Cathy Madavan gives us some helpful advice on how to approach God’s word
Confession time: I’ve been reading, studying, teaching the Bible for over 25 years, and yet I feel like I’m only scratching the surface when it comes to reading scripture. Anyone relate? Occasionally, somebody mentions a Bible story and not only am I not sure where it’s found, I’m not convinced it’s even in the Bible at all! Awkward. And yet, I know that the Bible is a never-ending mine of treasure, and it’s pages continue to offer transformation, hope and wisdom for living. Here, then, are some reflections on how to keep digging deeper into the Bible, no matter how new or familiar it is to you.
Break it down
It’s easy to feel guilty about not reading enough of the Bible, isn’t it? I have certainly felt that way. But instead of giving up or feeling overwhelmed, it’s worth starting somewhere and taking it slowly. Personally, the Bible in One Year app has been a gamechanger for me – I can read or listen to it on audio each day. But sometimes, rather than a few verses from a few places, it’s worth reading (or listening to) a chapter or even a book at a time (maybe even a few times) – it can often make more sense and sink in further that way. Either way, regularly reading small chunks of scripture is a great habit to get into. It’s never too late to start.
Remember it is a library
I wish somebody had explained to me how to read the Bible when I became a Christian. Just as you don’t read a novel in the same way as you read a poem or a science textbook, so I now realise there are various genres of writing in the Bible, and (newsflash) the contents were not written originally to me! It’s fascinating to discover more about the context and history of each book and to explore why and how the writer was writing it. This backdrop helps us to grasp the richness of the writing, and then to consider how it applies to us too.
Read both deep and wide
Have you ever taken time to focus on a verse, a passage or a Psalm, finding out more about it, reading it in different translations, imagining it or even painting or journalling about it? Likewise, the ancient spiritual practice of Lectio Divina (a slow, meditative approach) is a wonderful way of using scripture to pray and contemplate (the Lectio365 app is a helpful starting point for this). But as well as going deeper into one passage (and to avoid ‘proof-texting’ or taking a verse out of context and applying it universally), it’s also good to go wide - finding out what the entire Bible says about a word or theme. A quick internet search or an exploration with a concordance will have you occupied for hours if you so desire! Why not consider how you could go both deep and wide on a favourite passage or theme?
Explore supplementary resources
I’m so thankful for the fantastic resources we have at our disposal. For example, have you checked out the Bible Project (bibleproject.com)? It’s brilliant! The Bible Course from the Bible Society is also excellent for individuals and small groups (biblesociety.org.uk). YouTube is stuffed to the internet rafters with teaching from brilliant folks like NT Wright, Glen Scrivener and Amy Orr- Ewing, and let’s not forget books – I’d highly recommend Study Bibles, daily Bible notes and commentaries, including the ‘For Everyone’ series by NT Wright. Suddenly, with these supplementary resources, the Bible really starts coming to life.
Pray and put it into practice
Of course, reading the Bible is never a purely academic exercise; it is a Spirit-inspired book that transforms our life. When I come to read God’s word each day, I like to pray and ask what the passage teaches me about God and how I should live for him. Thankfully, there is always more to discover, and the Holy Spirit is always at work in us, teaching, guiding and revealing God’s goodness to us. So, let’s pray and be prepared for what God might say today!