As a child, each morning before I left for school, my dear mother would collect her brood of children around her and read a portion from God’s Word and offer prayer. On Sundays, Wednesdays and revival services, the saints of God back home would enter the House of God carrying their Bibles. There the preacher would preach from the Bible. When I was converted at the age of sixteen, I was told I should always do two things daily: read the Bible and pray. (If I had been converted in a Baptist church they would have told me to add a third spiritual discipline: witnessing.).
So I started reading my Bible right away and have been reading it ever since. I have read it, as they say in some parts of the South, from “kiver to kiver,” many times over. I’ve even read it through a few times within a month’s time frame. (If I recall correctly, that’s thirty-nine chapters for each day). It has been a rare day these last thirty-six years in which I haven’t read a portion from the sacred Scriptures. But if I’ve learned any one thing about Bible reading through the years, I believe the Lord has taught me this: The value of Bible reading does not consist in merely reading the Bible, or even in reading large portions of the Bible, but in how well I read the Bible.
Counting myself among those who believe the Bible to be the inspired, authoritative Word of God, how should we read the Holy Scriptures? Hopefully the following suggestions will be helpful to the new convert as well as for the mature saint.
The Bible should be read reverently.
The Bible is uniquely different from any other writing. It is the one and only “God-breathed”1 book in the history of mankind. It is the infallibly inspired, written revelation. Just as Moses took his shoes off upon encountering Deity,2 we should remind ourselves we are on holy ground whenever we handle the Word of God. It should always be read with God in view.
The Bible should be read hungrily.
That is to say, it should be read with a hearty appetite. For more reasons than I could enumerate, the Christian brings to daily Bible reading a wide assortment of emotions and fluctuations of the soul. There are times when I open the Bible to read when I just simply don’t feel good in my soul at all. What are we to do on such occasions? Not read? Of course not. At that moment let us lift our soul and cry out to God. If there’s a sin to confess or a wrong to be righted, let’s do immediate business with God-and with others if such is required. Whatever it is which robs us from bringing to the “table” a healthy appetite needs remedying. The psalmist exclaimed: “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psa.119:103). The Word of God is to be savored.
The Bible should be read prayerfully.
A good number of years ago one of my spiritual mentors unwittingly demonstrated for me how prayer and Bible reading belong together. Having spent the night in a motel room during one of our ministry trips together, Dr. S. I. Emery rose early that morning for prayer and Bible reading. Not realizing I was awake, and watching, I noticed this octogenarian brother read briefly, then lift his eyes heavenward. He did this repeatedly until he finished. I saw and was reminded of something that day I’ve never forgotten: the Bible is to be read with a prayerful heart.
The Bible should be read obediently.
Martin Luther once said the Christian is to live “under the Word.” Meaning we are to bow to its commands and imperatives. Jesus concluded His Sermon on the Mount by saying, “everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man . . .” (Mt. 7:4). The Word of God is to be put into practice. We are not to simply admire and pay lip service to it; we are to humbly obey it. Reading the Bible without intending to obey it is both foolish and unprofitable. Let us ask the Father to give us a willing and obedient heart.
The Bible should be read slowly.
Because of its devotional nature, the Bible should not be read hurriedly. Although God occasionally reveals Himself in the storm, He normally doesn’t choose to feed us in the storm. Just as it is healthy for us to chew our food slowly when eating, so we derive the greatest benefit from Bible reading by taking our time. This is why, for example, if you should ever happen to be running late some morning, you should not attempt to squeeze in Bible reading. Reschedule your reading for later in the day. Then what you do read will nourish you in a way that hasty reading cannot.
The Bible should be read honestly.
When a disciple of Jesus Christ reads the revealed, written Word of God, he should do so with a view to accept its claims, follow its principles and bow to its commands. If we bring an honest heart to our Bible reading, the Holy Spirit will regularly use the Word to teach, rebuke, correct and train us.3 We must be honest with God as we read if our reading is to profit us.
The Bible should be read systematically.
Just as when we begin to read a book or a letter we start at the beginning, just so we should read the books of the Bible. Start with chapter one, verse one. Also it is a good practice to alternate reading between the Old and New Testaments. Except for new converts–who should concentrate on reading the Gospels, Acts, and a few select Epistles–growing and mature Christians should become intimately acquainted with the entire Word of God. God can speak to us from the Pentateuch, Historical books, Wisdom literature, Prophets, as well as the Gospels, Epistles and Apocalypse. Remember, it is all useful.
The Bible should be read daily.
Jesus said, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). Just as we need to daily ingest a variety of meat, vegetables, fruit, etc., so our soul requires daily manna–the Word of God. Devotional books have their place, and there are some excellent ones; however, we should not allow man’s words to become a substitute for God’s eternal, infallible Truth. Let us read the very Word of God itself daily.
And now, dear reader, with these few suggestions in mind, shared by a fellow unworthy traveler, I pray the divine Author of Holy Scripture will illuminate your understanding, direct your heart into the very love of God, and thus build you up in the most holy Faith . . . as you read the Word of God, the Bible.
Break Thou the bread of life,
Dear Lord, to me,
As Thou didst bless the loaves
Beside the sea.
Beyond the sacred page
I seek Thee, Lord;
My Spirit pants for Thee,
O living Word!4
– Soli Deo Gloria –
Unless unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from the New International Version of the Holy Bible.
1. 2 Timothy 3:16.
2. Exodus 3:5.
3. See 2 Timothy 3:16.
4. Taken from “Break Thou the Bread of Life” by Mary A. Lathbury.
Ralph I. Tilley
copyright © 2013 Ralph I. Tilley
(May be copied for noncommercial purposes;
not to exceed 500 copies.)