(Proverbs 2:1-5, ESV)
1 My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, 2 making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; 3 yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, 4 if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, 5 then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.
One of my favorite figures in church history is William Tyndale. An Englishman who lived during the tumultuous times of the reformation, he had a strong conviction to get the Bible distributed in English. First, he became a master of languages (Latin, Greek, and Hebrew). Then he painstakingly created his own English translations of the Old and New Testaments. Then he found underground printing presses that would be willing to make copies. And since his activity was illegal at that time, he pressed on in secret. He was arrested and tortured for the work. There were even times a decade of work was destroyed by the authorities or by fire. But, every time, Tyndale got back to work.1 The word was that important to him.
And, in the last stages of his life—which for him were his late thirties and early forties—when he was in exile, the King of England offered to extend him mercy and allow him to return home. But Tyndale had a long held condition for his homecoming—would the King and Roman Catholic Church permit an English translation of the Bible? Tyndale said he would never write another word or do another thing as long as the Bible was not allowed to circulate in his countrymen’s native tongue. It was his only condition for returning to England. Alas, the King declined, and Tyndale spent the rest of his years in exile until he was finally captured and burned at the stake in 1536.2
I wanted to begin with Tyndale’s story because it is a good one to help frame the importance of personal Bible reading. His story highlights that we should take this privilege seriously. Men and women have spilled much blood, shed many tears, and become drenched in sweat for the treasure of Scripture. So we should not take the marvelous book we hold in our hands for granted. At great cost, it was brought to us—it is the words of eternal life.
The snippet of Proverbs 2 above is one of many Bible passages that exalt the word. From Genesis to Revelation, lives devoted to the word, people who are creatures of the word, are portrayed as lives well lived. And this section of Proverbs affirms that concept. The person who receives and treasures the commandments and wisdom of the Heavenly Father, inclining their ears and hearts to understand its wisdom, will enjoy an abundant and good life (1-3). To value the word as you would the most precious metals or gems, will lead you to a life of knowledge, understanding, soundness, integrity, victory, discretion, and deliverance (4-19). To rejoice over and submit to the word leads you to the paths of life (19-20). You will not be cut off from God’s blessings but will remain and be rooted in them (21-22).
This is typical of the way the Bible encourages us to read the Bible. It does not say, “read it.” Instead, it says, “Devote yourself to it. Discover it. Fuss over it. Celebrate it. Seek it like the most sacred of all treasures. Buy it. Do anything you can to gain knowledge of it. And let it be the master guide over your life. It is the very word of God.” Reading it is good, but God wants us to dive in and swim in it!
I do not, however, want you to expect rapturous joy during every moment of your Bible reading life. I fear I have lost many of you already because you have tried in vain to engage the Bible and you feel it has not worked. Perhaps you have concluded the flaw is in the Bible—too stiff, too long, too winding, too far removed from modern life. Perhaps you have concluded the flaw is in you—too distractible, too undisciplined, too unknowledgeable, or too busy.
I cannot paint an overly rosy picture of my Bible reading, but it has been a foundational element of my life. Nor will I, in an attempt to be relatable, act as if it is always a laborious experience. It is not. In general, though my Bible reading is difficult and slow-moving at times, I have found great solace, comfort, guidance, and instruction in it.
What follows are eight suggestions that come out of my own life and experience, all given with the hope of helping you read the word.
1. By Listening
I want to begin by saying that the title of this article is not a good one. I do not really want you to know how to read the Bible. When I read a book, I am alone. When I read a book, I can silence it any time I would like. When I read a book, I initiate. But the Bible is not a mere book—it communicates the very heart of God. It is God’s way of communicating with us. When reading the Bible, I am not alone, because God is alive, aware, and paying attention to whether I hear him or not. When reading the Bible, I am not able to silence it because God has spoken through it (and is speaking through it) whether or not I open my eyes and ears to it. And when I read the Bible, I am not the initiator because God made the first move.3 His word is his way of engaging us.
