As I wrote in an earlier post, the Bible is both the best-selling book in the world and one of the least-read. This is particularly tragic because the Bible is the one book that has the ability to literally change our lives (see Psalm 119:11, Romans 10:17). I think the main reason many either don’t read it or read it very little is that they have no real plan for getting the most out of their Bible reading time.
There are several key factors when it comes to reading the Bible. One of the most important is using a translation that you are comfortable with. Most will never read the Bible in the original Greek or Hebrew (although that is a worthy endeavor if you are so inclined), so an English translation that is readable for you is critical.
Another consideration is understanding the difference between Bible reading and Bible study. Both are key aspects of the Christian life, but they are not the same thing. Bible reading is exactly that: spending time reading it, much like you would any other book you read purely for enjoyment. Bible study involves the use of lexicons, dictionaries, histories, maps, commentaries, and other tools to more closely examine a particular passage, person, or theme. The problem with not recognizing this difference is that you can spend a great deal of time reading about the Bible without ever actually reading it. As the late, great Johnny Cash once joked, “the Bible sure does shed a lot of light on all those commentaries.”
Therefore, when it comes to actual Bible reading, I believe there are three things you can do that will make your time profitable, and they actually go beyond just reading: reading the Word, hearing the Word, and writing the Word.
1. Read the Word (Luke 4:16). This is the most obvious aspect of Bible reading. It involves simply going somewhere quiet and reading. Some can do this in a crowded Starbucks without being distracted, while others need the silence of an empty house. Either way, commit to a specific period of time and stick to it; fifteen minutes is a good start for most.
Don’t simply flip around reading random verses; you wouldn’t do that with any other book and hope to understand it, and the Bible is no different. Try to always read at least a chapter (in a long book like Genesis) or the whole book (for shorter ones like James or Jonah). This will keep things in context and make understanding easier. Also, if your pastor uses a particular version when preaching and you are comfortable reading it, it can be helpful to use that same translation. This will make the transition from reading during the week to hearing on Sunday easier.
2. Hear the Word (Romans 10:17). It is well-documented that we retain information best if we receive it a number of different formats. Since nearly every Bible version is available on CD, mp3, or online today, hearing the Word is easier now than at any time in our history. Whether you listen at work, home or in the car, hearing the Bible read by someone else is an excellent way to reinforce your reading. Be sure you are using the same translation for listening that you are for reading.
3. Write the Word (Deuteronomy 6:9). This is an exercise that can have many benefits, from reinforcing what you have read and heard to being an act of worship in itself. Simply get a good quality notebook or stationery and copy down the text you are reading longhand. Copying the text will force you to focus on the entire passage rather than simply skimming it and will help it become more firmly planted in your mind and heart. An added benefit is that once you have gone through the entire New Testament or even the entire Bible, you will have a copy of God’s Word in your own handwriting that will be special to you and can be handed down to your children as well.
I believe that this combination of reading, hearing, and writing is not only beneficial but also Biblical (be sure to look up the verses cited for each of the three activities above). Practicing this in conjunction with your normal prayer and study time can greatly enhance your enjoyment and understanding of God’s word. Now stop reading this and go read your Bible.