Go into any book shop and you will see a display with the current best selling books. But the best selling book of all time, and the book that continues to be a best seller is unlikely to be in that display. It is the Bible.
The Bible is a uniquely popular book. It is estimated to have sold over 6 billion copies. In an article in The Times, it said that ‘If cumulative sales of the Bible were frankly reflected in bestseller lists, it would be a rare week when anything else would achieve a look in… It is wonderful, weird, or just plain baffling in this increasingly godless age – when the range of books available grows wider with each passing year – that this one book should go on selling hand over fist, month in, month out. . .’ The writer ends by saying, ‘All versions of the Bible sell well all the time. Can the Bible Society offer an explanation? “Well,’’ I am told disarmingly, “it is such a good book.’’’
The Bible is also uniquely powerful. In May 1928, the Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin said, ‘The Bible is a high explosive.’ It has the power to change and transform not only lives, but he world.
And it is uniquely precious. At the Queen’s coronation the Dean of Westminster gave a copy of the Bible to the Queen, with these words “we present you with this Book, the most valuable thing that this world affords.” Paul said “All Scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the people of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (1 Tim 3:16). And the writer of Hebrews says “The word of God is alive and active.” (Heb 4:12) God speaks to us through the Bible, it is uniquely precious.
And yet when it comes to reading the Bible many Christians struggle.
Bible Reading Habits
Last week I conducted a survey of the Bible reading habits of people in St Martin’s. I would like to thank everyone for the honesty in answering the questions. What the results demonstrate is that 8% admitted to never reading the Bible. 60% said they read the Bible several times a month. 12% several times a week, and 20% said they read the Bible daily.
The biggest reason people gave for not reading the Bible regularly was time, with some people admitting to laziness. The other big issue hihlighted in the survey is that many people don’t know where to begin when reading the Bible, and struggle to apply what they read to their lives. Others find aspects of the teaching in the Bible difficult to understand, particularly the OT, as one person wrote “I don’t find the OT relevant or believable.”
But what was encouraging about the survey was that 42% of people said they would be interested in using Bible notes or a plan, so clearly quite a lot of people in St Martin’s would like to receive help in reading the Bible.
I want to now explore why should we read the Bible, and then I want to offer some practical advice on how to read the Bible.
Why Read The Bible?
If you are going to build a house, the first thing you need to do is build solid foundations. If we are going to grow and mature as Christians there are four things which need to form the foundation of our Christian lives. They are:
And encompassing all of this is:
We know that in order to be strong and healthy, it is important to eat a regular and balanced diet. You may decide to skip the occasional meal, or fast for a couple of days, but if you don’t eat regularly you’ll very quickly feel the effects, and you can become malnourished, weak and ultimately die.
We can apply this analogy to our Christian lives, because we need to nourish ourselves on the word of God. Jesus said: ‘People do not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’ (Matthew 4:4). That is why it’s vitally important we make it a priority to set aside time to read God’s word not just once in a while, but to make it a regular habit.
The Bible is God’s manual for life. Ronald Reagan said “Within the covers of one single book, the Bible, are all the answers to all the problems that face us today--if only we would read and believe.”
As we read the Bible, we get to know more about the character and nature of God. We understand how our lives fit into God’s plans for the world. And most crucially of all, God speaks to us through his word.
There have been many times in my life when I have been looking for help, guidance, encouragement or support, and I’ve read something in the Bible, and it speaks directly into the situation I’m concerned about. It’s as though the words jump off the page, and as if it was written with just me and my situation in mind. This shouldn’t a surprise to people, because the Bible is God’s living word. Quoting from Hebrews again ‘For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.’ (Hebrews 4:12) As God speaks to us and we learn to hear his voice, our relationship with him grows, and our love for him deepens.
There is incredible power in the words of the Bible, and it is the primary means in which God speaks to us.
In 2008 the Taking The Pulse survey interviewed 3000 church goers about their Bible reading habits. 57% of them said that the Bible shaped their daily life a great deal. The Psalmist writes ‘Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light for my path.’ The question is, if we don’t read the Bible regularly, what shapes our daily lives? If the Word of God does not guide us, what does?
