How do you read your Bible?
How do you read your Bible? An interesting – and perhaps challenging – question.
Do you read your Bible? A far more delicate question. But let’s assume you do.
So, how do you read it, when, where, and why?
I have read my Bible pretty well every day since I was about 8 or 9 years old. I was brought up on Scripture Union and a system of:
- Read it through
- Think it over
- Write it down
- Pray it in
- Live it out
- Pass it on
but I confess I have not always consistently lived it out or passed it on in a way that others would easily understand and be attracted to the Lord.
Nowadays, I sometimes read a few verses, sometimes a whole chapter and at other times several chapters or even a complete book at a time. I’ve read my Bible in all sorts of strange places: a Nepali bus, an Indian train, an aeroplane, in a mud hut and a posh hotel as well as normally – in my bedroom or sitting room. I usually read in the morning but not always. And I read it to learn about God but also to hear what he has to say to me through it and to help me respond in prayer,
although again, to be absolutely honest, I find it harder to listen to God with my heart than to study the scriptures with my mind.
So, how do you read your Bible?
It doesn’t matter a lot how much you read at a sitting nor when or where you sit to read it. Just read it and let God speak through it. In fact, I’ve discovered it’s good to vary the time and place and method every so often.
I really enjoy studying scripture; reading different versions, discovering the historical and cultural context, looking at commentaries and checking out the meaning of words – all good things to do, but more recently, I have been using a different method. A sort of meditative study; a kind of imaginative meditation, which combines my thinking about the text with letting God say things to me about it. I’ve been told it is similar to Midrash, which is the method that the old Rabbis used when they studied and expounded the Jewish Scriptures. They immersed themselves in the text and imagined what it was like to be there at the time – with Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah. That helped them to fill in many of the background details that are often not found in the Bible itself, though no doubt their imagination was partly fuelled by knowledge of their own history and culture. But, having first understood some of those issues I too have found my own creative imagination being triggered.
Just now I am writing a story about Thomas the disciple of Jesus – I think I mentioned this before in a previous devotion. Writing about Biblical characters is another of those things I love to do and researching for this story has brought those two loves together. I wanted to get the feel of Thomas and the other disciples: what was it like for them to be the first to follow Jesus? To be puzzled by the way Jesus interpreted the Old Testament – so unlike the strict rules laid down by the Scribes? To be excited by his miracles, enthralled by his parables and yet frightened by the growing opposition to him by the religious leaders? To oscillate between the attraction of his love and compassion and the abhorrence of words and actions of his that seemed to make him equal with God (a blasphemous concept for the 1st century Jews)? To see him suffer crucifixion without their having grasped that he was definitely going to be resurrected? As a result, I have read and re-read all 4 gospels many times – and that can only be a good thing! Actually, it’s relatively easy to weave a tale around Thomas because there are only a handful of direct references that anchor him in the story, although of course he was also there with the other disciples on most occasions they are mentioned. The other result of this writing is therefore that I have given myself a refresher course in discipleship while trying to imagine how Thomas’ faith developed over those 3 years he spent with Jesus. That too is good, but my story is still far from finished as Thomas and I have further lessons to learn.
In the past I’ve written other Midrash-style stories, including one about John Mark and for that I imagined what it would have been like had it been set in the 20th-21st century. Not everyone thought that was valid – and I understand their point of view – but for me it was really helpful in bringing the message and the challenge of Jesus right up to date.
Well, you may not be a writer, but can I still encourage you to try this kind of innovative Bible reading. Read the passage in one or more versions and, if needed, check out the context in terms of history, geography, culture etc and then sit quietly and imagine yourself back there in the story and just see what God shows you. You might be amazed!