August 30, 2020
The Bible is the most important book in my own personal library, bar none.
As a matter of fact, I'd say that the Bible is the most important book of all time.
Just think about it.
This book is an eyewitness account of historical events so significant that they literally shaped the entire Western world and a great deal of the Eastern world. A large percentage of people who have ever lived on this planet consider it to not only be a record of several of the most important events ever recorded, but a source of absolute truth and morality upon which families, communities, cities, and countries can be built. The events recorded in the Bible have generated more great works of art than any other book in the history of the world. Because of the Bible, countless hospitals have been built, millions upon millions of humans nourished and clothed, orphanages founded, slaveries ended, and communities healed.
As Daniel P. Buttafuoco points out in his book, 5 Reasons Why the Bible is the Most Important Book You'll Ever Read, the Bible is one of the most published books in the history of the world, having been printed in nearly every known language and also being named the world's greatest bestseller year after year. Indeed, it was the first book ever used on the printing press and Johannes Gutenberg, who printed the very first Bible, was even voted as the most important man to have ever lived within the past 1,000 years!
Despite being banned or illegal in 52 countries, the Bible is still widely demanded even in those regions of the world where it is a crime to distribute or possess it. For centuries, people have died torturous deaths and lost their freedom for printing, or even attempting to gain access to, the wisdom contained within the Bible.
It is also the most copied book of antiquity. Despite being written over a time period of some 1,500 years and completed approximately 2,000 years ago, none of its contents have ever been found or proven to be inaccurate. Buttafuoco points out that the Bible is:
“…surpassingly accurate to the smallest details. Its contents, as translated, are as close to the original words of the authors as humanly possible. Only a few words of the entire book (a tiny, insignificant percentage) are in any doubt as to the original words and none of the disputed text affects the message of the book. Additionally, new discoveries of previously unknown ancient manuscripts continue to provide ever greater accuracy to the contents of this book.
It has been sifted, studied, commentated upon and dissected more than any book in history. Volumes of books have been written about it and if they were stacked on top of one another they would reach to the sky. Where this book can be verified by external events such as archeology, geography, custom, politics, culture, known world history and writings in other ancient texts it has been so verified as to be accurate in all respects. New discoveries always support it, never vice versa. It has never once been proven faulty on single detail or fact, although many have mightily tried and failed.”
The Bible contains deep wisdom about God, life, the nature of humankind, and human rational and irrational psychology. It is arguably the book that formed the foundation for the entirety of Western culture. It is described in Jeremiah 23:29 as both a burning fire and a hammer that breaks rocks into pieces, and in other sections of Scripture as a sharp sword. Perhaps most importantly, the Bible contains the most important story of all time, a story woven into the DNA of every human who has ever been birthed—the Hero's Journey of Jesus Christ, which I detail in all its horror, inspiration, and magnificence here.
So, if you have even the slightest hunch that the Bible is a book you may want to read, but you have absolutely no clue where to start, or you're already a scholar of the Bible but you seek more direction and clarity on the best approach for immersing yourself in Scripture, then you should probably know how to read the Bible – because – despite this being my own personal approach in the past, reading the Bible comes down to just a bit more than simply cracking the pages open and beginning on the first place your fingers land, which is a bit like walking into a library, closing your eyes, and selecting the first book your nose jams into. You'll certainly get something of value but perhaps not quite as much value as you would have gotten had you been slightly more systematic in your reading approach.
So, because I've personally been immersed in a study of how to read the Bible in the best way possible, I have several tips that I'd like to share with you in today's ramblings.
5 Ways To Read The Bible
It turns out that reading—which is probably how you'd traditionally think that one would approach the Bible—is just one way to immerse yourself in the wisdom of the Scriptures.
But in fact, there are five ways (including reading) that you can approach the Bible.
1. Hearing The Bible
In Luke 11:28, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”, Romans 10:17 reads, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”, and 1 Timothy 4:13, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.”
Donald Whitney writes in Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life that “…most who, like [Johnathan] Edwards, were converted while reading Scripture are also like him in that they often heard the proclamation of God’s Word prior to conversion. Faith and the ability to apply faith in every area of life is given to us as we are equipped by the hearing of the Word.”
