I grew up in the Southern Baptist Church, a denomination known to teach the Bible well. I remember the “line by line” sermons on Sunday mornings and a plethora of Bible studies available throughout the week. As a young believer in Jesus, I had an intense desire to know God’s Word and soaked up every bit of knowledge I could. Yet as I entered into adulthood, I became frustrated and guilt ridden with reading my Bible. I had a desire to grow closer to the Lord and was taught to believe that reading your Bible would do that but I began to struggle with even cracking the cover. It eventually occurred to me that I was never taught how to study the Bible for myself. I had learned to depend on studies to guide me but I found myself constantly unsatisfied with the content of those studies. In addition, I increasingly felt guilty over the struggle that I should be in the Word everyday. Yet because I wasn’t, this meant I didn’t have a strong faith and wasn’t “spiritual” enough to have a consistent “Quiet Time” with the Lord.
Much like myself, I have heard many share about this similar struggle: They have a desire to grow closer to the Lord and believe that reading the Bible can do that for them yet don’t get a lot out of reading it. It took me some time to wrestle with the guilt and frustration which eventually led me to receiving a degree in Bible and Theology. (SIDE NOTE: You do not need a degree to read your Bible!) I love the Word and still deeply believe it can be spiritually nourishing. I also struggle with the Word and still don’t read my Bible everyday but the difference is I don’t feel guilty about it anymore.
In the following, I want to help you address some of these frustrations around both reading your Bible and the feelings surrounding the text. Here are three ways I am suggesting how to get the most out of reading the Word.
Check Your Mindset
Our mindset is extremely important when we are approaching scripture. The way we view Scripture and the way we view ourselves in relationship to scripture will determine the way we are going to approach it. If we feel we are not smart enough, then we will approach the Word with anxiety or not at all. If we are in need of some magic potion to soothe our pain, we will approach the Word with tunnel vision. If we are looking to draw closer to God, we will approach the Word with a singular ambitious lens. If we read a passage of scripture and simply do not like what it is saying (like all the passages about “women being silent”), we will have a difficult time interpreting its meaning and finding relevant application.
If we don’t acknowledge our current biases and state of mind, then we are not able to set them aside to approach the Word as it is, only as we want it to be.
So here are a few simple recommendations.
Acknowledge your current mindset.
Are you feeling guilty? Apathetic? Worried? Seeking to fix a problem? Checking off the box of scripture-reading for the day? Take a moment to name where you are at.
Set It Aside
Ask the Holy Spirit to help you set aside your current mindset to step into the scripture as it is.
Keep an open mind
Once we have acknowledged our personal biases and feelings and have intentionally set them aside, keep an open mind about what you are reading in real-time. Mindset isn’t a “one and done” approach, it is an ongoing process of acknowledging and setting aside.
Fun fact: These three steps spell out ASK! Ask the Holy Spirit to help you in this process.
Keep the Method Simple
This step could feel pretty vulnerable because you might have always believed you needed to do prep work or buy a study in order for you to get anything out of your time in the Word. While prep work and studies can be good, you do not have to depend on a formal study in order to engage your Bible. The scriptures are so much more approachable than that! Here are a few simple suggestions and things to keep in mind.
- Read the passage multiple times and if possible in different translations. My go to’s are the NIV, ESV, and NASB. This provides you with a broader idea of what the text is saying. If you find yourself puzzled move closer to translations like the Living Bible or the Message.
- Ask questions about the text FIRST before consulting any sources. Start with your basic who, what, when, and where. Really take the time to bombard the text with questions around the setting, characters, and any basic principles that are being communicated. Answering as many as you can from just the text itself. If you are desiring to study an entire book of the Bible, you are welcome to read the intro in your Study Bible or watch a Bible Project Video for some background before reading. Then just read! Don’t get caught up in commentaries until you have exhausted all your questions (answered and unanswered) first.
WARNING: DO NOT RUSH TO APPLICATION! Just take the time to hang out in the raw text without treasure hunting for meaning. When we rush to an application, we end up missing what the text is actually saying which can lead to a bad interpretation which can lead to MISAPPLICATION.
- Once you have asked questions, then grab a commentary to learn more about the text you are studying. These are a few of my favorites that are easily accessible.
Our current context is strongly influenced by individualism and striving to reach the next level. This can have us busy chasing after purpose and building our kingdoms, collecting tools along the way to aid us in this process. So imagine we come to the text, a text that is highly communal and God who is primarily working within and communicating to a community, with this mindset – it’s no wonder we often don’t get a lot out of the text! Hence why setting aside our mindset is most important. What are you looking to “get out” of this text? Is it for your purpose or for the purposes of God? The Bible is not meant to serve your individual needs and spiritual formation. Can it meet our needs? Totally. Will it help us grow spiritually? Absolutely! Will it give us the flourishing, vibrant life we are desiring? Well, that depends. Is it a stronger faith we are after or a better life? Check your mindset. In order to keep our application within the parameters of scripture, I suggest a simple application test:
Run all your application thoughts through the lens of the Greatest Commandments:
How does this scripture challenge or change my concept to love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength? And how does this passage challenge or change my concept to love my neighbor as myself? Then determine your next steps. What does obedience look like in this? Is repentance needed? Forgiveness? Encouragement to another? What practical steps can you take to apply this? Keep running each application through the Greatest Commandments lens and apply cautiously. We always want to remain open to what the Holy Spirit wants to teach us and not what we feel may be the gold nugget we discovered.
Practices of Resurrection
We are on week two of our Eastertide Series: Practices of Resurrection. This week we are focusing on the spiritual disciple of reading and studying scripture. We began the week in Luke 24:13-33 and will work our way through a few passages. On the road to Emmaus as you will read in Luke this week, Jesus took time to remind and teach the disciples all about himself and the story of God throughout the Hebrew scriptures. My prayer for myself as well as for you this week, is that we can not only set time aside to read our Bibles but come away knowing God more and loving our neighbor better. It’s not too late to join us, Eastertide is still four more weeks!