We need to rediscover the power of the Bible to change and transform. Gandhi said “You Christians look after a document containing enough dynamite to blow all civilisation to pieces, turn the world upside down and bring peace to a battle-torn planet. But you treat it as though it is nothing more than a piece of literature.” We need to recognise the incredible uniqueness of the Bible, and through it allow God to speak to us, to encourage, equip, inspire, challenge and teach us.
I guarantee you, if you set aside time to really study God’s word, you will be changed in incredible ways.
How To Read The Bible?
How do we read the Bible?
Setting aside time
The big issue raised in our survey is finding time. We all live extremely busy lives, but if we think something is important, we’ll make time for it. As Christians, one of the most important things we can do is make time to read God’s word. Be realistic, it doesn’t have to long, reading the Bible for a few minutes every day, is better than never reading the Bible.
At what time you’ll read the Bible will depend on the sort of person you are, and the life you lead. For some it will be first thing in the morning, for others in the middle of the day, and for some last thing at the night.
When Jesus prayed he would go off to a solitary place where he knew he wouldn’t be disturbed. Find a space where you won’t be disturbed.
Whatever you decide to do, plan ahead. Because failing to plan, is planning to fail. Write it in your diary, and guard this time.
Choosing the right Bible
Choose a version of the Bible that you find easy to read. There are so many different versions of the Bible out there, that there will be one that will suit you. The great thing about modern technology is that it has never been easier to read the Bible. I have several different versions of the Bible on my phone and tablet, which I have downloaded off the internet (click here for more information), and it hasn’t cost me a penny. The great thing about this is it means I always have the Bible with me, because I always carry my phone with me. And on my phone I have an app which sends me a daily verse of Scripture, which you can reflect on during the day.
Technology has changed the way we can access scripture. For example if sitting down and reading the Bible is something you really struggle with, you can download for free an app called ‘Pray As You Go’ or you can access it via the internet. Pray as You Go gives you a daily reflection with music, a Bible reading and prayer, which lasts 12 to 13 minutes. It is something you can listen to when you’re driving in the car, out walking, sitting at home enjoying a cup of tea, or whilst doing the washing up. I use it a lot, and have found it incredibly helpful, and is another way of exposing yourself to the Word of God.
You can also get audio versions of the Bible, so you can listen to them on a CD, or download them onto your phone, computer, or MP3 player.
Use Bible Notes
One of the other big issues our survey showed is that people don’t know where to begin when reading the Bible, and they struggle to understand what the text may be saying. This is why Bible reading notes are so useful. Every day you are given one or two short Bible passages to read, and then there will be a short reflection to read based on those readings.
The advantage of Bible notes is that it gives you a passage of Scripture to read every day, and it helps to explain the passage to you, and how it relates to us personally. There are literally dozens of different notes for you to try, and it only costs a small amount each month, and some are free.
Use Bible reading plans
As well as using Bible notes, I also follow a Bible reading plan, such as the readings for morning prayer which are printed in the newsletter. There are lots of different plans available, some which for example ambitiously aim to cover the Bible in a year, others which may explore a book in the Bible. You can find these plans online, and can download them free of charge onto your phones, tablets and computers. Or have a word with me, so I can help you find the right plan for you.
How to read the Bible
When you read the Bible, remember it is the living word of God. Before you even read the Bible passage, ask God what He has to say to you through his word. Pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit to understand what it is you are reading.
It is often helpful to read the passage more than once, and ask you read it, ask yourself three questions:
1. What does it say?
2. What does it mean? What did it mean to the person who first wrote it and those
who first read it? (This is where the notes may be helpful.)
3. How does it apply to me, my family, my work, my neighbours, the society around
me? (This is the most important stage. It is when we see the relevance to our own
lives that Bible reading becomes so exciting and we become conscious that we are
hearing God’s voice.)
You may find it helpful to have a notebook and pen with you to jot down any ideas that come to you as you read the passage.
- The more you read the Bible, the more you will be able to identify and hear God’s voice. The more you read the Bible, the closer you will come to God.
- The more you read the Bible, the more you will develop the fruits of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and self control.
- The more you read the Bible, the more your faith will be strengthened, and the more you will come to trust and rely on God.
- The more you read the Bible, the more you will grow in your understanding and love of God.
- The more you read the Bible, the more deeply rooted in God you will become.
- The more you read the Bible, the more you will be able to weather the storms of life.
The Psalmist writes this: Blessed is the one… whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither— whatever they do prospers. (Psalm 1:2-3)