FIVE SUGGESTIONS ON HOW TO READ THE BIBLE

by Roger Severino

If you have been around followers of Jesus or church life for any length of time, you probably know that Christians are encouraged to read the Bible. In the Scriptures, we encounter Christ and learn of what it means to be in right relationship with God and we receive instructions about how to live and grow spiritually. But how do we read the Bible? Where do we start? Do we simply open it up to a random spot and start reading?

Here are five approaches I have taken to reading the Bible on a regular basis.

  1. Read the Bible through in a year. About every 5-10 years, I try to read the Bible from cover to cover. Usually I have some sort of reading plan that has me in different parts of the Bible. There are many “through the Bible in a year” Bibles that you can find at a Christian bookstore that has a reading plan built in. On January 1 (or Day 1), you may read Genesis 1-3, Matthew 1, and a Psalm and a few verses in Proverbs. Following this plan will get you through the entire Bible in 12 months. Or, there are Chronological Bibles that try to lay out the text in proper order of sequence (as best we know the timing of the actual writing or events). The benefit of this type of approach is that you are exposed to the entire Bible and get to see the big picture of all it contains within a year’s reading.
  1. Read the entire Old Testament once, the New Testament twice, and the Psalms twice in 2-4 years. My favorite Bible reading companion is D. A. Carson’s For the Love of God (Volume One and Volume Two). Each day includes four different passages of Scripture that gets you through the Old Testament, the New Testament twice, and the Psalms twice. Volume One offers comments from Dr. Carson on one of the first two readings, and Volume Two gives commentary on either the third or fourth reading. A two-year plan means that you are reading both the first two passages listed the first year, and the third and fourth passage listed the second year. A four-year plan means that you are reading only one of the passages listed per day. The wonder of this resource is that Dr. Carson has an amazing ability to offer insights on the text, place it within the framework of the storyline of the Bible, and also offer practical application for today. All this on a single page. The benefit of this approach is that it helps you read through the entire Bible in 2-4 years and gain insight from one of today’s top Bible scholars.
  1. Read the Bible with the aid of a Bible study resource or curriculum. Currently, I am using two Bible study aids to help me engage the text of scripture. I am working through our church’s Foundations Curriculum on Spiritual Practices and also through an InterVarsity Press small group guide on selected Psalms written by Eugene Peterson. Both of these resources help me engage the text and ask reflective questions which call me to respond in writing. There is something about reflecting on a Bible text and writing a response that engages me in a different way than simply reading it. Also, I am gaining insights and challenges from the author of the resource as we both engage the same text of Scripture.
  1. Study a book of the Bible. Often, I will read through a specific book of the Bible from beginning to end, usually going slow enough through it that I am reading either a section of a chapter, or no more than a full chapter at a time. I often do this with some type of inexpensive journal where I am writing reflections on the text, or at times simply copying the text I am reading (this may sound strange, but I think we process a text differently when we write it down). The advantage to this approach is that you can delve more deeply and really try to understand and apply a specific book of the Bible.
  1. Reading the Bible with the aid of a devotional. Our church provides a daily devotional we call JourneyOn Today. You can find it on our web site and we even have a mobile app for that. Most mornings, this is the first thing I read. Typically it includes a passage of Scripture followed by a devotional written by one of our members or staff. Usually, they come in series where there is a theme that will tie in the different days over a period of time. Of course, you can find various types of devotionals in a Christian bookstore or even on the web. It can be nice to read a text often within the framework of a theme and hear the reflections and thoughts of another brother or sister in Christ. Often, they will have an insight or application of the text that is appropriate but that I had not considered. It can be beneficial to read the reflections of others on a given text.
    Photo credit: Joe Hendricks

    Roger Severino, Adult Discipleship – Leadership Minister

     

As you can see, there are multiple approaches you can take to reading the Bible. Here are only five. The most important thing is that you find a way that is beneficial to you and that you will practice on a consistent basis. We read the Word of God because in these pages we encounter the God of the Word. 

THREE PERSPECTIVES TOWARDS SPIRITUAL PRACTICES

by Roger Severino

 But have nothing to do with irreverent and silly myths. Rather, train yourself in godliness, for the training of the body has a limited benefit, but godliness is beneficial in every way, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. [1]

I like to be in physical shape. I try to exercise about four times a week in order to be somewhat physically fit. There are benefits to this, including the way I feel, my physical appearance, my energy level, my overall health, etc. These benefits are good, but limited. Over time, the body breaks down and gets older, no matter how much exercise you do.

Spiritual exercises, however, are beneficial in every way because they affect every area of life, and don’t decrease over time. In fact, the benefits extend even beyond this life into eternity!

These ancient disciplines were practiced by Jesus and believers throughout church history who were serious about their spiritual formation. Things like Bible study, prayer, worship, service, fasting, silence and solitude, and journaling can all be helps for our walk with Christ. Their purpose is to cooperate with God’s work in our lives and put it in a position for Him to change us to be more like His Son (see Romans 8:29).