And many people would rather read than listen. Imagine a husband, mindlessly scrolling through sports scores, political news, and social media feeds, all while his wife tries to share her heart with him. For him to put down his phone and listen to this woman with whom he shares his bed would be far more emotionally demanding than to continue logging his phone time. This is why many Christians prefer to merely read the word rather than listen to God in the word. So, when you approach the Bible, approach it as God’s voice, his heart in print form, communicating with us.
Try to learn something about God every day. The Bible will give you direction and guidance in life, but it is not about you. It is about God and his plan to redeem a broken world. With that in mind, see what each day teaches you about him. The blood of Christ gains us access to God, and the word he has given us helps us learn of him.
2. With Humility
Any approach to the word requires humility. Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3). If we come to the word with a sense of spiritual need, then we will find a way into the things of the kingdom.
What I mean is that we must approach the Bible with an open heart about anything the Lord might need to address in us. If we open the word with a feeling that there are two or three overt and obvious sins we battle against, but in every other area we are set, then we will not hear God speaking to us about the more subversive sins that are disrupting our lives. It takes humility to hear God about sins like anger, jealousy, sloth, racism, pride, fear, arrogance, etc.
Without humility, a poverty of spirit before God, a sense that God has all the spiritual wealth and that we must receive it from him, we will often read the word as a way to see ourselves as the good people and others as the bad people. But this would be an incorrect reading of Scripture—all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. And even after we are justified in Christ, we must go to him with open hands to hear anything he might need to say to us.
3. Consider it the “Real World”
Sometimes, after another Sunday gathering filled with worship to God and hearing from God, we might quip, “Well, now it’s time to go back to the real world.” What I want to say here is that the world as God sees it, the truth as God lays it out, reality as spoken by God through prophets and apostles, is the real world.
Our normal way of seeing the world is actually the phony world. Behind this world of economics and politics and physical desires is the true, spiritual dimension. God is there, along with principalities and powers, and when you enter into the world of the Bible you enter into the real world. You are getting a peak behind the curtain. What makes us do what we do? The Bible will tell you. What satisfies a human heart? The Bible will tell you. What makes the nations rage? The Bible will tell you.
4. With Patience
Do not be too discouraged with the hard days. Look, if you are anticipating a Bible reading life that feels as easy as watching Netflix, let me burst that bubble. The Bible is not a Harry Potter series. It takes some thought, study, and prayer to navigate. Dry moments will come. At times, you will not understand what you are reading. In a sense, this is a test of the human heart. Do you want to know God? Stick with it, ask questions, dig, and find him.
Commit to a reasonable amount of reading each day. Reading the Bible through in one year is a noble venture, but many people find that tough sledding. My preference is to read the Bible through. A few times through it has taken me less than a year, but mostly it takes me a year or year and a half. What I am trying to say is, pace yourself in a way you can keep up. It would be better to read the Bible in three years than never to read it at all. For starters, a plan like the F260 Bible Reading Plan, available on the YouVersion Bible App, could get the ball rolling.
5. With Discipline
Set a non-negotiable portion of your day aside. For me, the first part of my day, a firstfruits sacrifice if you will, is the right part of the day to set myself apart to hear from God. Some people’s work schedules legitimately prohibit this, while other people’s work schedules fictionally prohibit this. Either way, find a portion of the day which works for you, a time you know you can generally count on for Bible reading.
Have a way to record thoughts and questions and prayers. Nothing fancy is required here. I have used pieces of paper, journals, and Evernote. You might want to write a long and flowy diatribe about God. I do not recommend it during Bible reading. Brief bullet points and sentences will likely cut it. Remember, this is a time to get his word in, not your words out.
Have a group for accountability. Especially when you first start, or when you walk away from Bible reading, a group can be of great help. When the group has a reading plan, you will more often stick with the reading plan. I have watched my middle-school-aged daughter stick with her Bible reading because she knows her discipleship group is going to talk about those passages the following week. Some sort of group like this can serve as a stimulant to staying in the word.
