Reading the Bible

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Benefits

Two different things are involved in someone becoming a Christian: hearing truth, and the Holy Spirit opening their eyes so they “get it.” Peter describes this truth as a seed:
“You have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For, ‘All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.’ And this is the word that was preached to you.
(1 Peter 1:23-25)
He goes on to say – now that you have had a taste, continue to hunger for the truth, which will enable you to grow:
Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.”
(1 Peter 2:2-3)
Truth is also a powerful weapon. Paul talked about “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). For example, Jesus quoted from the Bible to deal with temptation:
“The tempter came to him and said, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.’ Jesus answered, “It is written: Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
(Matthew 4:3-4)
There are many other benefits as well. The Bible helps us get to know God, the very thing we were created for. It puts us in touch with his love, his power and his view of us. It renews our minds and shifts our thought patterns, strengthens us and gives us peace. It reveals his “great and precious promises” (2 Peter 1:4) and shows us the way to go:

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.”
(Psalm 119:105)
It also sets us free:
“Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free ... If the Son sets free, you will be free indeed.’”
(John 8:31-32, 36)

Approaches

There are a few different ways of exploring the Bible.

Just reading

Reading through a book or section of the Bible is a good way to get a feel for it. You don’t necessarily need to understand every detail, just get an overview of what it is about.

If it is a narrative passage (like the gospels, or a historical book in the Old Testament), it can help to picture the scene. What colour was the grass? What were the people doing? What was it like for them at the time?

Some general things to think about:

If you come across a verse that touches you, make a note of it; it might be a good one to meditate on later.

After reading through a book or section of the Bible, it can be helpful to go back and look a bit more closely. John Piper gives some tips:

In general you can apply the normal rules of English comprehension to the Bible – just like reading a newspaper article. What is the context? Is there a logical argument (this thing ... therefore this other thing)? Is there a theme being developed (repeated words or ideas)? Can you summarise the overall point? Is it something you could explain to a child?

Meditation

Meditating on a verse involves dwelling on it, looking at it from different angles and “chewing it over.”

Paul wrote, “Let the word of God dwell in your richly” (Colossians 3:16). Knowing the truth in our minds is great, but meditation can help it reach our hearts as well, where it can change us at a deep level.

First find a verse that is meanful to you, such as:

“He chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight”
(Ephesians 1:4)

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free”
(Galatians 5:1)

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
(John 14:27)

“I know the plans I have for you ... plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
(Jeremiah 29:11)

“The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing”
(Zephaniah 3:17)

Speak the verse out loud; it can help to hear it with your own ears. Writing it out by hand can help to slow down and think about it too.

Try emphasising different words and see how that affects the meaning: “It is for FREEDOM that Christ has set us free” ... “It is for freedom that CHRIST has set us free” ... “It IS for freedom that Christ has set us free.”

See if any words or phrases conjure up an image in your mind. What does a person set free look like? What did they look like before that? How would it look for Christ to come along and free them?

Reflect on the individual phrases. “He chose us” ... “in him” ... “before the creation of the world” ... “to be holy and blameless” ... “in his sight.” How do you feel about being chosen? What does “in him” mean? What do you think about being chosen before creation? Do you recognise that you are holy and blameless? What does “in his sight” imply?

It says in Hebrews, “The word of God is living and active” (Hebrews 4:12). As the verse you are meditating on gets into your heart and the Holy Spirit brings its truth home to you, it will begin to impact your life.

Memorisation

As a young Christian I came across something called the Topical Memory System, consisting of a set verses printed on small cards. I didn’t make it through all 60 cards at the time, but it did teach me something I am very grateful for: how to memorise a verse.

The reason I am so grateful is because it has been incredibly useful to be able to have certain verses “within reach” when I need them. When I need a reminder of God’s love, or forgiveness, or the enemy’s defeat, or future glory, they are available to me.

This is one way to memorise a verse:

1. Write or print the refererence and the verse. Writing it by hand can help to remember it.

For example, Ephesians 2:8-9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast.”

2. Say the reference, the verse, then the reference again out loud. Be sure to say the words exactly.

3. Look at the first few words – “For it is by grace you have been saved” – then look away and repeat the words.

4. Add a few words, then do the same thing again. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith”

5. Once you can say the whole verse without looking, say the reference, then the whole verse, then the reference again without looking.

6. Do something else for a minute or so, then test yourself. If you don’t remember it, go through the process again.

7. Test yourself later during the day. If you are feeling enthusiastic, write or print the verse on a card so you can carry it around with you. Alternatively, stick it where you will see it every so often, like the fridge or the back of the bathroom door.

Praying the Bible

One way to use a Bible verse is to pray it back to God, or to declare it out loud. Speaking the truth with our mouths can help it reach our hearts and help transform unhelpful thought patterns.

For example, you could take Ephesians 5:1-2, “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us” and pray something like this:

“God, you are my Father! I want to be like you. I am your dearly loved child and I want to love people the same way you love me. May my life be about love. I don’t know how to do that, but you do. Jesus thank you for giving yourself up for me! Will you teach me to love like that. You live inside me, so would you love people through me.”

Bible verses can be used as declarations as well, by speaking out promises from God. For example, when you are confronted with spiritual opposition, you might say a verse like this one out loud to tell the enemy he is defeated:

“All who rage against you will surely be ashamed and disgraced; those who oppose you will be as nothing and perish. Though you search for your enemies, you will not find them. Those who wage war against you will be as nothing at all.” (Isaiah 41:11-12)

Exploring a topic

It can be eye opening to do a survey of what the Bible says about a particular topic. There are plenty to choose from: forgiveness, worry, heaven and eternity, the trinity, God’s plans, love, humility, joy, sadness, demons, the character of God, repentance, freedom, praise and worship, the Holy Spirit, rest, truth, growth and transformation, thankfulness, wisdom, trusting God and many more.

Although it is useful to look at verses someone else has collected, it is much more impacting to do it yourself. Here is one approach.

Pick a topic, then think about words and phrases related to it. For example, “anxiety / anxious / worry / worried / worries / worrying.” Use a site like Bible gateway to search for verses containing those words.

Select the relevant verses and copy them into a document. If there are a lot of verses, see if you can group them into categories. For example:

It is likely that there are also verses on the topic that don’t use the keywords you originally searched for. The verse in 1 Peter, “Cast your anxieties on him,” might prompt you to search for the phrase “cast on” and you might come across “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you” (Psalm 55:22).

Some Bibles also contain references to related verses. Alternatively, you can use this page to find cross references.

The above is just one way to learn about a topic. Another way is to go through a section of the Bible and scan it visually for relevant verses. It takes a while, but the results can be a lot deeper. Here is the result of taking this approach with the concept of “the grace of God.”

Digging deeper

You can get background information on books and individual verses using Bible dictionaries and commentaries. Here are some resources:


Questions or comments to: davidfisher@australiaonline.net.au

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