“I want to understand The Bible better.” -Everyone.
You are one of the people who readily confesses that The Bible is truly the Word of God to humanity. You believe it is authoritative in what it says, sufficient to guide you in living a life pleasing to The Lord, and necessary for faith and any real spiritual growth. You believe the Bible, but you just don’t know it that well.
Does this describe you? I promise this is no guilt trip. This may shock you but this is actually one of the most common questions/issues that I deal with in ministry. And more often than not it comes from people who truly love The Lord and are truly seeking to know Him better, yet they struggle with making sense out of The Bible.
I’ll let you in on a secret: I love it when people come to me with this question. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not rejoicing over their struggle. I love it when people come to me with this question because I love to help people develop methods, strategies, and tools to better learn The Bible. It’s one of the things I love most about being in the ministry. That is, equipping the saints for the work of the ministry. I love watching the light bulb come on for people. I love watching people grow deep, rich, and abiding roots in the Bible. I love watching people grow in knowing their Bible better. So for anyone who wishes to begin a journey to this end here are 7 strategies I have learned over the years that have been most beneficial to me.
1. Read it in prayer.
This is as simple as asking, “Lord, I know I am having a tough time understanding your Word. You know I am having a tough time. I know that you want me to know this Word, and I know that only by your grace will I understand it. I need you Lord. Amen.”
It’s amazing to me that we are quick to ask for help when we have something difficult to do in life, yet we forget to ask for His help with something that we are unable to do on our own. Here’s another secret: The Lord loves it when you ask good things from Him. Asking to Him to make you know His Word better is a good thing, so ask and ask Him with a humble confidence.
2. Read it consistently.
Last night at a Sunday school fellowship we watched the original Toy Story. If you want to feel old then here’s your cue: Toy Story was released 24 years ago. It was only 20 minutes into the movie that I looked over at my wife and said, “This movie is a million times funnier than I remember.” There were things in the movie that I picked up on that I have never noticed before. I could use a million examples for this but you get the point: The more you read it, by God’s grace the better you will understand it.
3. Read it entirely.
Have you ever binge watched a Netflix show? It happens to me at least two times a year. Here is the universal rule to binge watching: you never, ever skip an episode. Why not? Because if you do then you miss key points, character changes, narrative adjustments; you just totally lose your bearings and in the end you lose interest in the show itself. My fear for many is that they have lost interest in studying the Bible because they skip around and lose their bearings. The Bible has a unified message with key changes, facts, and so much more. If you’re skipping around just looking for inspirational verses then you miss more than you probably realize. So, binge read The Bible, don’t skip episodes, and read it entirely.
4. Read it with an open mind.
Don’t bring your assumptions to Bible study. Remember you’re not studying to tell God what you think. You’re studying The Bible because you want to hear what God has to say. Check your assumptions at the door because when you come with a preprogrammed assumption about the sovereignty of God or the free will of man then you will read into the Word what you want it to say. That’s a sure proof way to not understand the Bible better. Listen, if you read the Bible long enough you will discover things that make you uneasy and that are hard to digest. Here’s some good Bible study advice for dealing with those tough passages: Drop your preconceived assumptions at the door and approach the Scriptures with an open heart and hear what God has to say.
5. Read it into your mind.
This is simple. If you memorize something then you will understand it better. You know I’m right. But I get it, memorization can be hard. Or is it? How many song lyrics, truck models, or college football stats can you recall at a moments notice? I grant that memory can come easier for some than for others, but everyone can work at memorizing. Start with a verse a day and attempt to memorize a couple of chapters in the same book. Then go back and study it. I will guarantee you that you will understand that passage in a deeper way than you ever thought possible. We used to have a saying in the weight room: don’t skip leg day. Well here’s a motto for Bible study: don’t skip mind day. Do the work and read the word into your mind, literally.
6. Read it with a pen.
Howard Hendricks once wrote that, “the pen is like a mental crowbar.” This is true. Every morning when I open The Bible to study I also open my pen. I write, draw arrows, circle key words, journal, etc. Point being, there are so many things you can do with a pen that you can’t do without one. So pick up a pen and read The Bible with it.
7. Read it alongside good books.
There is a reason this is last and there is a reason that it’s on the list. It’s last because commentaries and study Bible commentaries can be dangerous. Friend, when I open up the Bible I’m not searching for what David Jeremiah, John MacArthur, or John Piper has to say. I want to hear The Spirit of The Living God. My fear for some is that they can’t hear what The Lord is saying to them because they are listening to other voices instead.
Despite that danger, when used responsibly, commentaries and books can be precious gifts and tools that God uses to grow His people in knowledge. Listen, I am a book worm. You will rarely find me without a book. I love books and especially books about The Bible. Do remember, not every theologian is worth your time. Here’s a general rule: you can only read so many books in life, so read well. So get a commentary or two for your library and use them responsibly and they will help you understand the Bible better.