James MacDonald has some great wisdom when it comes to getting the most from your Bible Reading. As we embark on a new year it is a good time to give some tips on Bible Reading.
James MacDonald Writes:
Last week, I got some great questions about how I mark my Bible. Before I tell you more about that, I want us to think about how to benefit from the Bible by starting with my favorite verse from God’s Word, Jeremiah 15:16 which says, “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart.” What food is to our bodies, Scripture is to our souls. Here are five things you need to do if you want to eat God’s Word and feed your soul.
If you pick it up and size it up but don’t read it, well, what a waste, right? So open it, and begin to read. You should say, “Dude, it has hundreds of pages. Where should I start?” I hear that so often that I decided to check the Bibles I own. They average around 1,400 pages. So think of the Bible as two big books or four to five regular-sized books. Studies indicate that the Bible takes about 70 hours to read out loud. Most people read a little faster than that, but the Bible is not a book you want to read quickly anyway. It’s sort of like your favorite dessert—take a bite or two and put the spoon down—a good way to make sure you are comprehending the power of what you are reading. If you read it for 12 minutes per day, or one and a half hours per week, you would have no problem finishing the Bible in a year, and you’d be so incredibly blessed you would want to start all over again the next year. Reading the Bible is really not as intimidating as most people make it.
As for where to start, I have always recommended that people begin in the gospel of John, which is the fourth book in the New Testament, the fourth eyewitness account of the life of Jesus. As you read slowly through this gospel, stop to underline the word believe every time you see it and ask yourself: Believe what? Or believe whom? Then go to 1, 2, and 3 John. Then look at another gospel. That’ll keep you busy for a while. Have a brief word of prayer before you begin to read. Ask the Lord to open you mind and heart to His truth and then believe that He will. Also, don’t lie down when you read the Bible. It’s not a magazine or a novel. Remember, it’s God’s Word, and if you give it the respect it deserves, it will “rock your world” in an incredible way. If you use serious posture, you’ll get serious results. Read it. I suggest taking at least 15 minutes to go through two or three chapters at a time.
Here’s a second thing. Don’t just read it:
Because you’re just starting out, I’ll suggest some questions, and over time you can develop your own.
- “What portion of my reading stands out to me?” You’ll read two or three chapters, and you’ll feel drawn to a certain part. Go back to that part and ask the following questions.
- “Why does this part have my attention?” What is it about this that has caught my attention? To help you answer that question, use the remaining questions.
- “Is there an example for me to follow?” I can’t tell you how many times God’s Word has impacted my life just from saying these simple words: “Is there an example for me to follow?” All of a sudden it’s like—BOOM! It jumps right off the page: “James, you should be more like that!” I love it when God’s Word speaks to me in this way and calls me to be more of what the Lord requires.
- “Is there an error for me to avoid?” It’s very comforting to know that if I have unknowingly stepped in a wrong direction or made an unwise decision, God’s Word can reveal that to me. It’s easy to see the mistakes others make, but much harder to see our own mistakes. This is where the Word of God becomes that “mirror” we talked about earlier. Is there an error for me to avoid?
- “Is there a duty for me to perform?” Is there an action that God’s Word is calling me to take? Is there some matter of importance that I am neglecting in my home or office or in my personal life? If so, I want to know what it is so I can work on it. God’s Word will often reveal a duty we need to perform.
- “Is there any promise for me to claim?” So often God’s Word brings strength and encouragement. As you study the Bible, you will hear the Lord committing Himself to certain things or to act in certain ways. As you come to those promises, you might just acknowledge, “Yes, God! You are like this, and You’ve promised to be this way for all my life, and I trust You.” Your heart will be thrilled as you learn and review the promises of God.
- “Is there a sin for me to confess?” This I suppose is obvious in some respects. You won’t read the Bible long until you come across passages that reveal to you the “error of your ways.” But one of the promises that helps with that is 1 John 1:9, which says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Now as you begin to question God’s Word, you’re ready to do this third thing.
This is absolutely essential if you are going to benefit from the Bible as much as you could for the rest of your life. Make a plan of action regarding how you will implement what you are learning. Have a journal open beside your Bible and write some notes. Write some thoughts in the margin of your Bible. When the Word convicts you about anger or deceit or selfishness, have a strategy to deal with those sins. Make your plan specific and measurable. The results you begin to see will amaze you. Read it. Question it. Plan it.
So often people are unsure of what to say in personal prayer. When you are praying back the truths of God’s own Word, you can be confident you are praying as God would have you do. You can also be confident that God will respond to what you are asking if the direction truly comes from His Word. That’s what it means to pray according to God’s will. How I wish I had read a book this specific and practical 20 years ago. It would have helped me so much. Instead, I banged around for a long time before I figured all this stuff out. Anyway, at least you can learn from my mistakes. There is an incredible power when you pray God’s Word back to Him. When you open the passage and say, “God, You’re this way, and you’ve promised to always be this way.” Wow! So read it. Question it. Plan it. Pray it.
When you’ve learned something from God’s Word, you have to share it with somebody else. Take time to relay something about your study to your spouse or your roommate or to a friend at school. Maybe you could share with a co-worker or someone at your church. Hebrews 10:24 says that we are supposed to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.” That is what happens when you share what you are getting out of God’s Word. People who hear me preach and see my enthusiasm think, Man, that guy really loves to preach. But I don’t. I hardly care about preaching at all—at least not as an end in itself. What fires me up is hearing about the difference that God’s Word makes in people’s lives. If I got up each Sunday and preached knowing nobody would apply it, I wouldn’t even show. That’s the truth. The reason we share God’s Word is not for ourselves; it’s for others. Then, as a by-product, we get the incredible blessing of seeing Almighty God use it.
The Scripture says in Isaiah 40:8, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” Someday when your television and your car and your house are on the garbage heap, the truth in this Book will still be alive. Now let’s invest ourselves in the one thing that lasts. I want to say it again: God wrote a Book. May God forgive us for not making better use of it in our lives.