Are you serious about growing spiritually? A lot of people are using the New Year as a chance to refocus and grow their spiritual lives. To help you with whatever faith based goal you might have, I want to walk you through the basics of reading and better understanding the Bible. The Bible is the foundational piece you’ll need for any spiritual growth you’ve got planned, so here are a few simple steps you can follow to really start to read and understand the Bible:
Step 1: Talk to God
God worked and spoke through human authors to create what we now call the Bible. Each book of the Bible, then, has both the flavor and personality of the human author and God himself. While we can’t call up Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John to get insights on their writings, we can talk with God. So it makes sense to ask him, the author, to help you as you read, try to understand, and apply the Bible. He cares about you and wants to help. He wants this to be a cooperative process, so he won’t likely just drop truth bombs in your head. But as you work diligently to understand the Bible, he will honor your faithfulness to that task, grow your understanding, and steadily transform your life.
Step 2: Pick a Reading in the Bible
The Bible is a big book. Some parts are easier to understand, while others require more practice and time to really get the most out of it. Most readers benefit by starting with the stories of Jesus in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. Personally, I suggest Luke as the best starting place. (Though there is one chapter that’s just a long genealogy, you can skip that your first time through). Each day choose one story in the book and make that one story your reading for the day.
Advanced Tip: If you are a little more experienced in reading the Bible, you may be reading in other parts of the Bible. But still read just one complete section at a time. That might mean one story, one poem, or, in the teaching portions of the Bible, one paragraph. The idea here is to try to understand a single and complete thought from the author, one at a time.
Step 3: Read and Rephrase
Once you have a reading selection, go ahead and read it. Immediately afterwards, close your Bible and try to put what you just read in your own words. Assuming you took my advice on reading a story from Luke, you just read a story about Jesus. Try to retell that same story in your own words. You won’t get it all. That’s ok. After your first attempt, open up your Bible again, read the story again to see what you missed. Keep practicing retelling the story until you can reasonably tell the whole story in your own words.
Advanced Tip: When you are reading the poetic portions of the Bible (like Psalms), it is best to write down on paper your rephrasing. Take one verse or one stanza at a time and write down a summary in your own words. When reading the teaching portions of the Bible (like Philippians), do the same thing, but definitely only summarize one sentence at a time.
Step 4: Ask Questions
Ask a few simple questions and answer them to yourself outloud, in your head, or on paper.
What do I like about this passage? (This question will help your mind slow down and notice what you just read).
What do I find difficult or confusing? (Here you can identify areas you’ll need to do more study on or get help with)
What’s this teach about God? (The Bible is about God after all)
What’s this teach about people? (The Bible has a lot to say about you and people in general.)
Step 5: Live and Tell
Here is another good place to ask for God’s help. Ask God how you can live out what you just learned and who you might need to tell about your new insights. This step is often forgotten, but don’t forget it! If you miss this step, you will only succeed in becoming a smarter sinner. You’ll know lots of things about God, but you, as a person, won’t grow or progress. You have to apply truth for truth to impact your life.
These 5 simple steps will help you better understand any portion of the Bible. There are, of course, lots of ways to vary, tweak, and build on this basic foundation, but master these basics and you’ll see the Bible come alive in ways you never thought possible.
Free Daily Reader: To help you even more in better understanding the Bible, we put together a daily reader that puts all these tips together for you in one complete packet. It’s absolutely free and will be a great resource for you as you try to get more out of the Bible. Download the Who Am I? daily reader and discussion guide.