To read the Bible better, we need to look at more than what we do when we open the book. We want to gather tips and improve techniques but these things on their own are not enough. It is important that we also take time to address the foundations. What should happen when we read the Bible? What is our devotional Bible reading meant to accomplish? How does that happen and how would we know if it was happening? It will be hard to get better if we have no idea what the outcome should look like in the first place.
Expect Something to Happen
When you read your Bible, do you expect anything to happen? When I strike a match against the side of the box I expect flame. When I water my plants I expect them to keep growing. Do we come to our devotional Bible reading expecting something to happen? Bible reading can become as hollow and pointless as a waxy dollar store Easter Bunny.
Like adding yeast into dough, the point is not putting it in. The point is the reactions and outcomes caused by its presence. There is a difference between God’s word and the words of false prophets. “Is not my word like a fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” (Jeremiah 23:29, ESV). The key is that God’s words make things happen and so we must come looking for things to happen.
Expect to Hear His Voice
Coming with an expectation of action is where we need to start, but exactly what should we expect? Asking the question, “what does the Bible say that the Bible will do?” is like trying to drink from a fire hose. I have not done a complete study on everything the Bible says that the Bible does. From what I have seen, it seems that an encounter with God is at the core. This is crucial even while we will need to say more.
We need to be careful when we think about the relationship between the Bible and the voice of God. When God said “let there be light” there was light (Genesis 1:3). But if I read that verse in a dark room I still need to flip on a light switch. The “voice of the LORD breaks the cedars” (Psalm 29:5). But I can read the Bible aloud in a forest without having to duck and run for cover. It is enough to remind ourselves for now that the Bible as a book in our hands will not do exactly everything that it shows the voice of God doing.
There is some kind of unmistakable connection between God and the words he has inspired and given to us. One of the overwhelming impressions we get from reading Psalm 119 is that there is a bond between God and his Word. The law is “the law of the LORD.” Those who “keep his testimonies” are also those “who seek him with their whole heart” (Psalm 119:1-2). Coming to keep his testimonies is coming to seek him. Psalm 119 is a deeply emotional cry. The psalmist seems to love the Word of God not so much because God has formed and filled it with wonderful things but because it is a means to encounter God. It is where he speaks what we need to hear. “The LORD is my portion; I promise to keep your words” (Psalm 119:57).
Read With Your Ears
I think we would read our Bibles better if we come to it expecting that we will encounter God. We would read eagerly knowing that he whom our souls love is found here. We would read with eyes searching for God knowing that the goal is not to find heroes or moral maxims but to find him. We would read humbly knowing that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. We would read prayerfully knowing that he is here with us and that we depend upon his voice. We would read obediently knowing that we need to be changed and that we can trust him as he makes difficult and uncomfortable claims on our lives.
These thoughts lead us to good questions that will help us evaluate our devotional Bible reading. Have I been delighted by seeing God in his word lately? What is it I am walking away with as I read and does it involve seeing and enjoying God? How have I been humbled or changed by my devotional reading in the past month? What things have I been drawn to repent of because of my Bible reading?
Saying that what should happen when we read the Bible is that we encounter God is important. But we will need to say more. The Bible gives us a lot of specific answers to what the Bible accomplishes and we will look at some of these in time. To read the Bible well we need things that will better inform our reading skills but we also need to properly frame the whole process. It is a good start to remember that the point is to hear the voice of our God.