Monday, June 16, 2014

How to Read Your Bible

So we've looked at how to read your Bible contextually, how to get the most of the Old Testament and the New Testament. But one of the questions people seem to have these days is, "How am I supposed to read my Bible?" How long should it take me? How much should I read every day? How am I supposed to break up the text to get the most out of it? Where do I even start?

All good, but completely unnecessary, questions. These questions are also incomplete because they leave out one key component - what are you trying to get out of your Bible?
Most of us aren't asking that latter question, though. Most of us believe reading our Bible is something we are supposed to do for God, and it doesn't occur to us that we're supposed to be doing it for ourselves. For what God's word offers us. For what we get out of reading His story. The truth is: God cares more about what you get out of His story than how many minutes His story gets out of your day. So in one sense, it's as simple as this:

Read something from your Bible every day. You might even say, read until you find something meaningful and then stop. Reflect on that for the day and pick the text back up tomorrow.

There are all kinds of Bible reading plans out there, for those who are looking for some stricter guidelines. But you have to know what you want out of the Bible before you can decide which plan is for you.

For example, there is a fad right now of reading the Bible in 90 days. The whole text - in a mere 3 months! This is useful if what you're hoping to get out of the Bible is a broad overview of God's story, an overall sense of what God has been doing all this time. But the 90-day plan simply requires too much material each day to have the space, or the time, to reflect on much of what you've read in-depth. So if you're looking for practical application, an intimate whisper, or wisdom, then this is probably not a good reading plan for you. Not for today, anyway.

(If you want to read the Bible in 90 days, one way to go about this is to divide the number of pages in your Bible by 90. For me, that would mean reading 15 pages per day for 90 days. A lot can happen in 15 pages; it would take me 15 hours just to begin to understand it all.)

On the other end of the spectrum are those who read the Bible one verse at a time, looking for the meaning and implication of every one of God's words. While I'm not saying this can't be beneficial with certain texts, there are two big problems with this method. First, there are over 31,000 verses in the Bible. That means it would take more than 8 years, reading one verse per day, to read the entire Bible. You're going to lose interest. And second, not every verse really needs its own day. There are places in Scripture where one verse is...three names. Of guys you've never heard of and never will again. Of genealogies. There are places in the Bible where, reading one verse per day, it might take you a month to read one list of begats. I don't see a tremendous value in that. (There are other verses, as well, that don't need a whole day. "Saul went into the cave to relieve himself." You really want to be thinking about King Saul peeing in a cave for a whole day?) Reading like this runs the risk of developing a pattern in which the Bible is not relevant to your life. And if it's not relevant...why read at all?

You could read perhaps a chapter every day. Maybe that's a little more rational. But again, there are nearly 1200 chapters in the Bible, which puts you at just over 3 years to read the entire Bible. That's a long time to stay engaged in a story, and ample time to lose track of what's going on. It's just hard to stay connected to the Word for that long, and it makes the whole thing drag on what seems like forever.

I think a year is about the right time frame to be able to read for both context and story. It's a short enough time that you get a true sense of the story of God, but parsed out in such a way that you have time to really consider the material.

But that brings about this question: how do we break it up?

There are people who read the Bible straight through, cover-to-cover. Genesis to Revelation. There are people who say they could never read the Bible that way. Some commit to reading the Bible in the order it was written (there is evidence that Job is the oldest of all the books of the Bible). That takes a bit of beyond-the-book Bible knowledge, to understand how all these stories come together, and it's easy for some to get lost that way, not knowing what they've read or haven't read. Always having to skip around. Many people I know start with the New Testament, then work their way back to the Old. That's another way to do it. It certainly puts a new light on things.

There are tons of reading plans out there that take you through the Bible in a year, in each of these ways and many more. These are generally the big ones. Me? For the past few years, I've done the math and figured out that reading 4 pages per day on a weekday and 2 pages per day on a weekend through the Old Testament...and then reversing that (2 pages a day per weekday and 4 pages per day on a weekend) through the New Testament puts me at Genesis 1 on January 1 and Revelation 22 on December 31. I've done that for now my third year, and I'm thinking of switching up the order a bit next year but we'll see. Truth is, I always find something new to ponder in the Scriptures.

It doesn't matter how you read your Bible. It doesn't matter in what order you read your Bible. It doesn't matter how much of your Bible you read on any given day. Just read your Bible. Figure out what you're hoping to get from the text, and read it.

If you want to know how you're supposed to live, read the New Testament. If you want to know who God is, read the Old. If you want to see the prophecies fulfilled, head to the Gospels. Looking for the grand story of God? Read it in 90 days. Looking for something more? Take one of the epistles a verse at a time. Not sure where to start? Open the book and start there. Not sure where to go next? Try the next page.

It truly doesn't matter. All these questions, all these holy-sounding, disciplined questions we have about how to read are completely unnecessary. Just read. Dive into the story and discover your God. 

That's how to read your Bible.

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