Stop Making Bible Reading A New Year's Resolution
At the start of the new year, you probably made a list of resolutions filled with health goals and things you hope to achieve by the end of 2019. Somewhere on that list, you wrote down “Have a better quiet time” or “Read my Bible more,” and just like with the other resolutions on your list, you started strong, with new enthusiasm.
By now you’ve made it about a third of the way through the book of Genesis and life has gotten busy again, or you’re just not feeling it anymore. Or maybe you decided to change it up and read through the Old Testament backward, only now you’re realizing that it starts with all of the minor prophets, and you’re not feeling quite as encouraged as you expected (speaking from experience on that one).
If your quiet time, or lack thereof, has you discouraged, you’re not alone. Many Christians admit that they struggle with having a consistent and meaningful quiet time. Hopefully you were able to catch Albert Bisson’s Q&A at the end of January, but if you didn’t, here are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to spending time in the Word.
The Bible is a book just like any other book; it has a plot, a setting, characters, and conflict. It is, however, unlike any other book in existence, because it is the Word of God, written by humans, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It is living and active (Hebrews 4:12) and useful for everything you need to be thoroughly equipped as a servant of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17). There are a few key components to keep in mind when you are reading Scripture that will hopefully help you in your quiet times. Let's consider right now the spiritual and contextual aspects of reading and studying Scripture.
First, keep in mind that your quiet time is an opportunity to have a conversation with God, where you can talk to him, and he can speak to you through his Word. When you decided to give your life to Christ, you were given a direct line to God, through the Holy Spirit. That means your quiet time can, and will, look different from other Christians because your relationship with God is uniquely yours. It is still your responsibility to set aside personal time to meet with God, but the beauty is you aren't showing up to the meeting alone.
The Spirit who helped write the Bible is the same Spirit that dwells within you, and He is right there reading along with you. One of the Spirit's roles is to serve as an interpreter, helping you to see spiritual truths in the Bible that you did not see before, as well as producing a desire within you to follow those teachings. When you start your quiet time, ask the Spirit to teach you something. When you come to a difficult passage, ask the Spirit to help you understand it and see the truth in it. More than likely, there probably won't be some great epiphany every time, but whether you spend 15 minutes reading through a few verses or an hour going through a chapter or two, the Spirit will teach you something.
The second important component to reading and understanding the Bible is learning to read it in context. Like I stated earlier, the Bible is a narrative journey just like any other book. Though it is made up of 66 separate books with differing genres, settings, and characters, it is all one cohesive narrative that is pointing you to Jesus Christ. Therefore, you should approach reading the Bible in the same way you would read any other book: in context.
There are two ways that we read the Bible in context. First, there is the literary context. Typically you don't start a book in the middle, because each word, paragraph, and chapter all add up to something important. When you read a passage of Scripture, you have to keep in mind what came before in the chapter, in that particular book of the Bible, or maybe even what happened in a previous book. For example, it may be easier to understand what is happening in the books written by the prophets because you've read through 1 and 2 Kings beforehand. Or maybe you're able to pick up on specific themes in Paul's letters in the New Testament because you can recall details from reading through the Book of Acts.
Second, consider the historical and cultural context of the scripture you're reading through. The historical context of the Bible is informed both by the original authors and the original audience. When you're reading Genesis, you're reading from Moses's point-of-view as he led the Israelites through the wilderness on the way to the promised land. So an important question to ask might be "What is Moses, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, trying to teach the Israelites about Creation, Abraham, and the Patriarchs?"
Cultural context goes right along with historical context. Take any of the stories from the four Gospels that talk about a Samaritan person. Knowing the racial and cultural divisions between the Israelites and the Samaritans will add to your understanding when you read, for example, about Jesus and the Samaritan woman.
If you have been looking for a way to dive deeper into your personal Bible study, there are resources and personal recommendations from some of our staff on the following page. An important point to keep in mind: don’t let a Christian book or devotional replace Bible reading. We need to study the Scripture as it is God’s Word. Other resources should always be in addition, never as a replacement.
There is a vast array of resources out there, from podcasts to Bible apps to videos, that will help you dive deeper and grow in your understanding of Scripture. I'll give you two of my personal favorites. I use the First5 app, put out by Proverbs 31 Ministries, as a Bible reading calendar and devotional. The second is for you visual learners out there. The Bible Project produces short, animated videos that give an overview of individual books, as well as other broad topics about the Bible. You can find their videos on Youtube or through the church's account with RightNow Media.