Sure, one can certainly attend weekly church services to hear the Bible presented from the pulpit, but there are other ways that you can hear the Bible too. For example, the “YouVersion” Bible app offers a free Bible experience for smartphones and tablets, as well as computers at Bible.com. I keep on the Audible app on my iPhone the complete “Word of Promise Audio Bible,” which is fantastically narrated and is, in my opinion, one of the better audiobook versions of the Bible out there. Some days I will certainly read the Bible, but other days, especially if I'm out on a nature walk, driving, or even doing yoga in the sauna, I'll listen to the Bible. I also think that listening to great hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs that contain words of Scripture is a fabulous way of “hearing” Scripture, and for me, it certainly “counts.” You can find one handy music library with sheet music for a host of Psalms and other songs here. Our family also keeps a Psalms songbook ever-present on the living room coffee table, and I'm constantly surprised at how readily I can recite Scripture I've memorized from these songs compared to Scripture that I've merely read.
2. Reading The Bible
In addition to reading and listening to the Bible via our private morning practice and our group morning meditation with the Abide meditation app, my own family gathers before dinner each evening and reads one chapter of the Bible together, usually from Psalms or Proverbs. Later in this article, I'll give you several good resources for identifying a structured Bible reading plan that will work for you; but in the meantime, it's important to understand that the Bible itself emphasizes not only the importance of hearing God's word, but also reading it.
Matthew 4:4: “But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Joshua 1:8: “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”
Romans 15:4: “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
Jesus himself referred many times to the importance of both reading and knowing the Scriptures, and often said “Did you not read…”. For example:
Matthew 12:3: “Have you not read what David did…”
Matthew 12:5: “Or have you not read in the law…”
Matthew 19:4: “Have you not read, that he which made them…”
Matthew 21:16: “Have you never read, out of the mouth of babes…”
Matthew 21:42: “Did you never read in the Scriptures, the stone…”
Matthew 22:31: “And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God…”
Finally, in the same way that hearing God's word can include listening to music that contains verses from the Bible, reading God's word can certainly also include singing hymns, Psalms, and spiritual songs that contain verses from the Bible.
3. Studying The Bible
Whitney also says in Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life that “…if reading the Bible can be compared to cruising the width of a clear, sparkling lake in a motorboat, studying the Bible is like slowly crossing that same lake in a glass-bottomed boat.” I've personally discovered that my Bible reading practice has become far more “alive” by owning a good study Bible that allows me to delve into the underlying history behind what I'm reading, the origin or root of certain words, character studies, topical studies, and notes on grammar, history, culture, and geography. The depth of my understanding grows by leaps and bounds when I don't just read but also study what I'm reading, in the same way that you'd be far more intimately familiar with the workings of your automobile if you didn't simply drive it but also read the user's manual, enrolled in a course on car mechanics, or took apart and put back together your car's engine.
John 5:39 says, “Search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.”, Acts 17:11 says, “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” and even the Apostle Paul, during his time of imprisonment, asked Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:13 to bring him books and scrolls so that he could continue to study the Scriptures.
Owning a good study Bible is the first key to studying the Bible. The presence of word interpretations, maps, clarity of cultural references, relevant similar portions of Scripture, etc. make finding truth easier than simply using a “plain Jane” style Bible. Now don’t get me wrong, no matter how it is delivered, God’s Word is mighty and holy, but having a good study Bible makes discovering Scriptural wisdom a far more immersive experience. I personally own The King James Study Bible by Thomas Nelson, and a couple of other excellent study Bibles are the NKJV Study Bible full-color by Thomas Nelson and the NIV Study Bible. My twin 12-year-old boys own the hardcover KJV Teen Study Bible. You can even get a free study Bible here.
Of course, once you have a study Bible, you must have a good Bible study plan.
While a spendy Bible study software such as Logos is an amazing tool, I'm not convinced you need to get that fancy. There are many other great ways to study Scripture. No matter which plan you choose, be careful not to bite off more than you can chew. Depending on your level of “busyness,” if you decide to read through the entire Bible in one year, and you wake up in the morning with thirty minutes of assigned reading to be able to achieve that goal, then you may not have much time left over to do meditate, memorize, journal, or pray—so be realistic about your Bible reading plan.
For example, for a long time, I used a small devotional guide called “Our Daily Bread,” which gave me a simple topic-based Bible reading for each day—so I could read for 5-10 minutes, journal for 5-10 minutes, pray for 5-10 minutes, and realistically engage in 15-30 minutes of devotional time each morning or evening. Throughout the year, my family and I are now using shorter topical-based study plans (currently “The Essential Jesus”) from YouVersion” Bible app, which allows you to either listen or read, depending on what works for you that day. A similar Bible app which is also quite excellent is the Dwell app, which includes music, narration, study plans and much more. From chronological to topical to the “busy life plan,” you can find a host of helpful Bible reading plan options here, here, and here.
