One of the reasons we don't make progress in the spiritual life is that we are just exchanging thoughts, behaviors, and feelings for new ones. God doesn't want things in this world to shape us. God wants his out-of-this-world book, the Bible to transform our lives (Romans 12:1-2). This means we need to read, understand, and apply the Bible and not depend others to do the work for us.
Here are five simple insights to help you read the Bible:
1. What you already know can help or hurt you.
Do you already know some things about the Bible? Great, this can help! What if what you learned is wrong? Dang, that's a problem. We all come with some "pre-understanding." Some of us know our way around the Bible, some of us have been taught things that are not accurate, some of us have biases that shape our reading. Be honest and realize you have some learning (and maybe unlearning) to do.
2. Focus on the author's meaning, not what you want it to mean.
This is also a good rule for conversations with people. We tend to want to read (or listen) in order to affirm our own beliefs rather than understand the other person. Our goal should be to understand what the biblical author means/meant. Some people read the Bible and say, "Here's what I think about when I read this." What we should ask is, "What is this author trying to say?" Whether you agree or not, we should be looking for author's intent (and it's usually not that complicated).
3. Look for the timeless truths in the ancient text (history & culture).
"Let women keep silent in the church" (1 Cor. 14:34). Sexist? "Slaves obey your masters" (Col. 3:22). Racist? So there is sometimes a little "distance" to bridge between the ancient author and us today. But even in everyday conversations and emails with our friends or coworkers, it's very easy to misunderstand what a person means. What is 911? The Twin Towers date, a Porsche, or an emergency hotline. How about OJ? Did you know "bully" used to mean "sweetheart" and "hussy" used to mean "housewife"? A little history lesson can save you a lot of misunderstanding!
4. The kind of writing helps clarify the author’s main idea.
"I want to kiss you with a thousand kisses." Wow. That sounds like it would take a long time. Unless that line is from a poem, in which case, it means something very different. Do you read letters differently than poems? What about a story vs. a symbolic prophecy. Authors use different genres to communicate their ideas. If you have the genre wrong, you'll misunderstand the message. But if you have the right genre, you are at an advantage (example: what happens at the end of Once Upon a Time...?).
5. The Bible was written for application not information.
It's not a book of interesting and fanciful religious and spiritual ideas; it's more like guide for living. When reading the Bible we need to think about "application." What does this passage, text, or author want me know, feel, or do? What are my personal barriers to doing what the Bible says? Am I open to God's will for my life? How can I come alongside others to read and apply what I am learning?
Next time you want to get closer to God, are struggling with temptation, or are wanting to take your spiritual life to the next level, don't jump to a sermon, podcast, or inspirational leader...
Read the Bible.
"Your Word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path." –Psalm 119:105