11 Tips for Reading the Bible

“… our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand…” (2 Peter 3:15b–16a, NIV)

I smile every time I read these words. If you’ve ever read through something in the New Testament and sat there scratching your head, you’re not alone. Even the great Apostle Peter had a difficult time understanding some of the things the Apostle Paul wrote! There is much in the Bible that seems clear to us, but there is also much that is difficult to understand. So, to help us get started on this journey of discovery in God’s Word, here are 11 tips for reading the Bible.

  1. Pray before, during, and after you read. Reading the Bible is having a conversation with God. He inspired the book, so why not talk to Him about what it says? Remember, we’re not just reading historical stories, we’re interacting with a living God who still speaks today.
  2. Get a Bible buddy. This will not only help you be accountable and stay on your reading, but you can also read the same book/passage and discuss it together.
  3. Get a study Bible. Study Bibles are filled with a wealth of information that will help open the meaning of God’s Word to us. Read the introductions to each book before you read the book, and look for the major themes and ideas. When you come to a difficult passage, read the footnotes for additional insight. My #1 recommendation is the Life Application Study Bible, which you can buy in many different English translations.
  4. Be consistent. Reading the Bible can be hard, and learning to recognize God’s voice in Scripture takes time and practice. The more you read and re-read, the more you’ll begin to see the flow and meaning of the text, and over time, it will become more apparent. Don’t give up!
  5. Look at a passage in its context.  What came just before this passage?  What follows immediately after?  How does that affect the meaning?
  6. Stick with a translationThere are many different English translations, and it’s important to stick with one that you can easily engage with. To save money, try reading the same chapter in several different English versions for free here. When you find one that resonates, that might be your version to buy. My top recommendations are the NIV, NLT, ESV, or CSB (we mostly use the NIV in worship at LakeView).
  7. But browse others from time to time. Even though you’ll have your primary translation (mine is the NIV), it’s still a good idea to sometimes read a passage in another version. Sometimes a different English translation can open up the meaning of a passage from a fresh perspective.
  8. Try listening, not just reading. It’s only been in the last 200 years or so that Bibles became affordable and available to a majority of people who could read. For most of Christian history, most Christians engaged God’s Word by listening to it. My favorite audio Bible is Inspired by the Bible Experience, although you can get others for free.
  9. Get an app. There are many Bible apps available, and one of the best is YouVersion.
  10. Use a devotional. Devotionals often unpack a verse or phrase in a thought-provoking way. My favorite devotional is My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers. The Daily Audio Bible is a great podcast & app audio-devotional.
  11. Search online, but be careful. Google will find everything, good and bad alike. In my experience, there’s more bad than good. The best biblically sound online resource I’ve found for Bible and theology questions is GotQuestions.org. You can type in a question about a specific verse or topic, and almost always find at least one answer.

My prayer for the week is that we all get inspired to dig into God’s Word!

It is in Vain

“Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.

It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.”
(Psalm 127:1–2, ESV)

I get up fairly early to spend with the Lord each day (I actually have a standing appointment with God on my calendar, but I’m a geek and that’s another blog). This morning I was thinking about the busy week ahead, all the things on my list to do. And I thought, Maybe this morning instead of reading the Psalms with God I’ll get a jumpstart on sermon prep for the week. God knows how much I have to do this week and He’ll understand.

As I was thinking this, the Holy Spirit convicted me, and I decided to spend my time with God, but not in Psalms. I would generate a reading plan about the Holy Spirit and start reading through those passages as my “devotional” time. Even while I was trying to make a deal with the Holy Spirit, I realized that if this was my plan I would end up spending my entire “devotional” time researching reading plans, rather than meeting with God in His Word. Plus, researching Holy Spirit reading plans is one of the tasks on my to do list for the week.

I felt pretty strongly that God wanted me to keep my meeting with Him in the Psalms, and the Psalm for today is Psalm 127. I read through the Psalm a few times (it’s only five verses) and was listening to what God might be saying. I got hung up on verse 2 and the way different English Bibles translate it in different ways, so I read it in Hebrew and was thinking about the various translation options when all of a sudden the Holy Spirit turned a light bulb on in my head.

Here I had been trying to convince myself to skip my meeting with God so that I could rise up early and work ahead on my week. But unless the LORD builds the house, the builders work in vain, and unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen work in vain… And God couldn’t have spoken any more clearly to me: “It is in vain that you rise up early (v. 2). Unless the LORD shepherds the church, the pastor works in vain! Getting up early to work won’t work unless God is the One working. So if I’m going to get up early, I might as well enjoy a cup of coffee with my Lord and let Him empower my work later.

