The Bible can elicit a wide range of emotions, from joy to anger to boredom. It leaves an impression.
If this book is inspired by God, it matters! Just the possibility of inspiration often creates desire for exploration. To pick it up and start reading. Yet the idea of “reading the Bible” can mean something different for each person.
There are various approaches and unique seasons. I have navigated most of them in my journey, noticing the value in each step. If you are tired of reading the Bible, is it possible your approach does not match the season?
Reading for Breadth
I grew up in the church, could say all the right answers, and sincerely believed in the core tenets of the Christian faith. But no part of my childhood journey through religion had captivated my heart and soul. It was a disconnected characteristic of who I was.
There was a moment my freshman year at college where it finally grabbed my heart. If what I believe is actually true, it should influence and inform every aspect of my life! I finally saw the adventure that God was calling me into. I couldn’t explain it or escape it. And I jumped. Completely.
I signed up for a trip to North Africa. 10 days over Spring Break. I could not speak French or Arabic, but I was invited on the trip in hopes that God could implant a vision of His kingdom deep in my soul. And it worked!
I clearly remember sitting in the gathering area of a local Muslim man’s house. I prayed as a conversation ensued, completely unaware of specifics. I later found out that this man, who did not believe in Jesus as anything more than a prophet, had read through the complete Bible multiple times since the last time my friend had talked to him.
Here I was giving up my spring break to come to a foreign country and culture to share about Jesus to a man who knew more about the Bible than I did. I had never read through it’s entirety, even though I had been around it my whole life. When I returned, the journey began. I started in Genesis and kept going.
I read for breadth. To know the whole story. To see the grand narrative of the God I decided to follow.
Reading for Habit
As my faith continued to grow, my commitment to God grew (often for the wrong reasons, trying to earn a love that God had freely given, but that’s another story). If the Bible is truly inspired by God, I need to go from breadth to immersion.
A metaphor stuck with me. If one of my parents had died when I was a baby, and I found out they had left behind a journal for me, I would want to devour every word. I would want to know their heart, their values, and their desires for my life. So if God loves me infinitely more, and He has revealed Himself through the Bible, why would I not immerse myself in Scripture?
I needed to live and breathe the Word of God! I tried to read the Bible every day, jumping onto the “half hour daily devotion” bandwagon. We had challenges in between Bible Studies, accountability partners, and other motivational tactics. Although this took me down the path of pride, comparison, control, and guilt, there was something birthing under the surface which was important for my journey forward: habit. God uses even our impure motivations to draw us close to Him.
Interaction with the Bible became a habit. A normal part of my day. A source of life.
Reading for Depth
The more you read the Bible, the more you start to notice those passages. The difficult passages that do not make sense. The stories that you do not like and would never share with others. “Let’s just focus on Jesus! Oh wait, Jesus says things I don’t like either.”
I could not escape the tension, and if I believed the Bible was true, it was time to wrestle. I needed to sit in the questions and confusion instead of dismissing them. I needed to learn about the culture surrounding the authors as they wrote. To think through the style of literature used in an oral culture and the complexity that goes into translating Scripture to my native language. I needed to pursue the author’s original intent instead of creating my own meaning.
This process is not easy. But God meets us in profound ways on this journey of discovery. Like any relationship in our lives, it is going from casual acquaintance to an authentic friendship. An honest journey that pushes us towards awe and humility. To a beauty that can only be found when we are willing to do the hard work.
For me, this journey led to seminary. Taking entire classes on one book of the Bible. Hearing challenging viewpoints when I thought there was only one possibility.
For others, it leads to understanding resources available and exploring within community. To meet God in the midst of messiness and leaning in whenever there is tension.
I found God in the depths of Scripture. The honest tug-of-war of doubt and awe. Moving from simplicity to refinement.
This might be controversial, but there was a season where I felt permission to close the Bible. To take a break. Although each step prior was important, and established a foundational element of my faith, my post-seminary time was difficult. The Bible had become a textbook: a dry and static object to analyze. A journey that started with an authentic pursuit of God had turned the Bible and my heart into something undesirable and cold.
I had to take a break. To open up new pathways of being with the God on the other side of the Bible. I had to release control, which meant to release the Bible for a time. God started to meet me through prayer and community and nature and in the mundane interactions of the day.
God had to reignite my desire for Him. To make my experiential knowledge of Him a higher priority than my head knowledge of the Bible.
This step is not for everyone. It should not be long, or without other ways of pursuing God. Scripture is how we test our thoughts and desires, so it should not be far from us.
I remembered the Bible leads me to God, but is not my god.
Reading for Formation
I now live in a season of learning how to read the Bible for formation. The beauty is it doesn’t abandon my previous steps, but actually brings fullness to them. God forms my character through understanding the full story of His interaction with humanity (breadth), through consistently dwelling on what He says in the Bible (habit), and through bringing in the historical and cultural factors that inform particular passages (depth). And walking away from the Bible for a season has refined and purified my approach.
There are different seasons of our interaction with the Bible. They are each important. But for years I didn’t know reading the Bible for a dynamic encounter with God was even possible.
Maybe that is the season you need right now. Maybe you need to believe that God wants to change you. To help you conform to the image of Christ for the sake others. To slow down enough to allow the Bible to master you.
It is definitely what I need.