Reading the Bible seems intimidating for some people, when it really should not be. A part of this, I think, is a common fear that they may not understand everything they read. Let me offer some tips on how I get the most from my Bible reading.
- I read in multiple translations. Now that Pastor Craig has outlined the difference between a translation that tries to translate word for word (literal) as opposed to those that focus on thought for thought (dynamic), I would say use one of each when you do your Bible reading. If you missed Craig’s message, go on to our website and download the May 7th 2017 message! Using multiple translations allows you to see more things in the text as you read it and it helps you grasp the meaning of that passage.
- I read the references listed with the verses. References are the footnotes or the center column references. These fall into three main areas: a) a note that explains the meaning of the verse; b) a cross reference to another passage that has the same word or topic and c) a reference to the Old Testament when it is quoted in the New Testament. While we were reading in the Gospel of Mark this Spring I noticed a few things in the text.
The first was that Jesus quoted a verse from the Old Testament in Mark 14:47. This was further indicated in my translation by the fact that these words were in all caps on the page. I looked at the reference column in my Bible and saw that this quotation came from Zechariah 13:7. As I read Zechariah I quickly saw that chapters 12-13 were one long prophecy that God delivered through this prophet.
What also immediately caught my attention is that these two chapters seemed filled with messianic prophecy (references to Jesus). Zechariah 12:10 and 13:1 immediately jumped out at me (I will let you look these verse up for yourself!)
- I highlight verses that catch my eye. I use a set of colored pencils so they will not bleed through the pages to the text on the back side. You can buy expensive ones from the Christian bookstore, but I use ones I buy from an art store because I like a greater variety of color options. If you begin to use more than four colors you can consider this as well. I look for verses I think God is using to speak to me that day or verses that relate to a topic I enjoy tracking through Scripture.
- I make notes in the margin of my Bible. I do this for several reasons. The first is that if God speaks to me personally I need to write this down and remember it. Sometimes I just write down my question beside that verse. I have written down sermon ideas, theological points (for later debate with my friends) and thoughts about what God might be saying to me. My wife writes down sermon notes from the service in her Bible, but I reserve the space for my own thoughts about what God is saying to me. That way when I look back there is no confusion about what was on my heart as opposed to what was on Pastor Craig’s heart as he preached. I use the worship bulletin to take my sermon notes. When God speaks to me personally from a sermon, that justifies a note in my Bible.
- I take time to read and re-think the things I wrote before. It is always amazing to me when I read something I wrote at some point in the past (I don’t date anything) and think: “What an inspiring insight!” Then I realize that I had forgotten this inspiring insight and it might have been lost for an even longer period of time if I had not written it down in my Bible. The older I get, the more important it is to write things down! Let me add here that if you begin writing in your Bible, then always write in the same Bible if you own more than one. If you are reading in multiple translations, pick the one with the best margins and references to be the one you use to record where the Holy Spirit leads your thoughts. If you have a “go-to” translation use it for everything you are highlighting and writing down.
- I let my Bible reading take me to places I would not have normally gone. I am using the Bible reading plan we offer at the church, but for me the point is not to get through the reading plan. The point is for God to speak to me and hopefully use this to transform my life a little closer to the image of Christ. The truth is, I probably would not have woken up one morning and just decided that I needed to do some reading from the book of Zechariah. Sometimes the minor prophets in the Old Testament are more challenging to read. But when I follow a reference or even a passage that the Holy Spirit brings to mind as I read then I am truly listening and not just marking Bible reading off of my to-do list for that day. I discovered some riches in Zechariah because I was willing to go off the beaten path and peek into a part of the Bible that seems to be a little more challenging at first glance. It reminds me of that line from the Robert Frost poem “The Road Not Taken:”