As God so patiently spent time with me and brought that to my attention, I couldn’t help but laugh. There was no condemnation in His conviction, and I could feel His smile when  I finally got what He was saying to me this morning. My prayer for you this week is that you’ll remember to spend time with God in the midst of the busy-ness of life.

Photo by Igor Ovsyannykov on Unsplash

Reading the Bible in 4 Steps

Most evangelical Christians believe that reading the Bible is of utmost importance. Yet, the Bible is a somewhat intimidating book to read. For one thing, it’s enormous. For another, the Bible was written by over 40 human authors over a period of 1400 years. There’s a lot of cultural-historical contexts we don’t see behind the pages of God’s Word. This week, I want to share with you a relatively simple way to approach the Bible devotionally.

This method is an ancient one known as lectio divina (Latin for “divine reading”), and it’s been practiced by Christians for over 1,000 years. I personally use lectio divina in my devotional reading, and I can tell you from experience that it’s a great way to meet God in His Word and listen to Him speak to you through what you’re reading in Scripture. It’s not, however, the best way to do in-depth Bible study. It’s not inductive or based on precepts. It most likely won’t point you to the author’s original intent. I wouldn’t claim that the things I hear God speak during my devotional reading are universally applicable or that I’ve discovered the true meaning of the passage, and I don’t use lectio divina as a method of preparing for a sermon. It’s just what I do to spend time with God in His Word.

Lectio divina is traditionally based on four steps: lectio (reading), meditatio (meditation), oratio (prayer), and contemplatio (contemplation). It actually has a preparation step as well, of praying that God will speak and give you ears to hear what He says through His Word.

Lectio (reading). Read the passage slowly, carefully, and thoughtfully. Look for patterns, repetition, and words or phrases that seem to grab your attention. I like to read it aloud, if possible, and try to imagine how the human author would’ve spoken these words. Once you’ve read through it initially, reread it even more slowly. Pause where something seems to catch your heart and think about what’s being said.

Meditatio (mediation). Whatever part of the text seemed to stand out, that seemed to speak directly to you, might be something the Holy Spirit wants you to focus on. Go back and read the passage a third time, looking for how your phrase, sentence, or verse fits into the rest of the section. Stop and think deeply about why the Holy Spirit brought these words from this text to your attention. How might they apply to your life? As you meditate, what else comes to mind? Who else comes to mind? Is there a specific action you need to do (or stop doing)? A belief you need to change? A person you need to pray for or reach out to?

Oratio (prayer). Talk to God about what you read in His Word. Talk to Him just like you would talk to a friend sitting across the table over coffee. How does the passage make you feel? What challenges you? What excites you? What don’t you understand? What do you grasp more now that you’ve read–about God, life, yourself, etc.? Can you pray the Scripture back to God? Personally, I like to summarize my prayer in a couple paragraphs in a journal.

Contemplatio (contemplation). Ask God to speak back to you, and read the passage one more time with a listening heart, then be quiet and sit in silence before the Lord. Just be with God, aware of His presence, enjoying an intimate moment with Him. Over time, this silent communion with God will become one of the most (probably the most) meaningful moments of your day. During this time, resolve to do whatever God tells you to do–to put into practice what He has spoken to you through His Word.

I’ve found that these four simple steps have guided my devotional time with God, and helped me to develop a conversational relationship with God that has led to a truly personal connection with the Creator of the Universe. That connection is something I cannot live without. My prayer for you this week is that you would find the same thing as you approach the Lord in prayer and Scripture!

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

I know what the Bible says, but…

Jesus said to them, “I did one miracle, and you are all amazed. Yet…” (John 7:21-22a, NIV).

In the passage I read this morning from John’s Gospel (John 7:14-9:12), the tension between Jesus and the Jewish people is palpable.  They simply refused to acknowledge who He was, debating and arguing and reasoning their way out of faith in Jesus–even when He was performing miracles, teaching Scripture, calling them back to God, showing love and compassion without measure, and living without sin in every way.  The Jews were amazed by Jesus’s miracles, yet angry with Him for healing a man on the Sabbath, and they were even accusing Him of being demon-possessed.

Jesus was incredulous, and rightly so!  In spite of everything He’d done for them, they still refused to believe in Him.  He does one miracle and the crowds are amazed by it… yet, not amazed enough to actually follow Jesus and receive Him as Lord.

How many times in my own life have I been amazed by God, but unmoved in my heart?  Too many to count!  I have often heard others say (and, I’ll confess, sometimes I’ve thought myself) these seven deadly words, “I know what the Bible says, but…”  Oh, that those words would never escape our lips!  May we never fail to be moved by the wonder, the grace, the Truth, and the beauty of God’s Word and the Savior it reveals to us.  Be amazed and be moved this week.

In Christ,
Pastor Andy

Give Her Something To Eat!

