I hear it all the time..."I started reading the Bible, but stopped when I got to Numbers." The Bible is a thick book. Take one look at it and it can overwhelm you. All those "begats," "thees," and "thous" can seem confusing. The Bible is not like other books you read front to back. It was not written or best understood in that order. Also, there is a difference between Bible reading and Bible study. I want to encourage you to do Bible study as well as Bible reading. We have to dig into the word for ourselves. How do you do that? Where do you start?
Hebrews says this about Bible study: "In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil (Heb. 5:12-14, NIV). God wants you to grow and mature in the Word.
Here are a few tips on how to get the most out of the time you spend in the Word:
BEFORE YOU BEGIN: Get a quiet place. Block out a certain amount of time to study. Try to study in the same place at the same time each day. Get your materials together (Study Bible, notebook, pen). Lose the cell phone and turn off the TV and Radio/MP3 player. Pray for God to reveal His Word to you and then begin.
1. BIBLE VERSION: Get a Bible translation you can understand. The NIV, NLT, and NASB are good. I recommend a study bible that has a summary before each book. A good study bible will have commentary at the bottom to explain each verse and what's going on. The NIV Life Application Bible, NLT Study Bible, MacArthur Study Bible, Thompson Chain Bible, and Nave's Topical Bible are all good.
2. BIBLE TOOLS: There are even Bible study tools out there. Bible dictionaries and a good commentary are helpful. There are also study books that go along with a certain topics or books of the Bible. Take time to browse your local Christian book store's Bible study section. You can also find a lot of things online for free. I recommend http://www.biblestudytools.com/ and http://www.studylight.org/. A good online bible is found at http://www.biblegateway.com/.
3. START IN THE RIGHT PLACE: If you have never read much of the Bible before, start with the Gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in the New Testament. Read to understand the life, ministry, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus first. He is the center of all scripture. If you have a red letter edition of the Bible then read the words in red. You may even read a chapter of Psalms and Proverbs a day.
4. PICK A BOOK AND FIND OUT ABOUT IT: Another thing you can do is pick a book of the New Testament - lets say Philippians. Find out things like 1) who is the author?, 2) why was it written?, 3) to whom was it written?, 4) what is the historical background? and 5)when was it written? Asking "who, what, when, where, why" will help you to understand the overall meaning of a particular book of the Bible.
5. GO SLOW: Start with the first chapter of the book. Go through it verse by verse. Ask what each verse is saying. Look for key words. After you read the first section or chapter, ask yourself what you got out of it and how you can apply it to your life. You may want to make notes in a journal or notebook.
6. STUDY BY TOPICS: You can also study the Bible by topics. Most bibles have a concordance at the back to help you find the topic you are looking for. This will help you with specific issues in life (i.e. patience, love, anger). Remember, the Bible is a book of principles. Ask yourself, "what principle of God's Word did I learn and need to apply?"
7. MEMORIZE SCRIPTURE: I recommend finding and memorizing scriptures that deal with what you are going through or what you are studying. Write down the verse on a Post-it or index card, put it in your pocket and pull it out throughout the day to memorize it. Repetition is the key to memorization.
8. MARK THINGS IN YOUR BIBLE: For example, you might want to use a yellow highlighter for key scriptures you want to memorize. You may want to use a blue pen for making notes of something the pastor said in the margin. Write in red another Bible reference that applies to what you are reading. Develop a system of marking that works for you.
9. APPLICATION: The things you read in the Bible are always meant for you to apply. They are never just simply head knowledge. Ask yourself how you can apply the principles of what you have just learned. Write out an action step. Then pray that God will help you apply this to your life.
Studying the Bible takes time, consistency, and diligence. Start small, be consistent, and watch how you grow spiritually.