I am learning not to assume where people are on their spiritual journey. One just cannot tell whether someone is growing in Scripture, regularly praying or sharing their faith by only seeing them once a week on Sundays. This is why it’s important for pastors of local churches, and all mature disciples for that matter, to ask their friends in Christ plainly where they are at in their growth and what do they need assistance with. One area of great need is with the basic Christian discipline of reading the Bible.
Here are a couple of road blocks and tips for getting into the Bible and getting something from it.
Roadblock #1: The Bible is a massive book!
- My Bible is 1,809 pages in total. The last time I sat down to read a book that size from cover to cover was…well…never. Most people don’t just do that. It’s not only a large book, but it’s also a little confusing if you don’t know exactly what you’re dealing with. Open the table of contents and one might ask, “Are those 66 chapters, or sub-chapters?” “What’s with all the little numbers on the pages?” “Why do people talk about there being different books of the Bible? I thought the Bible was just one book!” These are perfectly understandable questions, and ones worth addressing.
- Yes, the Bible is a big book, but it wasn’t intended to be read from cover to cover in one sitting. Not necessarily anyway. There were over 40 writers who penned these ancient texts, 66 books in all, under the direct inspiration of God. These 40 writers lived over a span of over 2000 years and each had different reasons and original intentions to their writing. That being said, there is a beautiful harmony between each book, and themes that run seamlessly throughout. The men of God who gathered in the early centuries to compile what is know as the Bible today had strict guidelines as to what was allowed and what wasn’t. So, when you open your Bible don’t feel like you MUST start on page one and get all the way to the end in a sitting. Learn to appreciate the different writing styles of each author; the poetry and rhythm of the Psalms, the wisdom of the Proverbs, the foundation of the historical books, the mystery and warnings of the prophets, the revelation of Christ in the gospels, and the inspiration and instruction of the Apostles letters to the Church. I suggest beginning in the gospel of John for it was written with the intent that the reader might believe in the Son of God.
Roadblock #2: I never get anything out of what I read.
- This is a common frustration, especially for younger believers who see Christians all around them who are excited about their Bibles. But it’s not just a problem for new believers. Many Christians who have come to know Jesus through faith simply have not been taught the spiritual nature of understanding the Bible, or the practical tools for growing.
- I’m not going to reinvent the wheel, but show you a tool that was developed by some folks who, like me, cared for their church. This tool is called S.O.A.P. Each letter stands for a step in the process of reading that you can use to grow in your ability to read, comprehend and apply the Bible to your life. The absolute best way to use this is in conjunction with a journal or notebook.
S. Begin here, by slowly and deliberately reading the text. It’s important not to just skim the page, but really read it. Though some societies don’t have the privilege of reading due to lack of resources or language, we do not have that excuse. Ask these two simple questions when you read. What is the passage saying, and why was it written?
O. Write down in your journal the things you observed from the Scripture. Ask yourself, ‘What do I learn about God? About life? About self?’ Write down any and all insights God is giving you.
A. This step brings things into the very moment. Ask, ‘How does this apply to me today?’ ‘What should I do?’ If there is never a sense of ‘go and do’ after reading the Bible then we’re missing something huge. But this means you must read with an attitude that is willing to trust and obey God. Write down the applications in your journal.
P. This is an important step that should not be skipped. Write down a prayer in your journal. The prayer can be simple, but should be based on the Scripture you read and related to the observations and applications you wrote down. Take 5 minutes to just silence your heart and listen to Him.
Learning to read the Bible well and get something out of it is a spiritual process, and one that is necessary for growth (2 Timothy 3:16). It may not happen over night, but with patience and faith in Jesus it will happen. The Holy Spirit who indwells you now through faith in the Son of God is your greatest teacher and will be faithful to lead you to the truth (John 16:13). S.O.A.P. is a tool to help you establish the spiritual discipline of reading and applying the Bible. Remember that the goal is Christ-likeness, and that He’s left us His word so that we might know Him and grow in godliness (2 Peter 1:3). Whether you’re an avid reader now, or you’re timidly opening Bible each day, God wants to share His life with you. It’s time to open the Bible and grow as a child of God.
“Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” John 14:23