the word of God?