Let me begin with a confession. When I was in school (Class 9, I think), we were having a Friday morning bible study. When it was time to share, I told the group that I loved reading the Bible. In fact, I said that when I didn’t read the Bible, my day would go bad. That was a lie. I neither loved reading the Bible nor did I notice any change in my day, whether good or bad, if I read or didn’t read it.
I guess I wanted to sound spiritual, so I said what I said. But through the years I have been thinking about the connection between a “good day” and reading the Bible because I have heard many others say it. People say how reading the Bible in the morning helps give them peace or orients them to face the day, or even provides them daily guidance. Honestly, even as I have begun to know God and love His word more, I haven’t seen any conclusive proof (for myself) that reading the Bible leads to a day being good or bad.
Whether I read the Bible or not, and here I’m talking about reading the Bible randomly one morning, I haven’t seen any visible sign that my day is going better (and inversely, my day does not go worse if I don’t read).
But through the years what I have noticed is that the practice of reading the Bible, the discipline of reading the Bible for weeks and months without fail, actually starts to give me direction, and helps me to see things more clearly from God’s point of view. In fact, as a “worship leader”, I find that my song choices and attitude during worship, become significantly more meaningful. And, as a teacher, the consistent act of reading the Bible has given me much insight to counsel students at crucial times.
What I have come to believe is that the key is consistency. Reading the Bible did not magically make my day better and skipping my Bible reading did not make my day go any worse. But the discipline of daily Bible reading, over several months, opened my heart to be more receptive to what God was saying over time and I started seeing God’s word to be relevant to not just me but also for others.
With that said, is reading the Bible any-which-way-I-want enough? Are there recommended ways to improve how we read the Bible? Is there a technique that we could use that would actually help find God’s direction in our lives?
I think, a Christian disciple needs a combination of much-needed attitudes and techniques when reading the Bible.
First, I would suggest that we all read the Bible as God’s word, trusting that it can be adequately understood by a common individual with the Lord’s help. A regular Christian, dare I say all Christians, need to see the Bible as the living God’s communication with the world and approach scripture with humble prayer and eager spirit.
This may seem counter-intuitive to an academic specialist who may want to objectively study the Bible as a historical document, within its historical context, with the additional skills of the “original” Greek and Hebrew languages. However, as the reformers like Luther and Calvin strongly asserted, there is a certain clarity of scripture, and we can trust that much of the Bible is understandable in the language we speak, by whoever from whatever socio-economic background. God speaks through His word today and, in fact, it is God as the living author who helps the common and sincere day-to-day Christians to know Him through it.
Next, I would suggest that we read the Bible systematically, which means, that we avoid being satisfied by reading just one-or-two verses a day, but rather read whole passages. The goal would be to read all the chapters of a biblical book. And hopefully, the eventual larger goal would be that we read the whole Bible one day. This will take more time and effort, yes. But with sufficient Bible reading time, and perhaps with realistic goals, systematic Bible reading can potentially help Christians improve not just their knowledge of scripture, but also provide them with a broader picture of who God is and what he expects from His people.
I would also recommend that we read along and against our preference. Reading along our preference means, we read the Bible to find comforting verses, finding agreeable images of God, and even re-reading passages that we are familiar with. So, it is good to read the Psalms, read the Gospels, read Philippians 2! However, reading against our preference means that we read the Bible expecting to be surprised. So, we try to read passages that we are unfamiliar with, read those passages that we find irrelevant, and allow the Bible to make us uncomfortable. So, it is good to read Hebrews, read the Prophetic books like Habakkuk and Zephaniah, read Numbers, read Revelation! I have seen that this especially helps in opening ourselves to listening to God’s voice above our own.
Then I would suggest that we take the help of others to understand scripture. This may seem contrary to the first point, where I said that anyone can understand the Bible. However, relying on specialists means that we are humble enough to recognise that we could be wrong and that we need the larger Church to help us understand what we don’t. There are two kinds of specialists, and both are needed. The academic specialists help translate the Bible, offer insights on meanings through background and language study and provide perspectives that many of us may not have thought about, especially for difficult to understand portions of scripture. The academic specialists also help us to be a little more objective, to protect us from bringing in too many of our own ideas into what we think the Bible means.
Furthermore, academic specialists can help us to learn techniques on how better to understand the Bible. The other kind of specialists are also important; the ones who visibly practise the word of God in their lives. Simply because specialists know Greek or Hebrew does not mean that they practise what they teach. In fact, there are many non-academicians who despite some errors in interpretation, may still offer biblical wisdom through how they apply scripture truthfully in their lives. We can learn from these practitioners by listening to them talk about their faith journeys, how they faced life’s challenges, and even how they interpreted the difficult to understand portions of the Bible.
Finally, I would suggest that we read the Bible because we love God and we love our neighbours. Loving God is obvious, it is the crux of discipleship. We follow Jesus, because we love Jesus. We worship God, because we love God. So, because we love God, we want to hear our loving God speaking to us through His word. But how does love for our neighbours motivate us to read the Bible? If we love our neighbours, we will see their struggles, we will listen to their unanswered questions, we will see their unfulfilled desires; and we will want to go to God, through scripture, to see what God wants to say to our hurting and needy friends. Thus, if we truly seek to love God and spend time with him through the word, we begin also to read for the sake of others to see how they too can listen to and be comforted by God’s voice.
Any last words pertaining to Bible reading for discipleship? Read consistently. Read reverently. Read humbly. And read because you love.