Was your 2015 Resolution to find joy? peace? balance? So many of our soul’s deepest longings for acceptance, beauty, happiness and rest are promised in the presence of God. One of the easiest ways to connect with God and claim his promises for our lives is by spending time learning his voice, thoughts, and truth that has been recorded in the Bible.
The goal of reading the Bible is simply to better understand, hear, and follow God. Reading the Bible isn’t just something super Christians or Pastors do, it’s the pathway for anyone who wants to connect everything that is supposed to be true about God with the mess of their real lives.
A few practical tips that will help:
- Consider it an invitation, not an obligation– God wants to speak to you, he wants to show you who he is and always has been. He wants you to show up because he loves you. Don’t set Bible reading goals and resolutions to work your way through a book, decide first that you are in it to meet God.
- Treat yourself– Make the time you have with God special. Schedule it on your calendar. Make yourself a hot beverage, cuddle in a cozy blanket, splurge on a new journal. The time should feel like a treat, and the atmosphere should encourage connection.
- Buddy System– Having a buddy (or two!) who you share your thoughts and experiences with as you are reading is not just a great accountability tool, it is an amazing way to build intimacy and spiritual depth in your friendships.
- Leverage Technology– Get the YouVersion (Free!) Bible App on your phone for instant Bible reading in just about any translation, free devotional reading plans of every length for any topic, free audio Bible, and more! When you have questions about anything you read, check out the online commentaries at org or Bible Gateway.
- Don’t fear questions– Our God is bigger than we are, and there are things we aren’t going to understand the first time we read them or maybe ever. Don’t be afraid to question or doubt or not understand. Always leave room for God to surprise you.
It can be intimidating to know where to begin or how to go about reading the Bible in a way that is interesting and meaningful, so here are 3 easy ideas to choose from.
If you are brand new to the Bible, or just want to get a “big picture” view without reading the whole thing, I would highly recommend getting a copy of The Story or The Jesus Storybook Bible and making your way through them a chapter at a time.
The Story is a wonderful abridged version of the Bible that reads easily, like a novel, while still using primarily the NIV Bible text. The Jesus Storybook Bible may technically be for children, but the quality illustrations and beautiful writing is really enjoyable for adults as well. It is a very quick read and will give you a great overview of the big story that the Bible tells.
If you’re feeling ambitious you could also read your Bible in a Year (or 90 Days!) for the full view.
Use SOAP Daily*
The SOAP method is classic, structured, and focused on practical application. This is a great devotional structure to work your way through a book of the Bible systematically. It is a very helpful tool to focus your thoughts and train your mind for reading the scriptures devotionally. It should take about 30 minutes per day, and is best done in a journal. Be sure to start your time with prayer, even something as simple as “I am here, ready to hear you God.” Read a chapter or less of scripture and then work your way through the following steps. Repeat daily and work your way through a book of the Bible. Mark, James, and Galatians are all great New Testament books to start with.
S = Scripture
From your Bible reading, write down ONE verse that “hits” you, “grabs you”, stands out to you. Only ONE verse – not two, not three. The key is to focus on one thing.
O = Observation
Write down what happened in that verse. Be very basic – almost like you are writing to a second grader. Don’t need personal insight yet, just the facts. Who, what, where, when, why, how. What do you learn about God or about man from this verse? Aim for at least 2 or 3 “bullet points”. Sometimes it helps to read the context (surrounding verses). If they don’t come to you right away, ask God for wisdom and listen. Take a few moments to sit and think. You’ll be surprised what He shows you.
A = Application
This is the hardest part but the most important. Write down an action item that you will do to apply the truth God has shown you. It doesn’t have to be big. In fact, it is usually very small. The key is do something. Otherwise, we tend to walk away from what we’ve read and never remember it again.
Try to avoid vague generalities like: “Love people more”, and “Have more self-control”. It is much more effective to be specific and targeted…”Love my husband today by helping him wash the car,” or “Write a note of encouragement to my Life Group Leader”
P = Prayer
Write out a prayer (could be a sentence, could be a paragraph) in response to what God has shown you. It could be:
-praise for something you learned about him today
-asking for God’s help to carry out your application and remember his truth
-asking him to change you and work in your life that day
Don’t overanalyze or worry about how you sound. Just talk to God like you’d talk to a person – God only cares that it is heartfelt, and not whether it is “flowery and flowy”. It is ok and expected to feel awkward at first.
*Much thanks to Dawn Lietzau for her fantastic SOAP resource!
Psalm 1:2 (NLT) But they delight in the law of the LORD, meditating on it day and night.
It isn’t about how much of the Bible you read, it is about letting it soak in. Take time to meditate on it. Don’t just read it and walk away, let it roll around in your mind. Let the truth of a verse leap from your journal and come face to face with your daily reality of messy, real life and then embrace the tension that may be there.
Choose a verse on a topic that is running through your mind right now. It may be a need or desire you have, a wise word you need to listen to, or a shred of hope and grace you are desperate to hold on to. A simple way to find a verse is to just google “verses about ____” and many will show up. Once you have a verse you can go to Pinterest or Google images and search for it by reference or topic to find a beautiful typographical image.
Memorize your verse. Do this by repeating it and reading it multiple times a day, thoughtfully, considering the words and their meaning.
Print off the text or an image of your verse and tape it up everywhere you will see it often in your day. On your bathroom mirror, on your car dashboard, on your coffee maker, make at least 3 copies that are visible. You may even consider making your own typography of the text or finding one that is beautifully done and taking the time to trace it.
Pray your verse back to God each day, either substituting your name in a key part or just quoting it to remind God of who he says he is or what he has promised.
The goal of this method is to go deep in one very small portion of scripture, but to truly connect with God through his words.
Things to Remember as you Read:
- You are held to a standard of grace, not perfection
- You will experience God’s presence, or absence, in different ways through different life seasons. This does not ever change the constants of who he is and how he loves you.
- Expect great things from the presence of God and don’t stop until you have found them.
- Insight should never be a substitute for life change, aim for growth and love over knowledge.
- Do not forget prayer. Listen to what God has said in the Bible to better recognize his voice and hear what he is saying to you today.
- Don’t compartmentalize your devotional time with God. Although it is valuable to have a scheduled and sacred time in reading, journaling, meditation or prayer, consider how you can live your full day as your full self with God’s presence and voice.
- As you amp up your Bible/truth input, consider dialing back unhealthy influences too.
- You DO have time. We make time for what is important to us and excuses for what isn’t.