The Bible is the story of God - who God is, what God has done, and what God will do. It contains the deep wisdom which God wove into the fabric of creation. The scriptures reveal the fullness of God in Christ Jesus, who lived, died, resurrected, and one day will return. The Jewish Rabbis compared the scriptures to a fine ruby, which when you turn it into a light, it shows something beautiful at each pass. The Bible is weighty, containing the very glory of God!
Scripture reading has always been a priority for the life of discipleship. How can we figure out how to be the people of God without knowing the story of God and God's people? How do we come to understand the wisdom of God, as fully revealed through Jesus? Reading the scriptures!
With all that weight and wisdom, actually diving into the Bible can sometimes be an intimidating task. So how do you best read the scriptures? Below I've listed out a few tips to help your journey of reading the scriptures.
1. Pray. The Bible becomes fully alive when the Holy Spirit opens the eyes of your heart. Pray that God will speak to you or reveal something to you through whatever passage you are reading.
2. Ask Questions of the Text. Some good questions are - What does this passage say about God? What does this passage say about me/church? Is there anything in my life that I need to change in light of this passage?
3. Read the passage slowly and more than once. This is an ancient form of reading the scripture called Reading of God or Lectio Divina. You take a passage of scripture and read it through once. Then read it again, this time slowly and perhaps out loud. Ask God to reveal to you a word or phrase from the scripture. For instance, let's say you are reading Mark 6:45-52. This is Jesus walking on the water, and the phrase that stands out to you is "Do not be afraid." Then spend a few minutes reflecting and praying through that phrase. Why did that stand out to you? What is God trying to say to you through that phrase? Are there fears in your life that you need to bring to God?
4. Read the Bible in Community - We need each other. Don't try to be a Lone Ranger. Even the Lone Ranger had Tonto! A great way to do this is in a Sunday School Class or small group. My class has recently read the book of James together, bringing our different insights and questions to class, and it has helped me see James in a totally different light.
5. Journal. Write down any questions, insights, illuminations from God. You would be surprised how much more those stick with you when you write them down.
6. Try to understand the context. This is another way of doing Bible study, and it is actually where I start my sermon preparation. When you understand the context it was written, the words take on more meaning. The method is called Observation (what does the passage say), Interpretation (what did the text mean when it was written), Application (what does this scripture mean now in our world). There are many good, readable commentaries out there to help with this. I recommend NT Wright's New Testament for Everyone Series.
7. Read several translations. Each translation catches a different nuance of the original language. You might see something different in another translation that you did not realize in the one you normally read. Here are my recommendations for translations - Word for word from the original text is the ESV (English Standard Version); a readable translation of the ideas is the NIV2011 (New International Version); and the most readable in modern language is Eugene Peterson's The Message (I'm a big Eugene Peterson fan and his translation is fascinating).
I hope this helps relieve some burden when it comes to Bible study. You do not have to practice all these at the same time! These are some gleanings that have helped me in my own journey of reading the scriptures. Praying for you and love you.