How to Read the Bible and Love It

“Reading” by patpitchaya, freedigitalphotos.net

“Reading” by patpitchaya, freedigitalphotos.net

When I was still new to faith, I loved to read the Bible. I thought of it as my own personal library that I could hold in my two hands, and I would sit and read whole books: the story of Ruth widowed as a young woman, who moved to a foreign country with her mother-in-law and made a new life for herself; the story of Job, who lost everything only to regain it all and more in the end. Their stories engaged me as much as any other stories or poetry that I read as a dreamy teenager.

Unfortunately, my initial enthusiasm for reading the Bible didn’t last long. It didn’t seem right to admit it, but soon I grew bored. After all, I rarely reread any book, or saw any movie more than once. How could the Bible be any different? I read it once, then felt as if I were done.

At the same time, I was convinced that there must be more to the Bible than that–more to hear from God, more wisdom for my life, more to learn, more to understand, more questions to wrestle with. How could I keep reading and rereading the Bible even when I didn’t feel like it? How could I keep reading and rereading the Bible, and love it?

Here are 10 variations that have helped me stay engaged with Scripture. If you tend to get restless or bored with reading the Bible, why not try one or more of these before you decide to give it up altogether? If you have a recommendation of your own, please leave a comment.

1. Try a different translation. If you normally read the New Revised Standard Version, try The Message by Eugene Peterson, The New Living Translation, or some other version. For a list of options you can read online, check out Bible Gateway. I’m currently rereading The Message, and for a change of pace, I’ve also started a children’s Bible called Shine On: A Story Bible.

2. Use a devotional guide. Many books for daily devotions include a Scripture reading for each day along with several paragraphs of illustration or explanation. On my bedside table, I have Rejoice! and Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals. I don’t use both of these every day, but they do encourage me to read the Bible regularly.

3. Set a goal. In My Year of Reading Biblically, I read through both the Common English Bible (New Testament) and The Message (Old Testament). For some built-in accountability, I’ve been tweeting my own Scripture verse of the day. If you follow me on Twitter, you can track my Scripture reading. If you’re not on Twitter, no problem–you can still see my verse of the day and other Twitter activity in the sidebar of my website.

4. Do a topical study. Instead of reading the Bible verse by verse and book by book, use a concordance to look up all of the references to a certain word or topic. For example, try reading everything the Bible says about hope or everything the Bible says about prayer. Yesterday in our worship, we showed this video of 350 verses related to God’s love for creation, which is a fun topical study.

5. Read Scripture aloud. Follow the practice of the ancient world, where reading was almost always out loud. For me, reading aloud helps minimize distractions and maximize focus. Or listen to an audio version like the New International Version online or Inspired by The Bible Experience.

6. Pray as you read. Ask God to speak to you in the words of Scripture. If you normally read the Bible at the same pace you’re skimming this article, slow down for a change. Try lectio divina. Pause for reflection after each phrase or verse. Allow the words to sink in and offer them back to God in prayer.

7. Express yourself. Make your Bible reading active. Underline or highlight key words. Keep a journal to record your own thoughts, feelings, questions, and prayers. If you’re reading a psalm, write your own poem in the form of a psalm. If you’re reading a Gospel story, draw a picture. If you’re musical, write a song based on your Scripture reading.

8. Commit Scripture to memory. Instead of memorizing a single verse, read and memorize several verses, a whole chapter, or even an entire book so you get the context. Savour the words and hide them in your heart (Psalm 119:11). Turn them into a dramatic reading for your own use, or to share with others in worship.

9. Read the Bible with others. Build accountability by agreeing to read the Bible with one or more other partners. Read with your spouse, your children, or a prayer partner. Join a Sunday school class or group Bible study. Volunteer to teach or to lead the discussion, and you’ll do even more Bible reading and learn even more.

10. Put it into practice. James 1:22-25 says that hearing God’s word without doing what it says is like looking in a mirror and then forgetting what you look like. But when we practice what we hear, we receive a blessing. I also find that practice drives me back to Scripture with fresh perspective and real-life questions.

Your Turn: What makes reading Scripture come alive for you?



Categories: Spiritual Practice

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14 replies

  1. I’m working my way through the Old Testament again and in Psalms, while they have always been very comforting and uplifting, somehow in this read through I am more aware of the passages where there is a fierce call outs for justice to enemies, for them to be destroyed, vengeful; and am having trouble dealing with those. Such as Psalm 41, Psalm 145. I’m sure you’ve preached on this topic.

