Reading God’s Word
by Rick Shrader
The Bible is the greatest treasure in the world today. By it we know of eternal life in Jesus Christ and by it we can make sense of our world both in the past, the present, and the future. John Newton once wrote, “A child that has read the Bible knows more than all the philosophers of old put together.”1 The Bible is God’s revelation to us put in book form, yet we do not read it. It is more available today than at any time in history, in myriads of formats, yet we do not avail ourselves of it. The Bible promises cleansing, guidance, power, and wisdom, yet we do not saturate our hearts and minds with its truths. The Bible is the most unsought treasure ever to exist!
The Bible is inspired and infallible and is left to us to be read. Long before electronic formatting and long before the printing press, people sat with Bibles on their laps and ate of the bread of life through Scripture. Yet the simple reading of the Bible is the very thing that we neglect. Our schedules are busy and the distractions are many, but somehow we must find time to sit and read God’s Word again. There are Bible reading schedules to help and more than enough study guides, but in the end we must find ourselves reading the Word every day.
I can go back to a time, several years ago now, when I knew I had to drastically step up the time I spent in God’s Word. Nothing has had a greater affect on my life and ministry than that one determination. A yearly reading through the Bible is the minimum for the Christian. The New Testament must be read more because it is the bedrock of Christian doctrine and practice. I like the Faith Baptist Bible College reading schedule2 because it breaks up the reading into three areas: Old Testament; Poetical Books; and New Testament. I use their Old Testament schedules but have a more aggressive schedule for the New Testament. I like to read a lot in the morning (NT), a shorter time in the middle of the day (PB), and an average time at night (OT). I’m a morning person whereas my wife is more of a night person. I like what C.S. Lewis called those misty cob-webby mornings. The good news is it gives us each time to sit and read! I also find prayer time can be divided among these three reading times easily and efficiently.
I am offering some do’s and don’ts for personal Bible reading. Many things could and should be added but if these help get someone started, even at the minimum amount, a good work will have been accomplished and a vista will be opened which cannot be closed. As Paul Scherer wrote, “There isn’t any book on earth that makes you feel more bankrupt than the Bible makes you feel; and there isn’t any book on earth that smiles so, and covers you over with its hand, and sets you down by the grace of God above the stars, among angels and archangels.”3
Read with a clear mind. Leave the searching for lesson topics and proof-texts aside and read the Bible simply for what is there. Ask yourself, “what is the author saying?” Put yourself in the place of the hearers and let it speak to you as if you were actually there. Often we already have a passage outlined or underlined and have written our previous thoughts all over the margins. We tend to let those ideas form our thoughts rather than the plain text itself. Study Bibles can sometimes cloud the text more than enlighten. As someone has said, we ought to read study Bibles from the top down, not from the bottom up! As much as possible, read with a clear mind.
Read for explanation. The Bible is truth and there is a true explanation for every passage. However, there may be several valid applications or principles that we can derive from a passage. The explanation is what the Bible means. It is the foundation for all else that may come from the text. This should be our first task in Bible reading and study. Unless our interpretation is correct, we have no guarantee that our application correctly follows.
We often remind ourselves and others that we have to keep things in context. In Scripture that means that we take the passage in its grammatical, historical, and even theological context or setting. By keeping the explanation in context, we will keep our applications within proper boundaries.
Read for cleansing. “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word” (Psa. 119:9). “Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word” (Eph. 5:25-26). This isn’t a magical operation that starts washing us as when one pushes a button to start a washing machine. This washing comes as we read, understand, and own the truth for ourselves. This comes when the reader longs to be conformed to the truth of the passage.
Thomas à Kempis said in his book, The Imitation of Christ, “Never read the Word in order to appear more learned or more wise. Be studious for the mortification of thy sins; for this will profit thee more than the knowledge of many difficult questions.”4
Read for wisdom. God is the fountainhead of wisdom. “For the LORD giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding” (Prov. 2:6). Seeing that the Scripture is God-breathed, or inspired, wisdom, then, comes directly to us through His Word which He has written. John MacArthur wrote, “When you are diligent to absorb God’s Word daily by reading, studying, and meditating, godly responses to all the challenges in your life will become second nature.”5 Old thoughts and ways begin to drop off as we begin developing new thought patterns centered in the Scripture. We begin “Bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). Whatever we think or speak that is in agreement with Scripture is wiser than the world and stronger than men.
Read with patience. We could not plumb the depths of Bible knowledge in a hundred life-times, much less can we understand much in a single reading. Bible knowledge grows throughout our lives as we continue to pour over its pages. Isaiah said, “Whom shall he teach knowledge? And whom shall he make to understand? Them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts. For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little” (Isa. 28:9-10).