4. Memorizing The Bible
There's just something empowering, peace-bestowing, and hope-giving about memorizing words of Scripture and being able to pull them out of your brain and apply them to any situation that life may throw at you. Proverbs 3—one of my favorite passages within the entirety of the Bible, and one of the greatest writings on overall wisdom and longevity I've ever discovered—recommends that we keep God's commands in our hearts, bound around our necks, and written upon the tablet of our hearts, dictating that this will prolong our life many years and bring peace and prosperity. Psalm 119:11 says, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”
The ability to be able to wield God's word like a mighty sword and as a weapon in your arsenal to fight against anything life throws at you requires that you not only hear, read, and study the Bible, but also memorize it.
For example, you will find the Scriptures that you memorize can be uplifting in times of turmoil (e.g. “Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one a cubit to his stature?”)…
…energetic in times you are depressed or sluggish (e.g. “But those who wait on the Lord Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.”)…
…inspiring when you are intimidated (e.g. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”)…
…comforting when you are afraid (e.g. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”)…
…and enabling when you need to defend the hope that is within you (e.g. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”)
So how can you better memorize the truths you find in the Bible? Try the following:
- Notecards: Each week, our family memorizes at least one verse from Scripture. My wife writes the verse on notecards that we keep in full view in the kitchen, and I also keep the notecards (don't laugh) on my exercise machines such as my treadmill and my stationary bike so I can see them when I'm exercising.
- Pictures: My boys like to draw pictures or images that illustrate verses we are memorizing, and sometimes do so on their own separate notecards. For example, Ephesians 6:17 describes “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”, so they will draw a sketch of a sword next to a drawing of the Bible to help cement this in their brains.
- Writing/Journaling: If you opt not to use notecards, simply keeping a journal handy next to your Bible and writing down the specific verse or verses you want to memorize can be a simple and effective step for memorization.
- Accountability: Find someone, such as a family member or friend, who is on board with memorizing the same passages you are, then hold each other accountable each week by reciting the sections you've memorized to each other.
- Meditation: Below, you'll learn more about how to meditate upon what you've read, which on its own can be a powerful repetitive technique for committing words and phrases to memory.
- The Memory Palace Technique: I'm currently memorizing Romans 8 (which, in addition to Proverbs 3, is one of my favorite passages of all Scripture for life wisdom) and using the Memory Palace Technique to do so. This technique, which I learned from my friend and memory expert Jim Kwik is also known as “the method of loci,” and involves a strategy of memory enhancement that uses visualizations of familiar spatial environments in order to enhance the recall of information. Author John O' Keefe explains this method as:
“…an imaginal technique known to the ancient Greeks and Romans… In this technique the subject memorizes the layout of some building, or the arrangement of shops on a street, or any geographical entity which is composed of a number of discrete loci. When desiring to remember a set of items the subject ‘walks' through these loci in their imagination and commits an item to each one by forming an image between the item and any feature of that locus. Retrieval of items is achieved by ‘walking' through the loci, allowing the latter to activate the desired items. The efficacy of this technique has been well established, as is the minimal interference seen with its use.”
While it is beyond the scope of this article to teach you the step-by-step instructions for learning the Memory Palace Technique, one of the best resources for learning it is Kwik's new book Limitless: Upgrade Your Brain, Learn Anything Faster, and Unlock Your Exceptional Life.
5. Meditating On The Bible
In Joshua 1:8, God tells Joshua, “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” Psalms 1 blesses the man who meditates on the law of the Lord both day and night, and later, in Psalm 39:3, David speaks of “musing” upon the word of God, using a word with a rendering quite close to the word for meditation used in Joshua. Author Donald Whitney speaks of meditation as lingering by a fire, describing the mere reading of Scripture as casually strolling by a stove after you've been out for a long winter walk on an icy day. You'll get a quick feeling of warmth, but to truly warm the entire body, you must linger by the stove's heat until it warms your skin, your muscles and your bones.
So you can think of meditation as lingering by the fire of God's word for such a period of time that your body is fully heated by its warmth.
