Monday, August 29, 2016

Eight Ways to Improve Your Bible Reading

Christians are Followers of the Way and People of the Book.

As Followers of the Way, our central focus is the person of Jesus, the self-proclaimed Way, Truth, and Life (John 14:6). But this Jesus does not come to us out of the blue, or, as of yet, riding on the clouds.

The living Word (John 1:1) speaks to us through His Book - the Holy Scriptures. The Book tells His story, reveals His heart, and issues His calling. Thus, we are to be People of the Book.
Christians don't simply learn or study or use Scripture; we assimilate it, take it into our lives in such a way that it gets metabolized into acts of love, cups of cold water, missions into the world, healing and evangelism and justice in Jesus' name... (Peterson, Eat This Book, 18).
Becoming People of the Book first requires accepting its focus on Jesus (Luke 24:13-32). Next, we must accept its authority in shaping our souls (e.g., 2 Tim. 3:16-17). Finally, we must repent of laziness (or its cousin busyness), and commit to applying discipline to our spiritual lives (e.g., 1 Timothy 4:7-10).

Only when we have done this groundwork can we apply the following Eight Ways to Improve Our Bible Reading.
  1. Set a Schedule: Pick a designated place and time where distractions are limited. Have your Bible and journal waiting for you; set an alarm clock to remind you. Reading early in the morning calibrates the mind for the remainder of the day, even if you are groggy. Reading last thing at night closes the evening in a spirit of reflection. Reading during a lunch or work break resets your focus. The good thing about these time slots is their consistency -- every day we wake, retire, and eat. Attaching a new habit to a set pattern has proven worth.
  2. Make a Plan*: Choose a way of working through the Scriptures. Start small. A chapter a day a few days a week gets the mind adapted to reading. Don't set huge reading goals and get discouraged. For example, before trying to read the Bible in a year, attempt reading Genesis in a month. And always look forward: before you finish a book of the Bible, begin thinking through what to read next, so as to avoid losing inertia. Start with a gospel to revisit Jesus.
  3. Enjoy Variety: Read in a variety of translations, not only to compare how different versions render the text, but also for a fresh take on a familiar passage. Having spent most of my adult life in the NASB, I enjoy reading ESV and the Message. Also, vary what portions of Scripture you spend time in. Bounce from Old Testament narrative to New Testament Letter. Move from wisdom (Proverbs) to prophecy (Jeremiah) to praise (Psalm) to gospel (John). Try reading aloud from time to time; hearing the text in your voice gives its a different slant.
  4. Get Mobile: The YouVersion Bible App makes reading and sharing easy and intuitive. Sign up and begin reading from various translations or reading plans. This App allows you to share with friends, take notes during sermons, read alternative translations, and listen to the text performed by the notable Max McLean. Furthermore, no one can use the excuse, "I didn't have my Bible." In fact, even the Gideon's have broken into the Bible App business.
  5. Memorize: Find a verse, passage, chapter, or book of the Bible you would like to commit to memory. Consider dedicating your scheduled reading time to memorizing; it will be harder than you think. However, the payoff is great. Implanting the word in your mind gives you easy access when facing challenges or encouraging others.
  6. Meditate: Pick a Psalm, saying of Jesus, or affirmation from the New Testament letters to roll around in your head. Rather than rushing through reading, let this small passage direct your thinking toward God. Biblical meditation moves from attention (what it says) to appreciation (how it feels) to application (how it works).
  7. Journal: Read with a notebook open and pen in hand. Write down passages that have significant meaning. Take note of questions that come to mind. Reflect and record what God reveals about Himself, human nature, redemption, and our calling.
  8. Share with Others: Verbalizing your observations in Scripture give them greater weight. When you share with a spouse, child, or friend, you give them opportunity to consider God's Word. They may refine your thoughts or simply experience refreshment from the Word. Turning this personal discipline into a shared experience proves the "living and active" nature of the Word of God (Heb. 4:12).
Disciplines do not take shape over night. We may adopt a formula without yielding our hearts. We may start and stall and return to status quo. We may state our attentions but remain slothful.

Nevertheless, given enough time and attention, applying these Eight Ways to Improve Your Bible Reading will cultivate Christian character. As Followers of the Way, His likeness is our aim (Eph. 4:11-16).

*PROS & CONS of Various Devotional Plans

Year-Thru the Bible - 

  • PROS: comprehensive; includes whole Bible and requires consistent reading to complete 
  • CONS: easy to drop if you miss a few days or hit boring section (the Year-Thru Bibles that include OT, NT, and Psalms help ward off this feeling); daily reading may not relate to current experience
Chronological Bible - 
  • PROS: comprehensive; shows the story-line of the Bible and how various books fit together
  • CONS: Somewhat speculative (we don't always know the chronology) and distorts the way we received the cannon (individual books or collections of them); daily reading may not relate to current experience
Devotional Guides - 
  • PROS: provide good focus, direction, and break the Bible into digestible bites; highly relevant
  • CONS: commentary section may overshadow the Bible verses or takes them out of context; focus may be more topical or self-centered than God-centered; selective content
Sermon Reading Plans - 
  • PROS: corporate nature may lead to more discussions with other church members; reiterates or clarifies sermon, giving it more value
  • CONS: may elevate the pastor over the individual believer in the church; less relevant if you missed sermon or church attendance is poor; selective content
Lectionary -
  • PROS: comprehensive; varies daily readings in OT, NT, and Psalms/Proverbs
  • CONS: daily reading may not relate to current experience; liturgical connotations don't sit well with everyone's background

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