How do I get the most out of reading the Bible?

‘Teacher,’ he asked, ‘which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus answered, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’

Matthew 22.36–37 (GNB)

How do we love God with all our mind? Well, one way is to read God’s word – to feast on what God says about himself, about us, and about everything he has created. But if we’re being honest, we’re a lot better at feasting on spiritual junk food than the Bible, and our minds are tricky, easily distracted things.

Why can Bible reading so easily become a box-ticking exercise and even a bore? And what can we do about it?

Firstly, I find it so encouraging that God wants us to find him. He promises, ‘You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart’ (Jeremiah 29.13). He even helps us out by speaking directly to us through the Bible. The Creator of the universe wants a relationship with you and he is reaching out!

Getting more out of reading our Bibles is going to be a lifelong venture but it’s well worth the effort. Here are just a few tips I’ve picked up along the way that have helped me. I hope they do the same for you!

Pray before you read

‘When you open your Bible, don’t expect to be put under some mystical spell. Speak directly with the Author. Ask the Spirit to unblind you to the beauty staring you in the face.’

Matt Smethurst
Before You Open Your Bible

It’s tempting to give prayer a miss and dive straight into reading our Bibles but that’s a bit short-sighted. It won’t be long before we hit a passage that we don’t understand or that challenges us in a troubling way and we find ourselves putting the Bible away, feeling discouraged.

Speaking ‘directly with the Author’ reminds us whose word this is and invites the Spirit of God to help us as we read. It’s an invitation he’s eager to accept.

It doesn’t have to be a long prayer. Just ask God to speak to you, show you who he is more clearly and help you understand.

Read it out loud

There are so many good reasons to read the Bible aloud and none of them has anything to do with performance – so don't worry if you don't feel confident.

For a start, studies show that reading aloud helps us to remember more of what we read, so it’s a very simple way to make the time and effort you’re investing more worthwhile. If you’re visually impaired, you could try listening to an audio Bible and repeating back what you hear in your own voice. If you are hearing impaired, you could try repeating what you read in sign language. Find out what works for you.

Secondly, reading out loud helps you concentrate because it makes you participate more actively. You’ll probably take yourself off to a quieter place with fewer distractions to do it too.

Thirdly, reading aloud helps you visualise and imagine – it brings the Bible to life. It’s a basic form of interpretation because you have to think about what is being said to find the appropriate tone of voice. As you gain confidence, your voice will reflect the wonder, joy and hope, or shock, sadness and gravity of the events you’re reading about in the Scriptures.

Review what you read

It’s tempting to tick off the passage in your reading plan, close the Bible and get straight on with your day, but a few minutes of reflection can really help. It doesn’t have to be complicated. You could simply ask yourself:

  • What did it say and what did I notice?
  • What does it mean (both when it was written and now)?
  • What should I do as a result? (What am I being asked to believe/trust/hope/do/make right/change?)

It’s up to you whether you write anything down or not, but don’t miss this step.

Pray after you read

It wouldn’t be much of a conversation if we didn’t respond to ‘the Author’.

Wouldn't it be strange for us to read about the wonders of creation and not respond to God with awe, or what Jesus did for us on the cross and not pour out our thanks and praise?

And what do we do when what we’ve read has exposed our sin and failures? The Bible is undoubtedly a source of wisdom, guidance, encouragement and eternal hope but don’t expect it to always be a comfortable read!

The good news is that when God’s word exposes our sin, we can turn to him in prayer and ask for forgiveness. We can rejoice in the fact that Jesus died for our sin and his grace is sufficient for every moment of every day.

Study it

‘Do you want deeper worship? Richer joy? Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow, as the hymn says? Then approach your Bible with a learner’s posture, asking the Author to teach you marvellous things. Don’t just waterski across the surface of Scripture’s waters. Put on scuba gear. Dive in and explore…’

Matt Smethurst
Before You Open Your Bible

There are so many amazing resources available today to help you study the Bible more deeply. From study Bibles to videos on YouTube that give an overview of each book, if you’re hungry to know more you don’t need to look far for ‘food’.

You might be interested in these resources from Bible Society:

Maybe you could try Bible journalling? Or if you’re not artistically inclined, another way of studying the Bible is close reading. I used to be an English teacher so I find ‘zooming in’ and spending significant time on a passage really enriching.

I sometimes print out passages or shorter books of the Bible leaving a wide margin and spacing out the lines. Then I go to town highlighting and annotating, drawing out what the writers are emphasising in the text. Maybe this is something you could try.

Share it with others

I’m part of a ‘Life Group’ with other members of my church and meeting with them is the highlight of my week. We all participate, whether we’re new to the Bible or have been studying it for years, and it’s so encouraging to see that we all have something special to contribute.

If you want to get the most out of reading your Bible, I can’t overemphasise the importance of sharing what you’re reading with others. Find a church, join a Bible study group, meet up with a fellow Christian or join a group online.

Then: when you’re full of enthusiasm about what you’ve read, you can share it with others and encourage them; when you’re confused or have questions you can tackle them together. The more you talk about the Bible, the more natural it will become and the more confident you will be about sharing the gospel.

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