My kids hate eating broccoli. I know it’s not the color green, because they love avocado. No matter how much I try to reason with them, they won’t eat it. According to a 2019 Barna study, less than half of American Christians read the Bible consistently. We know that Bible reading is good for us (like broccoli). Most of us just don’t read it consistently. Why not?
I believe we don’t read the Bible for the same reason we watch Netflix instead of going to the gym. Busyness and distraction compete for our most important commodity: attention. It’s easier to sleep in a few more minutes than practice an early morning quiet time. It’s more appealing to scroll endlessly on the phone than engage Scripture.
If we want to build better Bible reading habits, we need to know what the Bible is, why it’s important, and how to read it.
What is the Bible?
Our English word Bible comes from the Greek biblia meaning “books.” While we are used to seeing the Bible as one book, it is essential to remember that it is a collection of writings written over 1,500 years. It includes stories, laws, poetry, prophecy, teachings, and so much more. To borrow a phrase from BibleProject, “the Bible is a unified story that leads to Jesus.”
Many Christians could quote 2 Timothy 3:16-17. It is the go-to Bible verse about the Bible.
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16-17)
God inspired real people to write all 66 books of the Bible. The Apostle Peter explains that “men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:21). God spoke through the authors of Scripture, and God still speaks today when we read the Bible.
Why read the Bible?
If your answer to this question is “because you should,” you need a better answer. Many Christians have a guilt-driven motivation to read. If they miss a day or two from a reading plan, they throw in the towel. This mindset misses the point of the Bible altogether. We don’t read the Bible for extra credit in heaven.
Another common reason for reading the Bible is to learn. Learning about God is great, but it cannot be the end in and of itself. The Pharisees knew plenty about God. They could quote Scripture until they were blue in the face. Yet, they completely missed the Messiah. As Paul would say, “‘knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Cor. 8:1).
We see one of the most compelling reasons to read the Bible in Romans 12:2:
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”
We don’t just read the Bible for information, but for transformation. Listening to God’s Word changes our minds about things. It allows us to see ourselves, others, and the world around us accurately. The truth we learn from the Bible gets inside us and changes us. It is an essential part of living out our identity as a new creation in Christ.
How do I read the Bible?
Besides simply opening up the Bible and reading, there are three helpful practices for interacting with Scripture.
1. Study — Put yourself underneath the Bible.
You don’t need a seminary degree to read the Bible well, but interpretation does take work. Remember that the Bible was written in languages you don’t speak, to people you don’t know, living in places you’ve probably never been. We must approach the Bible in humility, not assuming that we’ll always understand a passage immediately. We seek to identify the author’s intended meaning and draw the truth out of the text instead of putting our ideas into it. Study helps the Bible change us instead of us changing the Bible.
Richard Foster in Celebration of Discipline gives us the correct heart required for good Bible study: “Study demands humility. It cannot happen until we are willing to be subject to the subject matter. We must submit to the system. We must come as a student, not teacher.”
It’s almost impossible to study the Bible without a pen and paper. We need to write questions, underline keywords, and make connections. Study takes work, but the effort pays off.
2. Meditation — Put yourself into the Bible.
Christians are sometimes hesitant to use the word “meditation.” It conjures up images of Buddhist monks sitting on top of a mountain. Yet, meditating on God and His Word is an ancient practice in both Christian and Jewish tradition. Psalm 1 speaks of the blessed person as the one who meditates on the Law of the Lord day and night. Christian meditation is about attachment to God, not detachment.
Dallas Willard explains this practice in Spirit of the Disciplines, “We not only read and hear and inquire, but we meditate on what comes before us; that is, we withdraw into silence where we prayerfully and steadily focus upon it.”
Meditation happens in a quiet place. Pick a short passage of Scripture, even one verse or word, and think on it. Allow your imagination to take you deeper into Scripture. Meditation is an excellent technique for interacting with the Psalms.
3. Memorization — Put the Bible inside you.
Memory verses aren’t just for kids in Sunday school (although that’s a great place to start). Eugene Peterson has a phenomenal book on Bible engagement called Eat this Book. The title comes from the scene in Ezekiel 3 where an angel tells Ezekiel to eat a scroll. It’s a potent metaphor for what we should do with God’s Word. It is meant to dwell deep inside us.
Psalm 119:11 says,
“I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”
Scripture memory allows us to live the right way. Think of Jesus fighting the devil in Matthew 4. He defeated every temptation by reciting Bible verses. Paul in Ephesians 6 describes the Word of God as the “sword of the Spirit.” We have access to this same weapon to fight our battles.
Pick one verse that applies to a situation you are facing right now. Set it as your home screen on your phone and recite it a few times a day. It’s that simple.
Reading the Bible is not complicated, but it does take intentionality. Setting aside time to read is a way of spending time with Jesus. Remember His words from John 10:27, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”
Scripture memory allows us to live the right way.
(For more from Joshua, check out joshuabranham.com.)