Better Bible Reading: The How – Part 1

  In this blog post, and the next, we are going to explore the ‘how’ of better Bible reading and point to some resources that will aid you in trying to get into God’s word with more depth. By no means is this list exhaustive, but it might be a starting point for some people who have never ventured into this spiritual discipline, or for those of you who have found yourself stalled in your reading of God’s word.

  Let’s get stuck in:

1. Get a suitable Bible

Let me divide this into three parts to try and explain what I mean by a suitable Bible.

a) A readable translation.

My recommended choices are ESV and NIV. I’ve a particularly leaning towards the 1984 NIV probably because it was the first version that I seriously read but my daily reading now would be the ESV. ESV leans towards a word for word translation, staying as close to the original languages as possible while still maintaining readability. NIV leans towards a thought for thought translation incorporating more modern language, making it probably more universally readable for a modern audience. The NIV sits about the middle of the road, capturing a good translation of the original languages while being readable and I think is a good balance for those wanting readability without sacrificing authenticity of a translation from the original languages.

I have absolutely no problem if you want to use a KJV, NKJV or AV but I would say that if you spend more time in a dictionary than in your Bible then there might be a case to be made for trying a different translation. On the same vein ‘The Message’ is at the far end of the ‘thought for thought’ translation and while good to browse and read, as Eugene Peterson does have some great insights into the text and language, I would always recommend reading another more literal translation alongside it.

b)  A format that fits.

Also included in choosing a readable translation is to pay attention to seemingly insignificant things such as font style, font size, and page layout. My favourite Bible to read is the ESV reader’s Bible. It is single column with no verses or chapters, and you would be surprised as to what a difference that makes to the reading of a Bible text, particularly the narrative of the Old Testament and the epistles of the New Testament.
That is followed by the Reformation Study Bible, which again is single column and an easy to read, well sized font.
On the opposite side I find it very difficult to read the NIV Zondervan Study Bible for the reason that the font actually hurts my eyes while trying to read it. You need to take some time and find what font size and style suit you best and makes reading most comfortable. Or to put it another way you need to minimise excuses for not reading your Bible!

The Prologue from the Gospel of John in the ESV Reader’s Bible; I find this font style and size easy to read.


c) A Study Bible in that readable translation and formation that fits.

A study Bible is an invaluable asset to the work of Bible reading and you will never regret buying one for the extra information contained within. They come in variety of perspectives and focuses and though none of them will contain everything that you may want, they are great tools for giving you some extra insight and help you grasp some of the details of the text.

An excerpt from the Reformation Study Bible, Reformation Trust, Ligonier Ministries. Again for me an easy to read and decent sized font.

All of this can be summed up by asking yourself 3 questions:

1. Can I see it?
2. Will I enjoy reading it?
3. Do I understand the words?

  Work with those three questions and find yourself a Bible that suits.


My personal Bible Choices (in no order of preference):

ESV Study Bible
Life Application Study Bible – NIV
Zondervan Study Bible – NIV
Reformation Study Bible – ESV
Reader’s Bible, 6 volume – ESV
Gospel Transformation Study Bible – ESV
Proclamation Bible – NIV
ESV Scripture Journals (also now available as NIV from 10ofThose publishers – currently on pre-order offer.)

Whatever you buy Bible or book wise, please do remember to support local bookshops:

ICM Books Direct
Evangelical Bookshop Belfast

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2. Set aside a time and a place to read and don’t leave it to chance.

Most of the spiritual disciplines are defeated by our diaries rather than direct sins tearing us away. It can often be good things that keep us from the Godly things and so we need to have a plan for giving Bible reading its place and letting life fall in around it, rather than squeezing it in around life.

  There is no explicit command to isolate our Bible reading to the morning or to the evening but we are directed to be saturated in scripture and to realise its worth, beauty and benefit for us and so whatever you chose to do, it should never limit or constrain the time that you give over to the Word.

  My personal opinion is that I believe our day should at least be bookended by Scripture. I don’t know about you, but I need God’s Word to fill me for the day that lies ahead and I need God’s Word to help me reflect on and come to terms with the day that has just been and the quietness and stillness of the morning and the evening helps me to do that.

  Whatever you chose to do, you need to pick a time, pick a place and make sure that you turn up.

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3. Follow a plan.

You may have all of these grandiose ideas about reading your Bible cover to cover pithing a specific frame of time and you’re just going to get to it but there is a lot to be said for having a co-ordinated well thought plan for tackling the Bible. It is not a small book and it can be rather intimidating simply diving into Genesis and working through it book by book. There are Bible that are organised in daily readings for a year and there are many good Bible reading plans out there that can take you through the Bible as intensively or as slowly as you need to.
  Some of the best can be accessed here as printable pdfs to put inside your Bible and check off as you go or here as articles to be browsed.

