Just as we will not have tulips in the Spring without planting bulbs in the Fall, we will not be “like a tree planted by streams of water” without delighting in the law of the Lord and meditating on it day and night (Psalm 1:1-3, ESV). We do well to read the Bible, memorize the Bible, sing the Bible, listen to sermons about the Bible and so on, but our focus cannot simply be on getting more because we also need to look at getting better.
Are you getting better at reading the Bible and are you a better Bible reader today than you were a year ago? What can we do to get better and how would we know if we were improving? This post is the beginning of a series where we hope to chip away at this. This will not be a systematic treatment but simply an ongoing attempt to provide help along the way.
It stands to reason that we should work at reading better. Reading is a skill like any other and as such, must be learned and only gets better with effort. That goes not only for the initial process of learning to lump letters into words and words into sentences, but also for our ability to get what we are reading. Reading well is by no means automatic because it involves skills that can be learned, practiced, and improved. Like many others, the few years of piano lessons I took when I was young have been swallowed up by the rising tide of years in which I do not play and do not practice. I can still squint at sheet music and pick away at something like the melody one halting note at a time, but the real music is lost in the plunking. I cannot play the left hand at all, my timing is entirely off, and the feeling and movement of the song are left stranded as I hesitate and search for the next place to put a finger.
No one is born perfect and so no one is born a perfect reader. We get things wrong partly because we are limited. We get distracted and so we miss things. We have assumptions and ideas about what a text will say and so it’s easy to find ourselves hearing merely the echo of our own thoughts. We misread a word or understand a phrase to mean something that was not intended and so go astray. We develop bad habits and get stuck in them. On the other hand, we also get things wrong because we do not want to hear what God says. A light can shine in the darkness but those who love the darkness will find ways to squirm away from it (John 3:19-21 and 1:9-13). We should not assume that it is always someone else who would hear but not understand and see but not perceive (Isaiah 6:9-10).
The history of the church provides plenty of examples of groups who read the Bible poorly and, thankfully, also advances in reading the Bible better. But we read poorly not just by going off in wrong directions. It is likely more common that we read poorly by getting nothing as we read. We can easily read the Bible seemingly only for the sake of having read the Bible as if it were a sort of talisman toward having a good day afterward. What have we gained lately in our Bible reading? What has God been doing through your Bible reading lately? What have you read that has come up again and been passed along to someone else?
Hopefully, just realizing that we should (and can!) get better at reading our Bibles will make some difference as we pay a bit more attention to our reading. For a start, here are a few quick thoughts that may be a help.
1. Before you read: take a minute to get your bearings. Remind yourself that you are a limited and imperfect reader and come humbly to seek wisdom from God in that frame of mind. Remind yourself that the Scriptures revive the soul, make wise the simple, rejoice the heart, enlighten the eyes, are sweeter than honey, warn those who would listen, and lead to great reward (Psalm 19:7-11).
2. While you read: focus on the need to pay attention. Read less by focusing in and meditating on the smaller parts or read more by drawing in the bigger picture of where you are reading. Do not stop when you are reminded of something you already know but keep looking to be sure you are hearing what is truly being spoken.
3. After you read: take a few extra minutes for reflection. Ask: how would my life change if I really believed that what I read today is true? Pray that God would take what you have heard him say and move you to walk worthy of the Lord, pleasing him and bearing fruit. Choose someone that you can talk over your reading with to encourage them or to ask a question about something you read.
This is not at all meant to be a scolding. We often feel guilty about how little of the Bible we read but rather than scurrying to heap up more, perhaps we should start simply by doing better with what we already have. We should focus on reading our Bible better for the same reasons that we teach our kids how to swim. Not only is it a lot safer but it also gives the opportunity for so much more. The Bible is not a wading pool that will bring refreshment up to our ankles but an ocean into which we are called to dive. There is so much more there for those who will work to read their Bible better.
“Remember, it is not hasty reading, but serious meditating upon holy and heavenly truths, that makes them prove sweet and profitable to thy soul. It is not the bee’s touching of the flower that gathers honey, but her abiding for a time upon the flower that draws out the sweet. It is not he that reads most, but he that meditates most, that will prove the choicest, sweetest, wisest, and strongest Christian.”Thomas Brooks
If these things move you, then let’s do this together. Christiane and I are in the process of raising up a support team. Click on the “Together…” link for more information how you can connect with us and what God had drawn us into.