Years ago, when consumers bought something new – an appliance or car for example – it came with a rather impressive instruction manual. But most of us did not want to read instructions. We wanted to plug it in, “turn it on” and start using the thing.
So in recent years manufacturers began including a “Quick Start” guide that has a few words and a lot of pictures. Manufacturers hope the consumer will at least look at a “Get Started” guide to learn important and helpful features.
You may be thinking, “Yeah, that’s great, Michael, but the Bible doesn’t have a ‘Quick Start’ guide – it’s a BIG book!”
The Bible is unlike any other book, written by 40 authors over some 2000 years. No other “religious book” on the planet comes close to the timespan, claims, historical records, or biographic stories.
It includes “religious-legal” language alongside detailed accounts of how to conduct animal sacrifices (strange for our day and age, right?). It includes song-poems and short verses overflowing with wisdom. Scripture reveals both the effects of heroes and fools. It does not sugarcoat tragic stories of people who failed miserably, of corrupt kings, of violence and tyrants. But the Bible also includes stories of faith, love, goodness, and even some happy endings.
“Yeah, so do I have to read the whole thing?”
Over the years I’ve had countless people ask me questions about the Bible – which is great – but their questions often turn to why they don’t believe some parts of the Bible. As the conversation continues, usually, they have not read the Bible, much less tried to study it, even though they may be quite settled on their opinions.
Unfortunately, what we think we “know” about the Bible might just be bits and pieces picked up along the way. Like watching a few minutes of a newscast, we might have the headline, but not know the back story. So we may have strong opinions but have not taken time to carefully read and study before drawing conclusions.
“So now I have to study the instruction manual? Oh this is just great. Study the biggest book ever, with all sorts of information and records (some of which are bor-ing) and probably do it on a Friday night, too, right?”
Welcome to my world: as soon as I say “study” the Bible, there’s a palpable groan from people who do not want to “study” anything. After all, that sounds like school or homework.
I get it. Absolutely. But let me ask you this: would it be worth our time, effort, and interest if indeed the Bible is the very word of God?
To me, that’s a no brainer.
All of us have likely tried to read through the Bible over one year. We start out ambitious, but we hit the details in Leviticus and we’re done. Or we miss a few days and can never “catch up” so we quit.
“Totally. So you’ve got a ‘Quick Start’ guide for me, or some cliff notes?”
Not exactly, but how about this for the new year: set some simple, manageable, realistic, attainable goals to read some (maybe all) of the Bible?
The Bible as a whole is a BIG book(!) and attempting to read all those pages may seem daunting, if not downright tiring and impossible. So break it down and focus on one book or section of books at a time. An attainable goal might look like choosing a book to study anew or one you haven’t read or studied much, and starting there. The main thing is to do it regularly, just like you eat a meal at the same time (generally) every day.
Below are five tips to encourage you to read through the Bible:
- Pray, ask God to help you – Kind of a novel idea, isn’t it? If we want to read and understand His word, its seems to make sense to pause for a minute and simply pray, “Dear Lord, help me to read Your word.”
- Start somewhere – Set aside that the Bible itself may seem daunting. Start somewhere! My dad was fond of sayings, and one that echoes in my head, “by the inch it’s a cinch; by the yard it’s hard.”
- Read portions you like – It is not a sin to skip over a particular book that may seem too difficult. Maybe you don’t read Leviticus and Numbers this time. Don’t let a difficult passage discourage you from reading.
- Re-read passages or sections several times – When I read and study the Psalms, I might spend many days in one Psalm or I might read several. If something “hits me” or captures my heart, it’s a good thing to dwell in it.
- Schedule one day each week where you will read for a longer time – I’ve found, especially in narrative sections, letting myself read longer than usual (an hour, for instance) gives me the “bigger picture” and it makes more sense. Sometimes the natural breaks in the story or character are a good place to start and stop.
- Find or make-up a reading plan – Reading plans are everywhere. If you own a study Bible, more than likely there is a reading plan in all those extra pages. If you use an electronic version of the Bible, there are scores of free online plans. Do not worry if you are “already behind”; jump in and start today.
- Bonus Tip: Do you drive to work everyday? Make progress on the way! Continue or accent your regular study by listening to the Bible (on CD or via mp3; resources are available online for free or purchase). Do it for one week a month and see how it goes. If you typically read God’s Word, perhaps hearing it read will refresh you and spark new thoughts. Faith comes through hearing – you never know how yours may be encouraged through hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17).
The Bible is a BIG book. But it is God’s word; it is God’s mind in print for all to read.
Once you get into reading the Bible, I believe you will enjoy it. Will it raise questions? Yes. Is it confusing at times? Yes. Is it difficult in some places? Certainly. Could God speak to you through it? Absolutely. The Bible is rich, rewarding, encouraging, convicting, helpful and God’s very word to man. God has spoken, and He continues to speak…in His word.
For all the business and distractions in our lives, you will never waste time reading His word.
Get started! Hint: even now! You’ve got 3 more minutes…
P.S. Our friends at Faithlife have a free tool that you can use by yourself or invite a group of friends to read along the same plan (and BTW if you have not, download the free Faithlife app on your smartphone, tablet, or computer)
The folks at Bible.org have four plans including a particularly ambitious Read the Bible in 90 Days plan. They also have a link to their study resource Lumina where you can read and study in most any Bible version preference. Once you start, it automatically launches on the day’s reading.
For ESV fans, here’s a link that offers twelve different reading plans as well as a free ESV Bible app.