Practical Help for Those Just Opening Up to the Bible
A guide to navigate the beginning stages
The following article comes from a printed manual that accompanies a video series produced by the Christian History Institute— Discovering the Bible. The author, a good friend of mine, passed away in 2011. This piece reflects his passion for the Bible and his desire to convey that passion with others. We hope that you might share this with people you know—especially those who might be just getting to know the Bible. Link to it, copy it onto your church website, or print it and hand it out. Ken would be delighted to share these thoughts in all those ways.—Randy Petersen
Perhaps you come to the Bible and say, “I’d like to explore this remarkable book for myself, but I need some help to get started. Where do I begin?”
It’s not an easy question, because the answer would not necessarily be the same for everyone. But the solution is not just to jump in and try to read through from cover to cover as fast as you can.
Develop a Plan, Goal and Schedule of Personal Commitment.
Start with something as simple as “I will plan to read from the Bible at least fifteen minutes a day.” Decide specifically what time you will put aside—first thing in the morning, at your lunch break, at home at night. Find a time when you will be alert and least likely to become distracted or interrupted.
Put One of the Gospels High on Your List.
This will give you an acquaintance with the life of Christ. OK, you say, but which one? Select the emphasis that most appeals to you:
- Matthew—how Jesus is related to the Old Testament
- Mark—the shortest and quickest action-packed overview
- Luke—how Jesus related to the poor, disadvantaged, and women
- John—the personal, most intimate and reflective portrait of Jesus.
Read Proverbs and Psalms.
When you are pressed for time, try dipping into the book of Proverbs, almost at random, for practical wisdom and advice.
The book of Psalms is a great place to camp out. In every age and culture, these ancient song texts speak to our inner aspirations, hurts, doubts, joys and thoughts like nothing else. Take one example. Alcuin, the Christian advisor to the Emperor Charlemagne in the 9th century, offered guidance for his leader’s private devotions and advised him:
“In the Psalms, if you look carefully, you will find an intimacy of prayer, such as you could never have discovered without their help; you will find words for an intimate confession of your sins, and for a perfect supplication of the divine mercy. In the Psalms, too, you will find thanksgiving for all that befalls you. In the Psalms you confess your weakness and misery, and thereby call down God’s mercy upon you. You will find every virtue in the Psalms, if God in his mercy will deign to reveal to you their secrets.”
Some rather bold advice, wouldn’t you say, for a subordinate to give to the most powerful man in the world in his day? But the Psalms have a way of altering our perspective on who and what is important in life!
- Don’t be in a hurry. It is not important how much ground you cover in terms of chapters and pages. Far better to take your time and give full attention to what you can realistically absorb at one sitting.
- It is important to reflect. Stop as thoughts and questions occur to you.
- Keep a notebook to record your observations and also your questions.
- Don’t look on your Bible reading as a school course but as an adventure! Here you will continually discover thoughts, insights, and admonitions that help you discern the meaning of your life.
- Don’t worry about what you don’t understand. You will have more than you can handle in coping with what is perfectly clear.
- When you run into troublesome, difficult-to-grasp passages, make a note of your question or confusion and suspend judgment until you learn more.
- Persevere through the dry spells. They will come and will pass. As you read, there will be moments of great exaltation and the joy of discovery. At other times the words will seem remote. Overall, the Bible gets better all the time if you ride out those inevitable times when you find it slow going.
- It is important to seek out the original context and intent of the book you are reading. We have all heard of people who have sought guidance in the Bible by closing their eyes, flipping the pages, putting their finger down and trying to discern guidance from whatever verse they fall upon. It doesn’t usually work that way. The Bible was first given to people in another time and another place. It is vitally important to think about what it meant to them in their time to be able to draw implications for what it means to us in our time.
- Come with the right attitude and ask God to give you understanding. Most of all, open your heart to receive what is there.
Find and Join a Bible Study Group
While this book has always functioned as a resource for individual use, it was also intended for group experience. The Bible screams from cover to cover for community. It assumes that its words will be used as part of gatherings of believers. So, in addition to your personal reading, you will find one of the best ways to get into the Bible is to join a Bible study group.
One great under-reported story of our generation is the plethora of Bible study groups that meet everywhere you can imagine, from prisons to colleges to fire houses and mothers’ groups. There is one near you! If you are interested in trying a group Bible study but don’t know where to find one, call a local pastor. If that makes you uncomfortable, then put up a notice on a bulletin board at school or work or a community shopping center. You will get some responses.
A Personal Word
Preparing the Discovering the Bible video series has been a supreme joy and privilege, something I wanted to do for years. I studied Greek in college and Hebrew in seminary: the primary original languages in which the Scriptures were written. I had hoped and expected that my life would be spent teaching the Bible. But it did not work out that way, and my vocation has been largely in film and video in the field of Christian history.
Nevertheless, the Bible comes to mean more to me every year. I started taking it seriously when I was 16 years old, and for the past 40 years I have read and reflected on the Bible just about every single day. Its riches and diversity continue to amaze me. I find even in familiar passages things I never saw before. I now find a magnificent humor in the Bible that previously eluded me, and at other times I am reduced to tears as I discover in its pages new challenges the Bible offers to our world today. If I had to sum up what the Bible is all about, it would take just a few words— From God, To You, With Love.
Discovering the Bible and what it reveals is indeed a lifelong adventure! Find out for yourself.
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