Reading the Bible is fun! Anyone who doesn’t get that has never really read it, or read it correctly. Bible abuse and neglect is a sad state of affairs which afflicts far too many people.
Here are six concepts that will help increase your pleasure and joy in reading the Bible.
1. It’s a story, so treat it like one. Yes, it is a sacred story filled with truth, but it is still a story. Each Bible author is inviting you into the world of the story. The writer of Genesis wants you to marvel at God’s power and creativity, the writer of Judges wants you to weep at the heartache of Israel’s idiocracy while the writer of Mark wants to terrify you with the power of God in Jesus Christ.
2. Identify with one of the characters in the story. I am working through Philippians right now in a very rigorous way, and as I read it I always think about how I would understand these words if I were a leader in the church at Philippi hearing these things from Paul for the first time. If I am reading David and Goliath, I work at trying to identify with David–his fear, his courage, his relationship with his brothers and so forth. Then I try to think of myself as Goliath–his privileges, his burden, arrogance and then demise. This helps me identify both aspects in my life because in some situations I’m David, but in other situations I’m the Goliath.
3. The Bible is actually a library, and each book, and indeed sections within some books, are different genres. Some of the different genres are narrative, law, gospel, apocalypse, prophecy, and history. One does not read 1 Samuel the same way one reads Ezekiel. You may need a helper book or do some research to help identify these different genres.
4. Pick a translation that speaks to you! If you’ve never read the Bible before, I suggest using the New Living Translation (NLT). The NLT uses clear English without trying to be too slangy. For study I like the ESV and NRSV. In fact, the older I get the more I like the NRSV. The NIV is good, but I find it to be a tad bit dated. Click here for a complete Greenbean breakdown of Bible translations. The most important thing is making certain you find one you can understand.
5. Read the Bible in two ways. In one way you should read the Bible simply as an act of devotion. Then, at other times, we read the Bible for study and knowledge. The way we read the Bible in these two settings is entirely different. Psalm 23 devotionally read speaks to me about peace and comfort. Psalm 23 read critically in study teaches me about the shepherds rod and staff (2 different tools) and then leads me to think of God as my pastor and how the pastoral role starts with protection and guidance which then leads to security and safety. Both ways of reading the Bible are important, and I need to practice both.
6. Sometimes you should read the Bible alone, and sometimes you should read it with others. By others I mean study groups and in worship services, but I also mean your family. Families should read the Bible together because it draws us into the bonds of togetherness.
Bonus: A note on memorizing Bible verses
I would argue that one does not need to memorize a lot. Familiarity with the Bible–themes and general content of books and sections–is more important than trying to memorize a great deal. However, everyone could memorize, say, 5-10 verses or sections that speak to your life or that are meaningful. If you’ve never memorized any of these and think it is impossible, relax. You know the words to your favorite song, so you can learn a few verses. The ones I suggest are Proverbs 3:5-6, Romans 12:1-2, Micah 6:8, Matthew 28:18-20, 2 Corinthians 13:14, John 14:6, and probably Hebrews 4:12 for good measure. If you take one verse and review every day for a couple of minutes, you will learn it within a month.
Double Bonus: Don’t ruin the Bible’s intent
Okay, one more bit of pastoral counsel on this one. The Bible was written by adults, to adults, about things that for the most part are very adult such as sin, sex, murder and war. (side note–most Christian publishes would not publish the content of the Bible today because it would offend their target demographic) Many many many well meaning Christ-followers have the ‘sweet little Jesus’ instinct, though, that wants to turn everything into something suitable for children and clean it all up. Resist that urge. David was an adulterous womanizer, Paul was a murderer who never got over his guilt, and Jesus seemed to always be spoiling for a fight with the religious establishment. Resist the urge to sanitize the Bible.