    • I sometimes have a hard time with the Psalms too–so much complaining and anger, and “fierce call outs” as you put it. For me it helps to read them in their historical and personal context, to realize that they were born out of severe threat and fear. Plus they come embedded in words of hope and God’s mercy that are also part of the Psalms, and Jesus saw himself in the Psalms too. I hope that working through both the difficult passages and the more comforting ones will enrich your thinking and prayers and deepen your life and faith. Keep on reading, Melodie!

  2. Excellent suggestions, April. Thank you. The other one that comes to mind is to pray for God to quicken the words as we read so the scriptures speak to us personally.

    Enjoying different translations is like being surrounded by that same number of good friends, each of whom has a unique way of expressing things, but all belonging to one spirit in Christ. Most Christians have a Fav, but each translation brings something fresh or deep to our understanding, which is why I began the Bible Reviewer blog – http://biblereviewer.blogspot.com – with reviews of translations from various publishers.

    Also, Christian poets, writers, and other communicators for Christ need to be accurate and keep scripture in context, so reading the Bible regularly will help us to get over old misunderstandings or misinterpretations before we write a Bible-based poem, story, article, or other manuscript.

    To encourage members of our FB group to read your post, I’ll highlight it on the Christian Poets & Writers blog http://www.christianpoetsandwriters.com. May God bless you and all who read this in Jesus’ name.

    • Thanks, Mary, I appreciate your combination of prayer and immersing ourselves in Scripture. I have some training in the original biblical languages, and still try to use my Greek and Hebrew for Bible study, but for reading I use a good basic English translation and then supplement by reading a variety of others. A friend recently recommended the New King James Version to me, so I’ll look at what your Bible Reviewer blog has to say about it. Thanks for sharing the link.

  3. Since September I’ve been leading monthly Bible Studies in Manitoba’s Women’s Correctional Centre.With these women, mostly young and Aboriginal, I’ve been learning to read the Bible from the margins, and it is making it come alive for me in new ways. This Wednesday we will study Psalm 122 (which is significantly non-imprecatory, Melodie, and it’s the one Jesus claimed most clearly on the cross) and John 15: 1-8. As I prepare, I sense more of the Messiah’s compassion for and solidarity with those who suffer. If this Wednesday will be like the others, I will drive home tired, but with joy in my heart and a deeper certainty of the good news for a hurting humanity.

    • Thank you for sharing your experience, Elsie. That sounds like a fantastic opportunity to read and learn along with women in a different setting and with different backgrounds. I can only imagine the insights that you share with one another! It’s especially good to know that reading the Bible “from the margins” has not led to discouragement, but instead has given you “a deeper certainty of the good news for a hurting humanity.” May you know God’s joy and wisdom as you prepare for this Wednesday and meet again with the women in your Bible Study.

  4. Hi April How do you get a video from YouTube to play in church? I’ve never been able to figure it out. I think if we had internet we could probably stream it, but how do you do it? Losi

    >

    • Hi Lois – I don’t actually know all of the ins and outs of how we were able to do that, since our wonderful music coordinator, Gerald Neufeld, arranged it. You could contact him at music@emmanuelmennonite.com, or maybe Hope Mennonite folks have a cd copy, or I wonder if Arlyn would have a copy at the Resource Centre. It would be a good resource for them to have in their collection.

  5. I like these suggestions and have used nearly all of them. They must have worked, as I’m still reading.

    One I would add to your list is to claim the confusion we feel as we read conflicting texts. The authors of the Bible are in conversation with one another, and no, they don’t always agree. But in their disagreements there is wisdom to be found.

    Excuse the plug, but John K. Stoner and I recently published a popular survey of the Bible, providing a brief discussion of each book. It’s aimed at younger readers, especially those who are skeptical of the Bible, but others may find it helpful too. It’s called If Not Empire, What? and is found at http://www.Bible-and-Empire.net.

    It fits particularly well with your suggestions 4, 9 and 10.

    • Hello Berry, I appreciate your encouragement “to claim the confusion we feel as we read conflicting texts.” That’s much better than being afraid of it! Thanks also for posting the link to your survey of the Bible.I’ll have a look at that next….

  6. My biggest help for almost a year now has been subscribing to a Revised Common Lectionary plan. They’re pretty much the perfect length for me most days, give a good sense of the church year, cover a lot of the biblical story (but not nearly all of the Old Testament), and are tied together thematically.

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