  For those more visually or technologically minded the ESV app has free access to various Bible reading plans and different study Bibles as well (a lot of which are free if you sign up) and the Read Scripture app from the Bible Project is very good for taking you through the Bible with great videos that explain the big ideas of each book and the big idea of the Bible itself.

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4. Destroy Distractions.

If you are reading this then the chances of you having a smart phone or tablet is pretty high and I’m not talking here about setting your phone to silent or in-flight mode, I’m talking about putting it in another room where the you aren’t even near it.  You need to get it out of your sight so that you aren’t temped to check it in the middle of something and so that it doesn’t go off or a reminder doesn’t flash up on the screen while you are in this middle of this. The time that you have set aside for Bible reading needs to be given over to exactly that.

  The same principles apply for any other potential distractions. Turn your TV off, turn the Radio off, move to another room, put the kids to bed, whatever has to happen to give you this time, do it.

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5. Pray before.

Bible reading and prayer go hand in hand together and we will think more about prayer in coming blog posts but take time to pray before you read. Matt Smethurst uses a great phrase in talking about heart postures in coming to read God’s word. I doubt many of us have thought much about our heart posture in approaching the Bible, because most of us are happy if we even sit down to read our Bible in the first place. But like we said in the previous article, it is worth taking the time to pause and think about the gravity of what we are doing.
Try to think of the preparation work any of us would put in to getting ready for a wedding or a job interview, how we work ourselves into the right frame of mind for those things before we have even left the house. Take time to ask yourself whether you think about the frame of mind in which you approach God’s word, what is your heart posture, do you need some recalibration?

Prayer is an essential part of Bible reading preparation so you should always take the time to pray before you read. Traditionally this prayer had the grand title of a prayer of illumination. You’re asking God to shine a light on his word so that you can grasp something from it. This doesn’t have to be verbose but do pray honestly:

Lord, I’m coming to read your Word and there are words and thoughts and many other things in your Word that I find difficult to understand, will you help me by your Spirit to grasp the truth that you have breathed out for your people. Amen.

Make sure that as you come to God’s word you are asking for the Author’s help. Come with desperation and dependency, asking God to change you through His Word and being prepared to let the Word do its work. We need to acknowledge our need and dependency on the Spirit of God as the one who opens up the truth of these pages and applies the blessing of God’s breath through His life-giving Word.

Here’s a recent article that gives some good prayer guidance for Bible reading and another that focuses on the attitudes we should have as we come to read the Bible.

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6. Start small, start sensibly.  

By small I mean baby steps, after all the Bible is a vast book full of poetry, parables and prophecy; it is a book of such depth that we feel as if we could drown in it if you just jump in. deep. Take your time, it may be that you have to start slowly and that your first few excursions into the Word aren’t quite as profitable as you thought they would be or didn’t stir within you, the spiritual zeal you had hoped for.   As you come to the Bible, don’t abandon principles that you know are true in normal life when you come to Bible; you don’t go to the gym one day, run on the treadmill for 5 mins and try to run a marathon the next.  In the same way you can’t approach the Bible as if God is going to zap you and make everything perfect and easy instantly. Bible reading is called a spiritual discipline for the very reason that it takes discipline and because there are times you may not want to do it. 
By starting sensibly, I also mean pick an appropriate book. Starting with Leviticus might not be the best idea. Start with a say a gospel, get a grasp on who Jesus is, what Jesus says, what Jesus does, why Jesus came, how Jesus came, why Jesus died, how He died and how the grave couldn’t and didn’t stop Him. Try to know a gospel well as a starting point.
If you are coming back after a long time away from the Bible and your faith life in general, it might be worth taking the advice of Ligon Duncan and starting with the psalms which can help ease you into a new Bible reading routine and helping fuel your prayer life.

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A Reminder of Why

Bible reading exists in this strange spiral. It is a spiral wherein when we are engaged in the grace that it is, we find our hearts lifted towards heaven but when we distance ourselves we find ourselves descending in the depths. That is because when we distance ourselves from the words on these pages, we distance ourselves from the One who is behind the words.
Ligon Duncan’s advice in the video below is really helpful because it acknowledges that the foundational cause of our lack of Bible reading is a heart issue, not merely a problem with engagement or a lack of time. As one of my favourite hymns puts it, we are people ‘prone to wander’ and ‘prone to leave the God [we] love’ and we wander and leave because other lovers and loves have proved more attractive to us, so we need to see the beauty of the one behind the Word again and to see the beauty of the One behind the Word we need to be in the Word.
Here’s hoping that the advice here (and what will follow in the next post) will help you as you embark on going deeper in reading, studying and loving God and His Word.

Resources:

Whatever you buy, Bible or book wise, please do remember to support local bookshops:

ICM Books Direct
Evangelical Bookshop Belfast

Other good retailers:

10ofThose
Good Book Company

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