If you will come to your quiet time with a mind and heart open to the teaching of the Holy Spirit, with sensitivity to the Bible's literary and historical contexts, and always seeing Jesus as the point of the entire narrative, I believe you can and will grow as faithful readers of God's Word.
Chip Stevens, Senior Pastor
For me, I like to do my Bible reading one of two ways:
A chapter at a time through a book of the Bible
A character study. You decide on a person that you want to read about, like Abraham, and you begin at the first mention of him in the Bible and, a chapter at a time, read all the way until his death. When doing that, I am trying to put myself in the person’s shoes and looking for how he/she interacts with God and for how God shapes that person throughout his/her life. I like to write down one verse that stood out to me from my reading and ponder it. My response to how God speaks to me through that verse will guide my prayer.
Sometimes, I like to read another Christian book to compliment my reading. Right now, I’m reading Owen Strachan’s devotional book, Always in God’s Hands: Day by Day in the Company of Jonathan Edwards. The D-Group book, Growing Up, available in the Cove is also a great resource to begin the journey!
Charity Gwaltney, Director of Preschool Ministry
I have used a lot of different Bible reading plans over the years for my daily quiet times. This year I am simply using a free app called Bible Reading Schedule that will help me go through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation in the year. The app puts an alert on my phone each day reminding me of the chapters to read for the day. When I finish with the day’s reading, I check it off, and the message disappears until the next day. I have found that having some kind of schedule, checklist, calendar-type reading plan helps to keep me most on-task with Bible reading for the year. Having a plan, working the plan, and then being able to see how much I have read is what works best for me. For those passages that really “speak” to me, I will often look at the textual notes in my study Bible, or I will look in a commentary for further study. At times, I will journal about a particular passage and how God is speaking to me through it.
Blaire Hill, Interim Director of Children’s Ministry
What I suggest for kids or those new to having a quiet time is to start out with prayer, asking the Lord to prepare your heart for what He will teach you during this time, and then dive in. I also teach the SOAP method. Get out your journal and line it up like this:
Scripture - you place the reference that you will be reading here
Observation - What stood out to you in this passage?
Application - Why did that stand out to you/how can you apply this to your life?
Prayer - Pray again at the end. Ask the Lord to help you apply this Scripture in your daily life in order to look more like Jesus.
Tom Jenkins, Assoc. Pastor of Music & Media
Use technology to your advantage. I have a reminder in my calendar that tells me throughout the day to read through a Psalm, that way I have something constantly bringing me in communication with God. I also like to keep notes on my phone or computer, that way if I remember that something stuck out to me or I had a profound thought a few months ago, I can easily search for it.
Jason Duran, Assoc. Pastor of Family Ministry & Discipleship
Make use of the many Rightnow Media Resources that you have access to through FBC. There are hundreds of video studies on different topics and even children's programs. It is a great place to help you start to dig deeper into your own study.
One video study on there that I enjoy is How To Read The Bible from the Bible Project. These videos take a book of the Bible and give an overview of the book and outline the major themes. These are great for helping someone understand what the book is about because it puts the Bible passage in the proper context and background.
There is no greater resource for Bible study than joining with others in a discipleship group (D-Group). Getting involved in a D-Group is a great way to be held accountable for engaging and reading God’s Word daily and weekly. Not only that but seeing scripture through other perspectives will inspire, encourage, and lead to a greater relationship with God. People can sign up for a group online at fbcstarkville.com/dgroups. There is also a bible app from the same ministry that provides our D-Group books. A Bible devotion app from Replicate Ministries provides reading plans and other resources. The YouVersion Bible App also has many daily plans to choose from, and you can create groups with other people if you want to read through a particular book or devotional together.
A good book for those looking for a more traditional resource in addition to their Bible reading is Read the Bible for Life by George H. Guthrie.
Bobby D'Alessandro, Director of Communications
My wife Savannah discovered the podcast The Bible Recap, which gives a daily recap of the chronological Bible reading plan by BlueLetterBible.org found on the YouVersion Bible App, at the end of 2018. It has been a game-changer not only in our time spent reading scripture but also for our D-Groups. Two great things we recently discovered about the YouVersion Bible App: we were able to invite our D-Group members to read along with us, and we started listening to scripture when getting ready in the morning.