We can certainly understand much that is plain in the Bible. Matters of faith and purity are there for even the child to understand. John Wyclif, the great Scottish Reformer said, “The New Testament is of full authority, and open to the understanding of simple men, as to the points that be most needful to salvation . . . . He that keepeth meekness and charity hath the true understanding and perfection of all Holy Writ.”6
Read for recall. Familiarity with Scripture brings ease of use. A child who is good in the Spelling Bee is a child who is a good reader. We ought to work diligently on memorizing helpful portions of Scripture; “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee” (Psa. 119:11). But constant reading plants words and phrases in our minds that stick like glue and come out as the need requires. Jesus said, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh” (Matt. 12:34), or as someone said, “what goes down in the well of the heart, comes up in the bucket of the mouth.”
Don’t read without the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit of God that illuminates the Scripture for us. After all, He is the author of it and desires that we know it. “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14).
I would want every man to read the Bible, for by that he may come to conviction of his own sin. But without the Spirit of God in him he will not stay at it long. The things of God have little interest to him. Derek Prime said, “It is as impossible to undersatand the Scriptures without the Spirit’s help as it is to read a sundial without the sun.”7
John described the Holy Spirit as our resident Teacher who lives within us to teach us on a daily basis. “But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him” (1 Jn 2:27).
Don’t read for magic formulas. Many people only open their Bible if they need a quick answer or rebuttal to an issue. They may be looking for “proof texts” which seem to have the exact wording needed to say what has already been determined. Some want a quick formula that will deliver from trouble or perhaps produce benefit in time of need. The problem in almost all such instances is that those words have been removed so far from their context that one might as well be saying, “abra-cadabra.”
R.A. Torrey once said, “The Bible is not a talisman, nor a fortune-telling book, nor a book of magic; it is a revelation from an infinitely wise God, made in a reasonable way, to reasonable beings.”8
Don’t read for a blessing. This may sound strange but we often get the cart before the horse in this matter. Blessing, as in many good things, comes to us as an addition as we seek the Lord. As a person never finds a friend by seeking friends but by seeking deep interests, a believer finds blessing in seeking the Lord’s face in His Word.
William Cowper wrote in his song, “Sometimes a light surprises the Christian as he sings; it is the Lord who rises with healing in His wings.” So blessings come as delightful surprises to the Christian as he diligently reads God’s Word.
Don’t read for show. Though it is a good thing to be reading God’s Word, it needs to be for our benefit, not for the supposed benefit of some onlooker. I would hope that I’m not ashamed to have people know that I read God’s Word, but I desire a closet (and “disinterested” at that) because I need the Word more than they need the reminder. Witnessing is witnessing, but Bible reading is intense business. I know that it is good for children to know that father or mother reads the Bible regularly. But they will know if it is regular enough! The most difficult time for me to read is when I’m not in my own house with my own private time and place.
Don’t read leftovers. I mean by that, don’t read in leftover time or with leftover attention. It is too easy these days to try to read the Bible in front of the television or computer or some other distracting thing. Does Bible reading just become a side-bar on a screen or a text message in the middle of emails? Is our only struggle in God’s Word to stay awake for two minutes as we quickly read a few verses before turning out the light and falling asleep?
If we only open the Bible at church or Bible study, we are not reading God’s Word as we should. Sadly, many churches have removed the Bible from people’s laps even there by an easier, quicker, more convenient way of glancing at the big screen.
And So . . . .
In his hymn, Isaac Watts says,
The heavens declare thy glory, Lord!
In every star thy wisdom shines;
But when our eyes behold thy Word,
We read thy name in clearer lines.
May this be ours: “Resolved to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly and frequently, so that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.”9
1. John Newton, 365 Days With Newton (Leominster, UK: Day One Publications, 2006) Jan. 5.
2. The schedules can be ordered for a donation from FBBC at www.faith.edu.
3. Paul Scherer, Facts That Undergird Life (New York: Harper’s, 1938) 55.
4. Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ (Chicago: Moody Press, 1984) 221.
5. John MacArthur, Nothing But The Truth (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1999) 327.
6. Bruce Shelley, Church History In Plain Language (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1995) 229.
7. Derek Prime & Alister Begg, On Being A Pastor (Chicago: Moody Press, 2004) 78.
8. R.A. Torrey, Daily Meditations (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1963) 33.
9. Jonathan Edwards, The Preacher (Grand Rapids: Baker Book, 1958) 73.