I could eat McDonalds every day, and at the end of each day, I would not feel hungry since I did put food into my body. But while I wouldn’t feel hungry, I think we could all agree that a McDonalds diet is not the best option for any of us - unless we wanted to gain weight and increase our cholesterol!
Likewise, if we are haphazardly reading God’s Word (flipping open the Bible and reading whatever page we land on) or reading a devotional that maybe inserts a Bible verse here or there (or has one decoratively at the top of the page), then we might not feel spiritually hungry. After all, we did something to pursue spiritual nourishment. But there are much better - spiritually nutritious - methods of studying the Bible.
Where Do I Start?
A common remark that I often hear from college girls I disciple involves not knowing what to study or where to start when opening the Bible. There’s no “right” answer. This is not a trick question. You can study a…
- Book of the Bible
- Person in the Bible (Jesus, Samuel, Abraham, etc.)
- Topic in the Bible (Anxiety, Love, Patience, Trust, etc.)
You can also follow a reading plan to read through the entire Bible, and you can view several of these options at this site. The point is to make a choice and to follow through.
I can tell you that you probably won’t have remarkable breakthroughs or lightbulb moments every time you read the Bible. You may not feel that what you’re reading hits where you are right now. Keep reading. Trust that God’s Word truly is “living and active” and able to apply to your life (Heb. 4:12). We do not need to depend on our feelings. Going back to the McDonalds illustration, I may not feel like doing a Paleo or Whole 30 diet. Such a diet does not sound appealing to this girl who goes through several packages of yogurt and cheese every week, who prefers carbs of all kinds (bread, pasta, potatoes, etc.), and who likes the occasional sweet (like a spoonful of Trader Joe’s cookie butter)! But if I based my diet on my feelings, I would probably be obese and a diabetic. Likewise, basing my Bible reading plan on my feelings is not the best strategy for spiritual growth.
What Do I Do?
There are many different approaches for studying the Bible, and if this is a discipline that is new or hard for you, try 5x5x5: 5 minutes a day, 5 days a week, 5 approaches to meditating on what you read in the Bible.
5 Minutes a Day: Even if you are busy, you can identify five minutes that you can dedicate to reading the Bible. If you are just starting out, begin with one of the Gospels or with a shorter New Testament book such as James or Philippians.
5 Days a Week: Identify when you will do this for the week, and if needed, write it in your planner or add it to your smart phone calendar with an alert.
- Note Key Words or Phrases - Whether you highlight, underline, draw, etc., mark what stands out as important in the verse or passage that you read.
- Paraphrase the Sentence or Passage - Putting things in our own words helps us to understand and internalize what we read. It forces us to think about the words that we read.
- Ask Questions - Ask questions about what you read. What does this mean? Where does this take place? Why did that person say ______? How does this fit with the rest of Scripture? As you read, jot down whatever questions you have, and think about the answers. If needed, use resources such as commentaries, Bible encyclopedias, etc. to search for answers. Interacting with the text by asking questions helps you to think more deeply about what you read.
- Identify the Main Idea - What is the big idea or the thesis of the story, chapter, or section that you read? There might be more than one, but identify a main point or key idea that the passage is communicating.
- Apply What Is Read - James 1:22 instructs us to be “doers” of the Word and not simply hearers of it. What we read should affect our hearts, minds, attitude, and behavior. So as you read, think through how the passage applies to your life today/this week. What needs to change in your life based on what you read? How can you obey the Bible’s commands? What action step do you need to take? Even if there is not a specific command in what you read for the day, what principles (these often come from the main idea) can you apply to your life?
- When will you read the Bible each day? (This might involve looking at your calendar and identifying a different time for each day, or you might choose early in the morning or late at night in order to have consistency.)
- Where will you read the Bible? (In the living room? In your car? In the school library?)
- How will you remember to do this? (Put an alarm on the phone, write it in your planner, tell someone, just remember it, etc.?)
- What will you read first? Where will you start?
- What supplies do you need? When will you get those supplies?
This might sound like a lot. You might even feel slightly overwhelmed or paralyzed about how or where to start. I will say this, the McDonalds approach is easier. Picking up fast food is easier than meal planning, grocery shopping, cooking, and cleaning, and getting that devotional or workbook is easier than studying the Bible on your own.
But think about it this way, if you are in a relationship and are wanting to get to know someone, you spend time with them. Talking to their friends - hearing their stories about the person or having them tell you tidbits of info about the person - by doing this, you're trying to have a relationship by proxy instead of going straight to the source! And this is often what we do with God. Instead of hearing what God wants to say directly to us through His Word, we go to other people to hear what God said to them. But God wants a relationship with you as well! You have His Spirit inside of you, and one of the roles of the Holy Spirit is to "teach you all things" (Jn. 14:26). God wants a relationship with you, and like any healthy relationship, it takes effort, time, and attention to grow the relationship. Will you take a step today and read what the Creator of the universe wants you to know about Him, about yourself, and about how to live in this world?