They laughed at him, knowing that she was dead.  But he took her by the hand and said, “My child, get up!”  Her spirit returned, and at once she stood up. Then Jesus told them to give her something to eat (Luke 8:53-55, NIV).

I love this story of how Jesus was interrupted by a woman who’d been sick for 12 years while on His way to heal a very sick little 12-year-old girl (I’ve always thought it interesting that the girl’s age was the same amount of time the woman had been sick–12 years, but it’s probably just a coincidence).  The interruption delayed Jesus long enough that the little girl actually died.  Undeterred, Jesus went and raised her from the dead.

Wait… He did what?!?  Yes, He raised her from the dead!  Wow!  What an amazing miracle!  And then after performing one of the most incredible, miraculous acts in human history… He told them to fix her supper.  Jesus is so practical!  If I’d just seen my own child raised from the dead, supper would be the last thing I’d be thinking about!  But no doubt this little girl was hungry, and Jesus doesn’t just look after supernatural needs, but everyday ones, too.

This brought to my mind the question of how well do I look after my own everyday needs, like, say, sleep!  Or rest, or relaxation, or eating healthier, or… exercise (yes, I used the “e-word”).  If Jesus cares about me eating supper, maybe I should, too!  And if Jesus is concerned for the practical needs of others, so should we be.  Sometimes people don’t need a miraculous intervention, they just need a cup of coffee with a friend who will pray for them.  My prayer for us this week is that we will remember to eat, sleep, and wrestle with our kids, do the everyday, practical things that Jesus cares about, and have a very normal, “mundane” conversation with someone who just needs a friend.

In Christ,
Pastor Andy

The Tyranny of Man

Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified. (Mark 15:15 NIV)

When I was a kid, it seemed like parents, teachers, and other adults were always talking about the danger of peer pressure.  My dad often used to quote me 1 Corinthians 15:33: “Bad company corrupts good character.”  Peer pressure could lead you to do things you’d never do on your own, it was full of pitfalls and evil influences and would cause you to turn your back on your family, your church, your God, and everything good in this world.

So, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration… but then again, maybe it’s not.  I don’t know what they call “peer pressure” when you’re an adult, but I don’t think it’s any less real or dangerous.  By all accounts, Pilate would’ve released Jesus to go free.  However, he gave Barabbas to the crowd and condemned Jesus to crucifixion because he wanted to satisfy the crowd.  He had an innocent man tortured to death because he wanted to please the people.

One of the greatest challenges pastors face is what I call the tyranny of man.  It’s the desire to please the people, which isn’t necessarily bad until it conflicts with pleasing the Lord by being obedient to what He calls us to do.  Rather than pursuing the path God has laid out for us and our churches, pastors often struggle with a desire to keep the peace, avoid rocking the boat, and hope that it all turns out in the end (because let’s be honest, most people really don’t like change–even good change).  One seasoned pastor told me early in my ministry, “When you’ve got equal numbers of people mad at you on each side of an issue, you’re probably right where God wants you to be.”  It’s funny but true!

No doubt it’s the same in your workplace, home, school, or circle of friends.  Whether you’re a kid or a grown-up, we all battle with the need to be accepted, to be approved and to be included, and that can easily turn into the tyranny of man.  We can revert to living at the beck and call of others, failing to set appropriate boundaries, and living in fear of letting someone else down, and even flirting with sin because we want to “satisfy the crowd.”

This verse reminded me of what the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Galatia.

“Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10 NIV).

My prayer for us this week is that we will be servants of Christ, living for His pleasure and not by the tyranny of man.

In Christ,
Pastor Andy

Tie Up A Strong Man

“In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house” (Mark 3:27, NIV).

Jesus speaks these words in response to an accusation from the teachers of the law that he was using the power of Satan to drive out demons.  But Jesus points out that the power of evil cannot be used for good.  A house divided against itself cannot stand.  Jesus is casting out demons and bringing freedom from oppression, not by the power of Satan, but by the power of God that has overcome the evil one.  Jesus has come into the “strong man’s” house to plunder it.  He has invaded the kingdom of Satan and is setting the captives free, healing the sick, caring for the poor and hurting, and generally wreaking havoc in Satan’s plans for evil.

These words called me to reflect on my own life.  Am I a house divided?  Do I ask God for redemption, but hold back areas I don’t want him to touch?  Do I have “strong men” protecting things in my life I don’t want Christ to plunder?  If I truly desire freedom and victory, I may need to deal with a “strong man” in my own life.  My prayer for us this week is that we will tie up a “strong man” and allow the Lord to plunder our hearts, to invade our lives, and to wreak havoc in our sin.  Because the thing about Jesus is, after he breaks up our sin and drives it out, he puts us back together and makes us new.

In Christ,
Pastor Andy