6. With Trust
Trust that God knows what you need better than you do. While we often think we know what we need to hear about, God often has a different agenda. He sees the end from the beginning, and in his omniscient state, he knows what is of vital importance. So you might approach the word thinking, for instance, that you need guidance navigating a human relationship. God, however, might want you to hear more about, as an example, the atonement. But as the truth of God’s words gets inside you, wisdom and discernment for relationships will be on the rise.
7. With Your Mind
Think about what the passage says and means before you think about what it means for you. We often jump straight into application, but your best insights and applications will flow from first thinking about what it said and meant to the first hearers of the passage. For example, we do not like the idea of being lukewarm believers, but what did that mean to the church in Laodicea? This is where some background material, commentary, or a decent study Bible could be helpful. Often, however, one will not need additional study aides to ask the question: what does this mean? What would the original readers think?
Ask questions about the passage. What does this passage tell me about God? Is there anything in this passage I need to obey? Has God made a promise or vow in this passage, one that I should believe for my life today? Are there any attitudes or perspectives in this passage that I must put on? What do I learn of Christ and his redemptive plan from this passage? Are there any prayers in the passage I can pray today? Are there any admirable habits in the passage I must ask the Holy Spirit to help me grow into? What do I see of Christlike character in this passage? How might the Spirit want to grow me into that image?
Read a short introduction to each book of the Bible you start. The Bible is one book, yes, but it is unique in that forty authors communicated its one cohesive message in sixty-six books over a period of 2,000 years. Because of this, it is good to read some background material for each new book of the Bible you read. Even the brief introductions found in most study bibles are enough to get you going. If you would like something a little more robust, I would recommend Talk Thru The Bible by Bruce Wilkinson and Kenneth Boa.
Have one trusty Study Bible or commentary resource for reference. I think it is a good idea to have a good study Bible or commentary nearby. I do not think you should read it every day, but sometimes you will come across a Bible passage which needs some help to understand. Study Bibles will often suffice at answering your initial questions about a given Bible passage, and a light commentary will often take things a little bit further.
8. Through the Cross
See the word through the lens of Jesus Christ. Where in the passage do you see Jesus? Who in the passage reminds you of Christ? What problem in the passage did Jesus come to solve? How are the promises or predictions of this passage fulfilled in Jesus?
Resist the temptation to read the Bible as if it is a book all about you. It is not. The Bible is designed to communicate who God is to this world and His plan to redeem that world. Everything in the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, points to Christ (Revelation 19:10). If we only see the Gospel in the Crucifixion accounts, then we are not reading the Bible intelligently. See “Jesus vs. Sin” in “David vs. Goliath.” See how the Spirit of Christ rebuilds a human life when reading the rebuilding project led by Nehemiah. See Jesus’s willingness to reconcile with men who betrayed him in the life of Joseph, a man who was willing to reconcile with brothers who betrayed him and left him for dead. Search for the Gospel in every portion of scripture you read.
Get started. Step out. Start reading. Get moving. A long journey requires a first step. With the knowledge that it will not always be an easy task, step out into a life of Bible reading. I think you will find the results immensely rewarding, and your growth as a Christian and person will accelerate as you get into God’s word.
In the Old Testament Law, God said that new Israelite kings needed to inaugurate their reign with the Scripture. He said:
18 “And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. 19 And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, 20 that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel.”
(Deuteronomy 17:18–20, ESV)
We, too, need the word. Let us emulate these kings of old and turn evermore to the pages of Scripture. God has spoken. Let us hear him.
References: Lawson, Steven J. The Daring Mission of William Tyndale. Christianaudio, 2015.
 Piper, John. “The Bible Was His Only Crime: William Tyndale (1494–1536).” Desiring God, 6 Apr. 2020, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-bible-was-his-only-crime.
 Peterson, Eugene H. Working the Angles: Trigonometry for Pastoral Work. William B Eerdmans Publishing, 1987.