I was raised to know Jesus from a very young age, but it wasn’t until I was 23 that someone took me under their wing and taught me how to study my Bible. Before that, I mostly just randomly opened it up and started reading. Or, I’d start in the beginning and make it as far as I could (like Leviticus) before losing motivation. LEVITICUS IS HARD, Y’ALL.
I knew a lot about Jesus from sitting in church every time the doors were open. I heard 1,000 sermons as a child, attended VBS and Sunday School and even a few prayer rallies. I knew Jesus, and I knew about the Bible… but mostly from osmosis.
Jesus wants so much more than osmosis. He wants us to know his voice. He wants intimacy. He wants to speak to us in the hushed early part of the morning while we sip our cup of coffee. Or at night after the kids go to bed. He wants his words to come to mind during a crisis or a time of great joy. When we speak to our children, our spouse, our neighbor. When we speak to ourselves.
Especially to ourselves.
I’ve heard the story many times about how bank employees learn to spot counterfeit dollars by handling nothing but REAL money. They get to where they know the real thing so well, that a counterfeit bill just doesn’t FEEL right.
That’s how God’s word is. He wants us to know it so intimately, to know the sound of his voice so clearly, that when we encounter a counterfeit – which comes at us from every direction – it just SOUNDS wrong.
I have the privilege of leading an online bible study for ladies across the country. We’re digging into the first half of Romans, and more than learning Romans, I’m trying to help them learn to hear – and love – God’s voice. To start building an understanding of who God is, why we need him, why he loves us, verse by verse. Chapter by chapter. Book by book.
If you’re a newbie like I was, back at age 23, here are some tips for learning to read your bible:
Don’t start at the beginning.
If you’ve never read your Bible before, you’re probably going to have a hard time starting with the Old Testament. It’s not that the Old Testament isn’t super important. It is. It teaches us so much about God’s character, and it continuously points toward our need for a savior – Jesus. And, it’s also really dense, full of history, and is easy to get stuck in. Read it… but don’t start with it.
I’ve heard Bible scholars say that you could read John and Romans and get a full understanding of who Jesus is and what salvation looks like. I tell people to start with Romans first, to learn about our need for a savior, and to gain a basic understanding of Christian beliefs. Then head to John to meet your savior.
After that, I’d work my way through 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians. Then I’d start over and begin at the beginning of the New Testament, and read straight through. That’s me – there are a bazillion ways to skin the cat. The only requirement is that you READ it.
Have a Plan.
As you come close to finishing a book of the Bible, have a plan of what you’re going to read next. It’s easy to get stuck in a transition and lose the rhythm you’ve created. So follow my plan, or one of the MANY available online. (A great resource is YouVersion, a free app download that offers reading plans). You can use a Bible study book to help you as a resource, but don’t let that be your crutch. You don’t want to know some random author’s voice. You want to know God’s voice. So read chapter by chapter, and feel free to use a book as a commentary – but if your’e new to this, avoid a topical resource. Learn to fish… don’t let someone simply feed you.
Take it one chapter at a time.
It’s a great practice to start with just one chapter a day. As you go through, follow these steps:
What does the text say? Is any of it hard? Look up the cross-references in the margin of your Bible. These are passages that will give you more context, or more insight, into what you’re reading. Don’t be afraid to make notes in your Bible about what you’re learning.
If you read the whole chapter, finish, and have no idea what you just read… guess what. You’re normal. It happens to me ALL THE TIME. Just read it again. And again. And again. You can also try reading it in another translation (I use this website to look up a passage in various versions to compare).
It’s hard to trust someone you don’t know. It’s hard to love someone you don’t know. It’s hard not to place our own ideas of what a father or a king or a savior looks like, when we haven’t gone back to the original source. In anything you read, first ask yourself what it teaches you about God’s character.
I have to ask myself this question all the time. If what the Bible says is true, then what? If the text tells me that God is a God of love, then how does that change the way you pray to him? The way I worship him? The way I honor him? If he is a God who is just, then what does that mean for my situation? Sometimes what I read in the bible doesn’t FEEL true. Sometimes I don’t WANT what I read to be true. And that’s okay. But if I believe that the Bible is the word of God, and that every word of it is TRUE, then what? What does that mean for my situation today? Can I trust God with this hard thing I’m walking through? Is God big enough for me to wrestle with this hard thing until it finally FEELS true? (The answer is YES!)
This is a big deal. If you’re new to studying the Bible, then remember that the Bible is a complete work of 66 books. You can’t nail all of your beliefs on one verse. If you did, then reading Romans 2:7-8 might teach you that you are saved by works. But then, if you flipped over just one chapter, you would see in Romans 3:21-24 that Paul says we are saved by faith, not works. Then in his letter to the Ephesians, he reinforces that we are saved by faith – not works (Ephesians 2:8-10). So, as you study, write down those truths, but keep reading, just to confirm that you understand the fullness of scripture.
And, when in doubt, that’s when reaching out to someone a little further along in their study is key. If something is confusing, or seems contradictory, that’s when it’s good to seek out “wise counsel.” Basically, just find someone who has studied the Bible and ask them your questions. A church leader. A friend you trust. Then, take what they say, and measure it against scripture.
Always go back to scripture for the final word. That’s our north star. Our authority.
My final encouragement: DON’T. GIVE. UP.
New things are hard. It’s easy to quit. Keep going. It will be worth it. I promise you. There is nothing sweeter than hearing straight from the heart of Jesus. It’s a treasure that brings hope. It’s like water – you need it to LIVE. To truly live. Go spend some time with your creator… and then tell me how it goes.