Recently I asked a question to two groups of people, one through Facebook and the other to an 11th grade class at a Christian school. The question was simple: “Why don’t people read their Bibles?” The answers were similar between the 20 women who answered on Facebook and the 10 students.
Laziness. It is inconvenient. I don’t have time. I don’t know where to start or how to study. I don’t know what it means. Why should I read it when I go to church and have Bible classes already? Americans don’t see their urgent need for it. It isn’t their lifeline.
Psalm 119:105 says, “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Why wouldn’t we make time for such a great light for our lives? Could it be that we have wrongly believed that the Bible is a book about us, when in reality, the Bible is a story about God?
Although the Bible contains many smaller stories, they must be interpreted in light of the grand narrative of Scripture. God is the main character in the Bible. Though it’s so easy to read and teach these stories emphasizing the little great heroes, we must remember that our God is really the one great hero! The Bible begins and ends with a perfect creation. The sinless world was created, and Adam and Eve lived in it. Then they chose to sin. The fall could have and should have been the end of them. But God, who is rich in mercy, said that the woman’s seed would crush the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15). From that point on, we see a plan to redeem what was fallen and broken. What mercy and grace! Even in the books of Leviticus and Numbers, God is the main character, giving laws and ordering the Israelites to cross into Canaan as he would be their God and they would be his people.
There is a big difference between reading the Bible and studying it.
If we want to be deeply rooted in the Word, we must become students of this powerful book. Some people find it sufficient to simply read the Bible or a devotional book and check it off their list of things to do for the day. Like a quick bread recipe that says, “just add water,” we can approach the Bible passively. The thoughts I want to share are not a quick recipe to growth. To be a student of Scripture, we have to be willing to learn what the text said to the original audience and learn what it says about God. This may mean that we read the text multiple times or in other versions to understand it properly. Then we will apply it properly to our daily lives.
I want to share with you some basic principles that will help you develop daily digging habits. These habits will transform your mind and heart over time, but digging requires work and patience. If we want to love him more, we must be willing to dig into a book that was written by him. In Women of the Word, Jen Wilkin writes, “A heart cannot love what the mind does not know. Yes, it is sinful to acquire knowledge for knowledge’s sake, but acquiring knowledge about One we love, for the sake of loving him more deeply, will always be for our transformation” (33). When we learn to look for God in his book, we start seeing ourselves and our sin properly, and we desire to change and look like him.
Wilkin’s book offers key tools to teach us to dig well.
“Digging is hard work, especially when it must be done with respect to historical and cultural context. We live in a time when the Bible is largely regarded as a book for our own edification, through which the Holy Spirit will simply reveal truth to those willing to give it a few minutes’ attention a day. The intellectual muscles that our faith ancestors once used for digging have grown atrophied in the modern mind.” (63)
Keep the Big Picture in View
First, keep the big picture in view. This is a book about God. There are various genres of writing, such as historical narrative, poetry, wisdom literature, law, prophets, parables, and epistles. God’s theocracy is seen in all sections of the Bible. As you become a diligent student you will learn that “exegeting” the text is most important. To exegete is to discover the original meaning of the passage to its original audience.
Have a Plan
Second, we need to have a plan, whether it’s reading through the Bible chronologically or picking a book or chapter to dig into. Printing off a copy of the passage that you are studying is a great idea. There isn’t enough room in your Bible to write all the new discoveries you will make through study and marking. An important point to note is that there are no legalistic time requirements for digging. Over your lifetime, the time for studying or asking key questions will vary.
Utilize Tools and Methods That Match Your Learning Style
Third, you can buy colored pencils, highlighters, and pens for your new toolbox. You get to choose how creative you want to be. Certain words, phrases or ideas that are repeated should be marked. A specific attribute of God should be noted in the margin and praised. You can number lists or points in a row. If there are words you don’t understand, write a big question mark and look them up in a dictionary or commentary. There will be key transition words like if/then, therefore, but, because . . . draw an arrow to connect them to the beginning phrase. The possibilities are endless, and digging is exciting. It’s so fun to look back at a book like 1 John and see words like abide and love highlighted. You will see the treasures appear.
Always Approach Your Reading with the Original Context in Mind
Fourth, write down questions like these: Who wrote it? When was it written? To whom was it written? In what style was it written? Why was it written? An ESV Study Bible is a great tool to use here.
Consider the Implications and Application
Finally, you will become a wise student when you learn to comprehend the text by discovering what it says. You will learn to interpret the passage by knowing what it means. Application is the last step in digging. Ask, “How should it change me?” The jewels that are discovered shine through the person who has been committed to faithful study. This person is transformed and conformed to the image of the God of the book. His Word truly is a light for our lives!
When we decide to embrace the habit and work of studying the Bible daily, not the easy “just add water” method, we turn from a hurried reader into a steady student. This student realizes that this book is about God, and she sees her part in God’s redemptive plan. The transformation takes place in the mind of a diligent student who does what she can to dig. Some days, you will just have time to write some key words and meditate on them or circle attributes about God to ponder. Keep in mind that God wants you to understand his Word, and the Holy Spirit will help you know where to begin. His Word is powerful. You may feel that this is a slower process for growth at times, but it will prove to deepen your understanding and desire for God as you form this new habit.
So I’ll ask again, “Why don’t people read their Bibles?” Could it be that we’ve used our emotions or circumstances to dictate how much we think we need God? In reality, the proper study of the Bible actually trumps our emotions. The more we learn about God, the more we will love him. “Home, church, community, and country desperately need the influence of women who know why they believe what they believe, grounded in the Word of God. They desperately need the influence of women who love deeply and actively the God proclaimed in the Bible” (Wilkin 46).
Written by Carissa Belford for Deeply Rooted Issue 6: Light