Recently I was asked to lead a workshop on at a Youth Councils on hearing God’s voice through the Bible. I approached this task as someone who’s tried a few different methods of reading the Bible in a personal private time and so I hoped to give some advice for those also on this journey we call Christianity. I thought some of this might be helpful for a wider audience.
Before asking how to read the Bible the first question you need to ask is why we read the Bible at all. What’s the purpose of setting aside a regular time for this task? The short answer is that this is about relationship, not reading. The Bible has been one of the main ways God has communicated with his people and I’m convinced that he hasn’t decided to abandon it today. The primary purpose, then, is not to say that we’ve read the Bible cover to cover, or for sermon preparation, or for academic research, as important as all of those things can be. Rather the purpose is to commune with God. In this sense, then, the purpose of the Bible reading that I’m talking about here is a form of prayer.
The next suggestion may seem obvious, but sometimes I wonder whether it really is – actually read the Bible. I suspect many people’s approach to personal Bible reading is to take a devotional book that assign’s one or two verses to each day and then has a page full of the author’s commentary on those one or two verses. I have to ask “why bother?” If you’re going to read a page of text then why not read a page of text from the Bible itself? Again, God has spoken through this text to his people for thousands of years, he’s not about to stop now. So, read the Bible.
Next, set yourself a pattern to follow. We are creatures of habit and so a reading plan can be a helpful thing. I’ve tried a few different ones and it only takes a quick Google search of “Bible Reading Plans” and you will find hundreds of them. The one I am currently using is the Daily Office (http://justus.anglican.org/resources/bcp/lectionary.pdf) from the Book of Common Prayer. Although I recognise we’re talking about a personal private reading of Scripture here, I also like the thought that there are thousands of other Christians reading through these same passages on the same day as me, hearing from God through these same readings. My suggestion here is to start small, perhaps just with the Gospel readings – we are Christians don’t forget so the life of Christ is at the heart of our faith. Then you can perhaps add on the Psalms as your pattern becomes better established, followed by the New Testament reading and the Old Testament reading. Try different approaches and see what works best. Remember, this is about relationship not reading.
This leads nicely into my next suggestion. Stick with your pattern, but DON’T feel guilty if you miss a day or two, or even a week or more. This is one of the things that causes Christians to give up on reading the Bible altogether. They set themselves a goal of reading the Bible in a year, they start at the logical place you would start reading a “normal” book (Genesis), get through it’s fifty chapters, move onto the excitement of Exodus, and then find themselves confronted with Leviticus. Like the dreaded “wall” that marathoners find themselves up against two-thirds of the way through their epic journey, Christians can become disheartened if they give up at this point. So common is this problem that it’s been regularly referred to as the “Leviticus syndrome”. This is why I stress the point that this is about relationship not reading. Imagine it this way; if you do successfully complete the task of reading the Bible from cover to cover what will you do with the Bible then? If it were a novel you would put the book onto your shelf and maybe pick it up again a few years later to read it again. That’s not the way we read the Bible. Christians will continue to read the Bible, over and over again. Since we’re reading it for the purpose of relationship it doesn’t matter if we miss a day or two, or even a week. Just pick up your plan for that day and start from there. If your goal is to read the whole Bible, and if you continue to follow a variety of plans, reading a variety of passages over the course of your whole life then you can be very confident that you will, in fact, read the whole Bible in your lifetime. Most likely, you will do so several times. Does it matter if it’s in a particular order, or in a particular timeframe? Not really. What is important is that we seek to hear from God through one of the main means he has chosen to reveal himself to his people; through his Word.
Next, learn from others. Even though we’re talking about a time to hear from God on our own here we must keep in mind that we should never interpret the Bible alone. If questions are raised in your mind about a passage, then ask a trained and trusted friend, or consult a good commentary on it. Share things that are being revealed to you in a suitable setting – a small group, for example. Remember, there’s no such thing as an “individual Christian”. They don’t exist. All Christians, by virtue of the fact that they are each “in Christ” are also “in the Body of Christ” and so we should avoid (at all costs) any approach to the Christian life that attempts to go it alone. Even the Lone Ranger had his “Kemosabe” (trusted friend) Tonto.
Finally, since this is about relationship not reading learn to listen as you read. Pray. Take time to be silent. Write down distractions as they arise. Be still. As important as it is to actually read the Bible this time should be more than just getting through the verses so that you can tick a box on your reading plan. Listen to God and respond to him as you read.
These, of course, are not an exhaustive list of suggestions, but I hope you find them helpful.