5 Easy Questions to Help You Spark Bible Engagement
How to lead people at any level of Scripture reading
I want to read my Bible, but I don’t know where to start. And when I do sit down to read, I don’t know the first thing to do once I start reading. What should I do?
I’ve heard this statement countless times. Because of this, over the past several years, I’ve collected a short set of questions that I give to people who want to read the Bible, but need some rails to run on. Good news: these questions are accessible enough to help anybody and everybody, bringing the cookies to the bottom shelf.
Whether you are a seminary professor or you recently started reading the Bible, these five questions can be a great guide to help you lead others in engaging with Scripture. They can be used individually or in a group.
Question 1: What is going on in the passage?
This is Reading Comprehension 101. What’s happening? Who are the main characters? Very simply: what is? In its purest form, this is the role of a journalist. Comprehending what we’re reading is the first step to engaging with it.
Example: if I am reading Psalm 23, I understand that David is writing a prayer-song about his thoughts of God. Since David is a shepherd, he uses that metaphor to talk about how God shepherds him in various stages of his life.
Question 2: What do I like about the passage?
After reading comprehension, this question moves us to personalize what we’re reading. What encourages, inspires, pleases, or excites me based on what I’ve read? (This often takes the pressure off of people feeling as though they have to have “the right answer”).
Example: when reading Psalm 23, I may reflect on the passage and be encouraged by the fact that God is a God who longs to guide, protect, and restore David in times of need. Thus, I can infer that God’s heart is to do that with all people. I am encouraged to know that while God is in charge of the entire universe, God also deeply cares about me as an individual.
Question 3: What disturbs or startles me about the passage?
Conversely, what is it about this passage that reveals truth that may be hard to accept? What disturbs me or jolts me in my understanding of God, Jesus, the world, or my life? This helps to personalize the passage in my own life, but it requires a bit more courage. It’s easier to share what we like about the passage; but to share what’s startling takes a bit more guts. But this is good! We want to read the Bible honestly and truly wrestle with the text. One learning theory proposes that we only learn when we are frustrated. Might it be that one of the best ways to engage and learn from a passage is when we wrestle—truly wrestle—with what it says and means, even if it startles, confuses, jolts, or offends?
Example: In Psalm 23, I might be startled, confused, or even annoyed when I realize that while God guides and protects, God doesn’t shield people from walking through the valley of the shadow of death. Why can’t God rescue me from that experience and take me around the valley instead? Or, why does God prepare a table for me to eat with my enemies? What if I don’t want to spend time with them over a meal? Can’t God just eliminate them from my life? Why would God invite me to this meal if I don’t want to attend?
Question 4: What does this say about the nature of God?
The first question is about content, the second and third questions are about my context, and the fourth question is about God’s character. Scripture doesn’t just tell a great story; it also points us to God’s heart for us and the whole world. Passages reveal elements of the nature of God or the character of Jesus. Scripture is not just about a what, but about a who—and this question personalizes it for us.
Example: In Psalm 23, I might recognize that God’s heart is one of care and guidance, but that God is not a genie in a bottle waiting to give us whatever we command. God is personal and caring, accessible and close at hand. This question helps us not just to know what God does, but helps us to know God personally for who God is and how God interacts with us on a personal level. The goal of reading our Bible is not primarily to know our Bible; it is to know the God of the Bible.
Question 5: What will I do with what I just learned in the next seven days?
Lastly, we want to ask how we will respond to what we’ve just read. The goal is not simply to glean more information in our Bible reading in order to become more intelligent, sound more religious, or feel good about ourselves. It is to take what we’ve learned, to consider our own lives, and to ponder God’s character in order to translate it into action. Studies have shown that if we learn something new and don’t apply it to our lives within the first seven days of acquiring that knowledge, the chances of us ever applying it go down significantly. James addresses this when he writes, “Don’t merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves; do what it says” (James 1:22). Putting it into practice keeps us from lying to ourselves.
Example: After reading Psalm 23, I might need to remind myself of the truth of what I read during anxious moments in my week. When I begin to worry, I can simply say to myself, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,” or “He restores my soul.” In that moment, I can choose to remember God as my protective, attentive, caring, and calming shepherd who longs to be at my side and comfort me during anxious moments in my week. Or, I may feel compelled to share what I have learned from this passage with someone else. Who could I share this with? When will I do it? And how might I share that with them?
The five questions are simple—and that’s the point. The simpler the questions, the easier they are to help people remember and engage. Use these five questions as a tool, a guide, and a companion as you lead others in engaging with Scripture.
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