How do I get more out of my time in the Bible?
Recently I have had a few conversations that circle the same question or concern. They all went something like this, “I am reading my Bible on a regular basis, but I feel like if someone isn’t teaching me what I am supposed to get out of it, I am struggling to go deeper. I want to learn more, but I feel like I am hitting a wall.”
Counter to popular opinion, you don’t need to have a special course or overload yourself with resources to go deeper. As I think back on my time at seminary and now as a pastor, I am convinced you can boil down your needs to a few key tools. Here is my advice:
Journaling is a great tool for you to process ‘out loud.’ For many people, they are used to simply reading a chapter from the Bible (or maybe a passage plus a devotional) and then walking away. If this is your habit of reading the Word, you will never have real depth. Journaling forces you to slow down, think about what you are reading, and derive some conclusions.
As you know, we are big fans of the Discovery Bible Study at Revolve (www.revolvechurchnj.com/discover). I personally encourage people to use this format in their personal journal time as well. Practically speaking, this is what I do on a daily basis:
- I start my journal entry rehashing yesterday. What went well? I spend time being thankful for it. What was stressful? I ask God for help in those things. Do I need to repent or confess? I do that right there in my journal.
- After reading a passage of Scripture (whether that is a paragraph or a few chapters), I summarize what I read in a paragraph. Summarizing helps me to process and remember. Without this, I will often forget what I read by the afternoon. Unless your mind is a steel trap, or you’re an elephant, I am willing to guess you are the same way.
- Next, I ask myself, “What does this passage teach me about God?” I use this as a general ‘umbrella’ question. If the passage is about the church, the Word, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, missions, I lump all those under the same big question and then I make a list or write a sentence or two.
- Next, I answer what this teaches me about mankind. This could be things people struggle with, expectations God has for us, ways we are supposed to think or act, etc.
- After this, I write just a sentence or two pondering how that should impact the way that I live my life. This is hypothetical or theoretical obedience.
- Once I have looked at obedience theoretically, I ask God to bring two things to my mind.
- 1-What am I going to do about this passage? This needs to be a tangible, practical step like “I am going to remember God’s promise when I feel discouraged about my XYZ situation,” or “I will pray for patience when my kids are driving me bonkers.”
- 2-With whom does God want me to share this passage? This can be a peer who needs encouragement, a friend who needs the grace of Jesus, or even my kids.
- Finally, I spend some time praying in response to what I read. I thank God for the things I journaled about, ask for help in my areas of stress, worship him for what I learned about him, confess what I learned about myself, and pray for God’s power to obey.
If I journal through the above framework, I always feel like my quiet times have been deeper than they otherwise would have been!
Stop reading on a digital device.
There is something different about reading in print and being able to highlight or mark up your Bible. It is easier to see patterns of words, context, things you highlighted yesterday, and so on and so forth.
Even if you use an app for a reading plan, I encourage you to read the Scripture in a paper Bible. Also, if you are reading a reading plan on YouVersion that comes with a devotional thought, fight the urge to begin with the devotional thought. Start by journaling through the passage and then, once you are done with all of YOUR legwork, read their devotional thought and see what they have to say. I think you will find within just a few weeks that devotionals are increasingly underwhelming and soon you won’t even desire them in the same way that you did before!
Expose yourself to the meaning and purpose of the books of the Bible.
I strongly encourage you to download and start to use the “Read Scripture” App by Crazy Love Ministries.
I know you are thinking that I just told you to stop reading on electronic devices, but here me out. This app will give you two main things:
- Structure for reading in the form of a reading plan;
- Embedded videos from the Bible Project that teach you about major bible themes and overviews of the books of the Bible as you read;
In my opinion, this is often what people need more than anything else. If the average person understood a basic Bible Introduction, they would feel confident as they read. Once you know what the book of Judges is all about, for example, you have a big picture context to help you think through the individual passages and chapters within Judges.
You will notice on the Read Scripture app that it is a lot of reading each day. Don’t worry about the timeline, just go at your own pace and feel free to bounce around between New Testament to Old Testament after you finish a book. Just slowly start working through the Bible, making sure to watch EVERY video they have embedded. I still suggest reading with your paper Bible, but watching the videos in the app.
As an example, as you read Leviticus, the app will give you a brief intro video to the book and then include videos on themes like holiness, atonement, and sacrifice as those ideas come up in your reading. It will add substance to texts that otherwise might be confusing or unclear.
If you want more, consider some of these books.
If you don’t want to use the Read Scripture app for a biblical introduction, there are still great resources available to you. Here are a few listed from user friendly to complex.
- A good Study Bible like the ESV Study Bible or CSB Study Bible is a must have resource. Spend time reading the introduction to each book you read. Often these Bibles even come with suggested reading plans in the back.
- Multiply by Francis Chan gives you basic tips about how to read the Bible and also includes a general Old Testament and New Testament introduction. On top of this, it helps you understand things like making disciples and the importance of the local church.
- The Bible Knowledge Commentary by Walvoord and Zuck is a good, two-volume bookshelf resource that goes deeper than a Study Bible, but not as deep as a full fledged commentary.
- An Introduction to the Old Testament by Tremper Longman III and Raymond B. Dillard is the best Bible Introduction book I have ever read. I cannot stress how good it is for people trying to understand how the Old Testament narrative fits into the Bible as a whole.
- Companion to this is An Introduction to the New Testament by D.A. Carson and Douglas Moo. It is not as user friendly as the Old Testament version, but it is still very good.
Once you exhaust these resources, a whole world of books awaits you, but they will not be used to their full potential if the above is lacking.
- Start journaling using basic Bible interpretation tools.
- Stop reading on a digital device.
- Establish a healthy understanding of “Bible Introduction” using some of the above mentioned tools.