“Q: how do I choose what scriptures to read because there are so many places to start from?”
Sometimes our approach to reading the Bible is a bit like walking into a library, selecting a random page in a random book and hoping to have it change our lives. The Bible is a large book, or more correctly a large library of books. The way God has spoken through the scriptures requires intentionality, hard work and a willingness to have our perceptions, assumptions and worldview challenged. It requires serious investment and commitment.
Here are some practical thoughts to help you get started on answering the questions “how do I decide what to read!?”
1) Just Read
The scriptures tell a single continuous and coherent story, a story that finds its climax in the glorious unending reign of Jesus. For this reason, a familiarity with the overall Biblical narrative is essential in understanding the individual section that we are reading.
The more we are familiar with the Bible as a whole the more power it will have in our lives as we learn to see the big picture, know God’s character and are able to recall verses when need them. While the Bible is full of rich, profound and life altering wisdom its potential is really unlocked when we have a rich understanding of the broad narrative. The more you read, the more you will find yourself drawing connections, recalling verses and leveraging what you have already studied.
This is why the ancient Israelites were instructed to embed themselves in the scriptures; to frame their entire worldview with them.
Commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up.
In short: read.
Carry a Bible: I have made it a habit of always carrying my Bible with me to help build this practice into my life. I find that digital versions on my phone result in me being distracted on Facebook or Instagram so I always keep a small paper version that I can open up and read, even if I only have a few minutes in between tasks.
2) Read Systematically:
A systematic study of the scriptures can be really helpful to develop this familiarity with the scriptures. It will help keep you on track and keep you moving. Having a plan and working through it will be immensely helpful in keeping you moving and giving you a starting point. This will look different for different people based on how familiar you are but here are a few ideas:
- Choose a Reading Plan
- Read through the books of Luke, Acts and Romans chronologically.
- Read a Psalm a day
- Choose an Epistle and work your way through it. Ephesians and Philippians are good places to start.
If you are stuck, keep reading. If you have questions, write them down. Bring your confusion or questions to someone who is more knowledgeable in the scriptures (for example your Simple Church leader).
But it can be difficult to just pick up and read so…
3) Focus On Jesus
The centre of all scripture is Jesus so the best place to focus our attention is on studying who he is, why he matters, what he did and what those that knew him best did with their lives. The Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, are some of the most accessible content in the Bible and yet contain layers of depth that not even a lifetime of study would fully explore.
Much of the Old Testament, admittedly, is complicated and can be difficult to understand. It is layered with cultural, contextual and narrative complexities that can be difficult for our 21st century minds to parse. This is not to say we should shy away from it – in fact, it is why we did an entire series on major Old Testament stories and have preached regularly on passages out of the more challenging books such as Leviticus.
By focussing on Jesus you will learn to develop a habit of reading scriptures, have your mind and heart challenged and stretched by Jesus’ life and develop a basic familiarity with Biblical ideas that will make understanding the Old Testament a bit easier.
A great place to start would be a double study of the books of Luke and Acts as they tell a single progressive story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and the subsequent formation of the early church.
4) Ask A Question… or 10
It can be helpful to ask a specific question upfront so you know what your are looking for. The beautiful truth is that we can turn to the scriptures for wisdom on a specific issue or idea. Having a question in mind while you read will help keep you focussed. I have often written down questions at the top of the page in my notebook to help remind me of what I am looking for.
As you develop a better foundational knowledge of the scriptures you will find that you are able to recall passages with greater ease or know where to turn to for a specific question but sometimes you need some extra help finding a place to start:
Try using a concordance: It may be old fashioned but many Bibles have a concordance, a map of words to scriptures, in the back. By looking up a specific word you will find a treasure trove of verses that will speak to that specific word or idea.
Do a word search online: Online Bible tools such as Bible Gateway have powerful search engines that will help you find specific verses on specific ideas. Leverage the online tools at your disposal.
When you do this I would recommend backing up and reading the entire section surrounding a verse that you have found rather than simply reading a verse in isolation. This will help you better understand the context and avoid a potential misinterpretation.
So much of our scripture reading depends on the Holy Spirit helping us to understand and internalize what we are reading. Before you open the scriptures take a moment and ask God to speak to you and help you understand. It’s that simple.
1 Corinthians 2:10
God revealed these things by his Spirit. For his Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets. No one can know a person’s thoughts except that person’s own spirit, and no one can know God’s thoughts except God’s own Spirit.