You want to read and understand the Bible but you don’t know how to begin. It seems so overwhelming, so difficult, something only a serious student could tackle. But getting a grip on the Bible need not be hard and it need not be time consuming. Here’s a simple method that will get you reading and understanding the Bible bit by bit, studying one short book per month. By the end of a month you will have layered on learning in easy stages. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how familiar the Bible feels to you and how plain and obvious its lessons are becoming. So, pour a cup of coffee, prepare for a great new experience and get started!
First, pick a short book of the Bible – no more than 5 chapters. If you are just beginning to study the Bible on your own, you may want to pick one of the straightforward and practical letters written to early Christians called epistles. Either Philippians or Colossians would be a great place to start. If you prefer a good story, you might want to start with a familiar Old Testament book like Ruth or Jonah. Whatever book you choose, take a few minutes to ask God to be with you as you study. Ask Him to make the meaning of what you will be reading very clear to you.
Week One: Read the book straight through once each day. Since you picked a short book, this will not take you very much time each day. Don’t try to figure everything out, and don’t read other materials about the book. Just read and reread the book itself. If you would like to read the book in several different translations, you can find 19 English translations available free athttp://www.BibleGateway.com. (The site also includes the Bible in about 30 other languages.) You may also want to listen to the book being read aloud, maybe during your commute or while working out. Because our brains process what we hear differently than what we read, you will gain additional insights through hearing the book read aloud. Check out http://www.mp3Bible.org andhttp://www.BibleGateway.com for free downloadable audio files or your church library for the Bible on tape or CD. Remember periodically throughout the week to ask God to make His words clear and understandable to you. Since God wants nothing more than for you to learn more about Him and love His Word, you can expect this prayer to be answered!
Week Two: Read one chapter of the book per day, slowly, letting the words sink in. When you do not understand something, put a question mark in the margin of your Bible or jot down things that puzzle you. You will finish going through the book before the end of the week so just start again, reading one chapter per day. During week two, also read some historical background information about the book. For example, try to discover when the book was written, who wrote it, who it was written to, etc. You may have this type of information available right there in your Bible printed at the beginning of the book. If not, or if you want more information, look up the book in Eastman’s Bible Dictionary athttp://www.ccel.org/e/easton/ebd/ebd.html or read the introduction section to your chosen book at http://bible.crosswalk.com/Commentaries/… At the end of the week, ask yourself what messages God was sending to the people who first read the book or experienced the events recorded in it. You may want to write these messages in the margin of your Bible or, if you are a journal keeper, jot them in your journal.
Week Three: Continue reading one chapter of the book per day and read any other study material you want about the book. Your church library may be a good source of contemporary written material about the book. You can also check out http://bible.crosswalk.com/Commentaries/ for free access to classic commentaries. http://www.growingchristians.org andhttp://www.ccphilly.org/audio/default.aspx offer audio teaching about the book you have been reading. (If study time is scarce, one way to expand it may be to download audio teaching to listen to as you commute or clean the house.) At the end of the week, ask yourself what the book has taught you about God, about Jesus and about how Christians ought to live. Jot these thoughts down in your journal or the margin of your Bible.
Week Four: Again continue reading a chapter of the book each day. As you read each chapter, ask yourself what God wants you to do in your everyday life as a result of reading this book. Be aware that what God is saying to you will not be radically different than what He said to the original audience. It will be directly related to what you have already learned this month about God and the way His people ought to live. (For example, if God told the original audience to love one another, think about ways this same message applies to your own life.) Spend some time praying about this step and asking God to spotlight any areas of your life that could be impacted by what you have learned. At the end of the week, write down four or five specific action steps – things you will start doing and things you will stop doing – in response to what you have learned this month.
(If you have found a wealth of study material that you are enjoying, by all means continue to read it during week four, but remember that the point of this week is figuring out what you are going to do as a result of your reading, not just accumulating more Bible knowledge. So don’t let yourself skip over the key step of asking how what you have learned will change your life.)
You’re done. You have one book of the Bible solidly under your belt. You know more about God and the way He wants you to live your life. Easy, wasn’t it? Thank God for what you have learned, and ask Him to help you remember it and apply it in daily life situations. And now pick a book for next month!