Here are three perspectives I have experienced about these spiritual practices throughout my life.

  1. Guilt: When I first came to faith, I was instructed to start reading and praying and having daily devotions. These were helpful and enhanced my spiritual growth. I went to church, and that was beneficial as well. I was told that if I really wanted to grow, I should be at church on Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, and Tuesday night visitation. I was serious about my spiritual growth so I took the challenge. What started out as helpful, however, was soon a source of guilt and obligation. If I ever missed a “quiet time”, I felt a nagging sense of guilt all day. If I had to miss church, I felt like I had failed. What was meant to bring me life became a source of spiritual death (or at least guilt). This is what I call my legalism stage.
  1. Avoidance: Over time, I recognized what was going on and the enslavement I was under. I also was encouraged by a different group of Christians about the dangers of legalism and how it distorts my relationship with God. We are in right relationship with God based on what He has done for us through Christ, not based on any self-effort or trying to measure up to a standard. This was very helpful teaching and a truth I still hold firmly today. But, since many in this crowd were “recovering legalists,” there was an aversion to any form of spiritual practices and a fear that any effort on our part was a return to trying to score brownie points with God. This led to a more passive attitude on my end towards the Spiritual Practices. I might call this my passive stage.
  1. Meaningful: “Grace is not opposed to effort, but to earning,” said Dallas Willard. God is at work in my life. I am already accepted by Him because of what Christ has done for me on the cross. That doesn’t mean, though, that the Christian life is passive. I can cooperate with God’s work in my life and develop certain spiritual exercises and habits that will put me on the path to becoming the man I want to be. If I miss a day of Bible reading, it’s OK. God still loves me. But I also realize that over time, I will develop a deeper relationship with God as I renew my mind with His truth, and put myself in a position to allow him to transform me rather than being conformed to the world (see Romans 12:2).
    Photo credit: Joe Hendricks

    Roger Severino, Adult Discipleship – Leadership Minister

    We don’t drift into holiness. My default mode will take me down a path away from Christ, not towards Him. That’s why I find the Spiritual Practices meaningful. They are the means of grace that God provides which put me in a position to hear from God and allow Him to change me. My prayer is that this is a stage of meaningful engagement and spiritual growth.

Which spiritual discipline do you want to practice that will make your walk with Christ richer, deeper, and more meaningful? Are you drifting away from God, or actively pursuing Him?

[1] The Holy Bible: Holman Christian Standard Version. (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2009), 1 Tim. 4:7–8.

4 QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF FROM PSALM 1

by Roger Severino

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, 01_tree_by_rivernor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.

The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.[1]

  1. Who Influences Me? I tend to agree with those who see a progression in verse 1, from walking, to standing, to sitting. You walk beside the wrong crowd and before you know it you are standing with them. Finally, you are sitting with them and your lifestyle and way of thinking is indistinguishable from theirs. Through the media, through our workplaces, in society, someone is trying to influence you. Are you being shaped by the “wicked” or the “righteous” (the two groups in this psalm)? Who is influencing you? Who are you influencing? Is the influence for good or evil?
  1. What is My Delight? What brings you joy? What energizes you? What do you find to be life-giving? When God gets a hold of us, He changes our “wanter” (the things we want). Yes, we still struggle with being tempted to do the wrong, but our greatest desire should be for God and the life He has for us. Nothing else will satisfy! If this is not true for you, then this is an indication that there is something spiritually wrong. The blessed person is the one who delights in God’s ways and meditates on them (see v. 2). This is not about loving religion or any religious observance, but about loving God and His ways and desiring to know Him in greater ways.
  1. Where do I get my Strength and Nourishment? The reason the tree in this verse (v. 3) flourishes at all times and yields its fruit in season is because the roots go down to a steady source of water, providing the nutrients it needs even in dry times. What resources do you draw from when you face those dry times of life? We have a lot of people in the church who are spiritually anemic. What if you had God-honoring flourishing people influencing you? What if your relationship with God was so rich that you had a continual source of spiritual strength and fortitude? Do you have such relationships with God and others? If not, what would it take from you to develop those?
  1. Which Path am I on? We live in a society where right and wrong are simply in the eyes of the beholder and word like “righteous” and “wicked” are shunned.
    Photo credit: Joe Hendricks

    Roger Severino, Adult Discipleship – Leadership Minister

    This psalm, however, remains uncompromising. There is no middle way.  We are all on a journey, and on one of two paths. Sometimes we have to see things as “either-or” before we will be shaken out of our complacency. Is your life flourishing and substantive, like the well-watered tree, or is it flimsy like the weightless chaff blowing in the wind? Is your life rooted in God, or are you attempting to root it elsewhere? What choices will you make this week to put you on the right path?

[1]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ps 1:1–6.