For many, the Bible can be intimidating - its okay to admit. I have heard many people tell me they often don't pick it up, not because they don't want to read their Bible, but because they are afraid they will not understand what they read. What people don't know is that there are far more people in the same boat than they realize. Sadly, admitting you are scared of the Bible is feared more than the Bible itself. Unfortunately, this leads to isolation and people don't ever ask for help. This is one of the reasons I wrote my short e-book Rooted: 5 Steps for Better Bible Reading.
The short book includes some helpful steps to get your Bible reading started, and you can get it here. Today, I want to share five questions that you can ask each time you read your Bible, in order to help you understand and apply what you are reading. They are not complicated, and they are not difficult to understand. You can use them every time you read, and they can help dispel some of the fears you have when you approach the Bible.
1. God, will you help me? (Pray)
Each time you start, begin by asking God to help. Ask him to help you understand and apply what you read. God has chosen to communicate with us through His Word, don't ever doubt that He wants to help you read it well. Pray and ask God's Holy Spirit to help you understand what you are reading, and I believe that He will. God delights when people read their Bibles in their pursuit of knowing Him and living in a way that is consistent with His character.
2. What is the text saying? (Observations)
Without needing to fully understand every detail of the historical context (although it can be helpful to learn more about this over time), just begin to make observations. What is the Bible saying? Who are the main characters of the story? Who is the author of this portion of Scripture? What events are taking place? Who is mentioned? Who is the original recipient of this portion of Scripture? What commands are given? What key words are used? What words are repeated?
This does not need to be complicated or scary. Without needing to interpret or apply what you are reading yet, simply make observations. No observation is stupid. You won't answer every question, nor will you make every possible observation. Begin with the most obvious observations, and work toward the more hidden ones.
3. What does the text mean? (Interpretation)
Once you have made your observations, then move into the interpretation stage. You are primarily asking yourself, what does the passage mean? You aren't asking what it means for you yet, only what it meant originally. You don't need to bridge the gap of history all at once. What principles are behind the text that you reading? And what did it mean for the original audience? What is it saying about who God is and the way He is working in the world?
This stage is meant to help us gain an understanding of the original meaning of the passage. This will include an understanding of the original command itself, but also the principle behind the command. Generally, when reading our Bibles, we are after the principle, because that will help us understand how to apply it to our lives now.
4. What does the text mean for us today? (Application)
In this stage, we start to bridge the gap of time. We can ask ourselves if there are sins we are called to avoid? Or is there an example to follow? Is there something we are intended to learn about God or his Character? Is there a command follow? When we think about the principle of the text, how does that apply to my life today?
We must always remember that the Bible is not primarily about us. It is primarily about God. We can get into the habit of reading the Bible as though it is intended to be some "good advice" for our lives. And while it does inform how we are intended to live, it is not just a book of rules and principles. So, we must be careful in this stage to not minimize the Bible or its message. With that said, we are still meant to ask what the text means for our lives today, and how it informs the way we are called to live.
5. What is the text telling me to do? (Action)
As a result of all your prayer, reading, study and meditation on God's Word, this is the final question - what am I called to do today? What am I called to do this week? Try to be specific. It might be simple, it might be profound. Either way, God is calling us to be obedient to what we have read. Not in a legalistic fashion, but in response to the love God has revealed through His son. Obedience does not need to equate to legalism. Legalism is something to avoid, gospel-driven obedience is something to celebrate. Before you put down your Bible, just ask yourself how you are being called to obedience as a result of what you have read.
Summary of the questions - As steps
When you put it all together, you can think about your Bible reading in five simple steps.
Pray | Observe | Interpret | Apply | Act
I become more and more convinced each day that Bible reading is an absolutely essential, but commonly neglected practice among God's people today. The Bible is filled with numerous insights and its depths can be plumped for a lifetime, with new and rich deposits discovered day after day and week after week. People spend their lives trying to understand the Bible and teach it to others. A myriad of degrees, at all levels of study, can be sought in the study of the Scriptures. It is true that the Bible can feel overwhelming at times. But it does not need to be.
If you need or want help, please ask for it. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Ask me. Ask your pastor. Ask a friend. But in the meantime, these five questions might give you what you need to get started. Or grab my e-book, by clicking on the image below. You will never regret a single minute you spend investing in God's Word. And no time is too late. You can begin right now.