During college I struggled with one of the essential practices of Christianity: daily, focused communion with God through Bible reading and prayer. I knew I should do it. I could quote most of the scripture references about why reading the Bible is crucial. I even learned some tools that would help me dig deeper into God’s Word. But I still struggled to regularly crack the thing open, let alone putting time into studying and praying through it.
Of course I’d run to the Bible when I needed God, when I wanted something, or when I felt conviction from sin. I enjoyed listening to good preaching and attending lively bible studies. But my personal times of worship were sparse. This would be a good time to lobby for personal worship, but I’m assuming you already believe that personal fellowship with your Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer is essential to your daily well-being and perseverance over the long haul. If not, then read the last half of the last sentence again…slowly.
Since college I’ve grown in prioritizing daily Bible reading. I’ve learned that I must approach the Bible with unique focus and care in order to meet with God. Here are 8 ways to make the most of your bible reading time…
1. Anticipate God speaking to you through it. The way we approach the Bible is as important as what we do when we’re in it. I’ve spoken to many friends who do not approach the Bible as if God is about to speak to them, giving them a word for their day. Instead, they approach it like a textbook. Or a book of wisdom. Or a rulebook. As a result they are more often bored, confused, and burdened when they read their Bibles than rejuvenated, enlightened, and excited. God desires to speak something to you. He has something for you in His Word for your particular day. Do you believe that? Are you eagerly anticipating what He might say to you today?
2. Set aside regular time for it. Like most things in life you need a plan or very little will happen. You need to be prepared. So Christians ought to discern when the best time for communion with God would be. I’d suggest the mornings even if you’ve got an early wake-up time. Best to get the Word in you before embarking on your day. Yes, this requires discipline. But shouldn’t we be at least as disciplined about reading God’s holy Word as we are disciplined in counting calories, studying for tests, preparing for meetings, spending time with friends, attending church, eating meals, checking our Facebook page, watching Sportscenter, or exercising regularly?
3. Pick one thing and read it the way it was intended to be read. Some may read the Bible regularly but approach it haphazardly. They pick and choose what they read (a little of this, a little of that). They often latch on to the verse that pops out or leaves a special impression instead of respecting the author’s arrangement of the passage. Paul meant for his letter to the Ephesians to be read from beginning to end, not one verse here and one paragraph there as we may see fit. Remember that God, through each author, intentionally places the first sentence in any given Bible book before the second, the first paragraph before the second, and so on. We must respect the way God presents Himself in the Bible by reading each book from beginning to the end. Note: I am not saying that pulling single bible verses out for memorizing or study is always wrong. But I am saying that the best way to approach each verse in the Bible is to read it in its literary context.
4. Study it. A few years ago I taught Romans to forty-plus 16-year olds. What a joy! And a challenge. I would often remind my students: if you skim the Bible, then your application of it will also be superficial. But if you dig deep, your application will be rich and more helpful. Take the time to study the Bible. Ask yourself what the author’s original intent to his audience before you jump to application. Consider the culture and audience’s situation. Get a notepad and scribble. If you don’t know how to study the Bible, then ask someone who does.
5. Meditate and pray through it. I read somewhere that meditating on God’s word is like a cow chewing its cud. When we study the Bible, we give it an initial chew and swallow. But we need the repetition of regurgitation to take God’s word deeper into our hearts and minds. So many ways to meditate on scripture: pray through it; journal about it; personalize it; visualize it; sing about it; talk it out with a friend etc. Prayer in particular is a great way to meditate; it not only further presses God’s truths in our hearts but gives vent to our responses – confession, thankfulness, praise etc.
6. Memorize it. I must admit I don’t do this much, but I should. The Lord has blessed me with an ability to remember scripture phrases and sentences fairly well. This is no excuse to not put in the extra time for memorization. We might think of several reasons why bible memorization is crucial. The Psalmist gives us one: “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Ps 119:11).
7. Take it into your day. The Campus Ministry leader who mentored me in college suggested that I write out key verses from my morning study on a 3×5 index card. I’d pull the card out on the bus to class or between classes or when I was eating solo in the cafeteria. Reading it several times saturated my day with scripture and provided more opportunities for meditation and prayer.
8. Apply it. Jonathan Leeman says that God’s word brings action, light, and freedom to His people. Indeed it does! God’s Word encourages, confronts, and loves in such a way that often a specific response is very appropriate. Sometimes application means simply to be still and worship the Lord. But sometimes God wants us to do something specific like confess sin, serve a spouse, encourage a friend, or submit to an authority. Reading the Bible and not applying undermines the daily rhythm of listening and responding to God’s voice. If we take out application we short circuit the full circle of communion with God and will eventually lose motivation to meet with Him. We desperately need not only to listen and meditate, but to live God’s words through worship and obedience.
When I approach the Bible with this kind of focus and care, my reading time becomes something far greater than mere reading. It moves into the realm of communing with the Almighty. And there is nothing more important that I can do for my spiritual health, my marriage, and my ministry than deep, daily fellowship with God.