Puritan pastor Thomas Watson comments similarly that “…the reason we come away so cold from reading the word is because we do not warm ourselves at the fire of meditation.”
Meditation simply involves deep thinking and dwelling upon the wisdom, truth, and spiritual nourishment you receive in your Scripture reading, listening, and studying. Using strategies such as imagination, visualization, mantra repetition, you can, via meditation, equip yourself to become a true student of the Bible—better able to memorize, understand, and benefit from the passage you have heard or read. Meditation on Scripture often involves focusing on one single truth, a few words, or a small section of the Bible verse.
Because your breath is so intimately tied to your stress levels, your focus, and your nervous system, whichever meditation strategy you use, I highly recommend that you pair it with breathwork—particularly using breath patterns such as 4-in-through-the-nose, 8-out-through-the-mouth, alternate nostril breathing, box breathing, and even holotropic breathwork. I introduce you to some of my favorite forms of breathwork that I and my family use here. When it comes to the spiritual disciplines, breathwork pairs perfectly with meditation in the same way that fasting pairs perfectly with prayer—they are the turkeys and cranberries of spirit nourishment.
As with memorization, there are a variety of strategies you can use to meditate upon God's word, including:
- Emphasizing different words in the text:
Re-read a meaningful verse that you have found, but read it a different way each in a sort of mantra. When you do so, stress a different word every time. Take John 11:25, for. example. You can stress the italicized word with each repetitive reading:
I am the resurrection and the life.
I am the resurrection and the life.
I am the resurrection and the life.
I am the resurrection and the life.
I am the resurrection and the life.
I am the resurrection and the life.
I am the resurrection and the life.
- Visualization or artistic expression:
Close your eyes and visualize with as many vivid colors, smells, sounds, and details as possible the story or concept you've read. For example, during Jesus's prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane from Luke 22:43–44, you might picture the individual teardrops of blood falling down his cheeks, an eery whistle of the wind through the darkness of the trees that surrounded him, or even the distant snores of the apostles Peter, James, and John. Bring the passage to life using your imagination, then sit with your breath and dwell upon the scene you have created.
- Mantra repetition:
If you finish reading a passage such as John 3:16, you can set a timer (I like the meditation and breath app Insight Timer) for 10 minutes and simply repeat with each breath the following: “For God so loved the world…For God so loved the world…For God so loved the world.” You can even dwell upon a specific word with your mantra, such as “Love…love…love.” As you do so, you'll feel the power of a phrase or word sweep over your body as you bathe in the waters of that specific section of Scripture.
- Listening to a reading:
I find that with certain inspirational audio readings of Scripture, I can close my eyes and enter into a meditative state as the audio plays. One of my favorite readings for doing so is John Piper's rendering of Romans 8. You can also simply meditate as you listen to a Bible passage using an app such as YouBible or meditate as you listen to a Scripture-based meditational teaching via an app such as Abide.
Praying your way through a text can enable your mind to be more open to God's illumination of the text and increase your own spiritual perception as you read. You can not only say a prayer before you begin reading that God would open your eyes to the truths that you are about to discover but then, as you read, you can come to God with your thoughts, gratitude, and supplication.
For example, Psalms 23:4-6 says, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”
As you read such a passage you may find yourself praying “Oh God, please be with me through my own valleys, please remove any fear of evil from me and thank you for your shepherding comfort. Thank you that you have blessed me even when I am under stress, and please continue to provide me with your goodness and your mercy all of my life…”
You'll find that union with God, conversation with God, and dwelling upon God can absolutely make your meditation time even richer with the presence of the Almighty Creator.
These examples merely scratch the surface of ways in which you can meditate on the Bible. There are, in fact, seventeen forms of Bible-based meditation that Donald Whitney teaches in Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. Indeed, I have found Donald's book to be an invaluable resource for delving into all the aspects of the spiritual disciplines that I detail here, including, quite notably, digesting the nourishment that one can find within the pages of Scripture.
In summary, the five ways you can immerse yourself in the most important book of all time are:
- Hear The Bible
- Read The Bible
- Study The Bible
- Memorize The Bible
- Meditate On the Bible
How about you? Do you read the Bible? If so, what type of Bible reading approach have you found to be best for you? Are you interested in beginning to read the Bible? If so, how do you plan to start? I encourage you to choose a plan and begin today. I suspect the fruits that will pour forth in your life and the wisdom that you discover will make this one of the best decisions of your life.