By Melissa McLaughlin
One of my favorite summertime joys is seeing flowers arrayed in their colorful, radiant glory. My parents have the most amazing bush that blooms each year during mid-summer months. Every evening at dusk several blossoms on the Evening Primrose burst open and fully expand within about 45 seconds.
First we stand back and look at the whole bush to see which buds might be ready to unfurl their hidden beauty. Then we move in closer and study intently. We consider each flower, one by one. Which bud is preparing to release its display of splendor?
Cameras zoom in closer still, to catch this dramatic moment in nature. No special equipment or time-lapse recording devices needed. God provides the miracle. We simply enjoy the work of His amazing hands.
As we consider the Bible, God’s Word, we can read, understand and absorb His message in much the same way.
How to Read and Understand the Bible – 4 Simple Tips
God has revealed Himself to us through creation, through the Bible, through His Son and through His Spirit. Because God has spoken to us specifically and intentionally through His Word, the Bible, it is worthy of our study and contemplation.
Knowing God means knowing His Word.
We can’t have a relationship with anyone unless we communicate with each other. As we pray, we are talking to God. As we read the Bible, God is speaking to us.
When reading the Bible, here are 4 simple tips to build a better understanding.
The Big Picture
1. First, stand back and view the Bible as a whole. The Bible is one complete book. Though it was written over the span of about 1500 years with approximately 40 writers contributing to its contents, there is one unifying theme. That theme is Jesus. From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible reveals God’s amazing plan to redeem His people through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.
Though we may zero in on a particular book, chapter or verse, we must also keep in mind the big idea of the Bible. Jesus. This helps to anchor every other part.
A Wide Reading of the Bible
My husband and I make it our goal to read the Bible in a year, every year. By reading 3 chapters per day, you can read the Bible in a year. There are many Bible reading plans and Bible apps that walk you through the Bible in a year, as well. This provides a hearing of God’s Word in a wide sweep.
This kind of wide lens reading is helpful because it allows you see how God’s Word fits together as a whole and also helps readers find connecting points.
If you are reading the Bible for the very first time, I recommend beginning in the New Testament with the book of John. This tells the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, but simultaneously reflects back to the beginning of the Bible. Then read the remainder of the New Testament. This helps you better understand where the Old Testament is headed when you decide to tackle that part.
A Closer Look
2. Read in context. As you zoom in and more carefully read or study a particular chapter or verse, be sure to view that section in context. Some Bibles offer a brief overview at the beginning of each book of the Bible. This can prove very helpful when seeking accurate meaning of a given verse. In addition, make it a habit to read the verses and paragraphs that come before and after each section, so that small phrases or sentences are not taken out of context.
The point of reading the Bible is to know God, His Word, His ways, His Son and His Spirit. The goal is not to add our thoughts and commentaries to God’s truth, but to allow His truth to speak to and transform us. Reading in context is key to comprehending and understanding God’s message.
Reading in Context
3. Consider the Biblical principle from the passage. Though some sections of scripture are written specifically for certain people at a certain moment in time, there are general principles that can be applied to any person at any time. This requires deeper thinking.
For example, though Job’s story of suffering was from a time period when most people survived on personal livestock and crops, we certainly know the agony of losing a job and wondering where the next meal will come from. Learning to trust God’s heart, even when we can’t understand our circumstances, is a timeless lesson from the story of Job.
This same richness can be learned from every book of the Bible, if we pause, pray and ponder.
The Best Teacher
4.Ask the Holy Spirit to teach you as you read. Last but certainly not least, we all benefit enormously from inviting the Holy Spirit to bring scriptures to light that may help instruct us, correct us, encourage us or lead us.
The Bible is God’s written Word. Jesus is God’s Living Word. The indwelling Holy Spirit is the presence of God alive in the hearts of believers. The Spirit of God is within us! When we invite the Spirit to move and work in us, He can expose the deepest parts of our hearts and lives revealing needs that we cannot perceive for ourselves.
Before reading the Bible and preaching, I have often heard Alistair Begg of Truth for Life pray a short prayer that goes something like this:
- Make the Bible come alive to me, Lord.
- Show me Yourself.
- Show me myself.
- Show me my Savior.
- Make the book come alive to me, Lord.
The Holy Spirit knows the mind of God and can teach us unfathomable depths of divine truth, mercy and grace that are contained in God’s Word, the Bible.
As you read and endeavor to understand the Bible, be strengthened by these 4 simple tips.
- Remember the main message of the Bible is Jesus. God redeems His fallen people through Christ.
- Read passages of the Bible in context.
- Think deeply about Biblical principles that apply to your life today.
- Ask the Holy Spirit to make God’s Word come alive.
By reading the Bible in this way, you can:
- Get to know the heart and will of the Father.
- Get to know the love of the Savior who leads with nail-scarred hands.
- Get to know the voice of the Spirit, that still, small voice within that calls to us day after day.
Like the miraculous Evening Primrose plant, that captivates as a whole bush and yet unfolds layers of detailed, intricate beauty, so the Bible displays a complete picture of God’s grace in Christ and yet yields great treasure the more we closely we gaze and examine.
- Speak, oh God, through your Word.
- Speak, oh God.
- For your servants are listening.
Hebrews 4:12 – For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
Here are some photos and videos of the incredible Evening Primrose bush in my parents’ backyard. Enjoy!