How to Read the Bible (And Stick With It!)

Q: I know I’m supposed to read the bible every day, but it’s so hard! Any advice?” - Ashley B.


A: Trust me, Ashley, I know exactly what you mean! Fortunately, there are things you can do. Without knowing HOW to read the bible, it is incredibly difficult to do. And even if you do, you won’t get much out of it.

There are 3 ways in which God speaks to us through scripture.

#1 – Direct revelation

The first way God speaks to us through the bible is through direct revelation. Some things in the bible are clear cut and direct. There are some scriptures that are direct commands or instructions for all of mankind. For instance, when Jesus says “I am the truth and the life and no one goes to the Father except through me”, that’s pretty direct.

Most people mistakenly believe that everything in the bible is direct revelation, but that’s just not true. Actually, only a small percentage of it is. That brings us to the second and most common way God speaks to us through the bible…

#2 – Indirect revelation

…through INdirect revelation. As I’ve mentioned previously, everything in the bible was written by a specific person to a specific reader at a specific time about a specific situation. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that what we read in the bible is God speaking a clear cut command to US when it’s actually not.

For example, just because Jesus was giving instructions to the disciples doesn’t mean that those instructions apply to us as well. Chances are they probably do, but not necessarily.

When reading scripture it’s vital to understand the context of what you’re reading. You need to know who wrote the book, why they wrote it, who they wrote it to, and what the cultural context is. Don’t worry, it’s not as hard as it might sound. I’ll explain how to do that in a minute.

Once you understand the context of the scripture you’re reading, you can look at the underlying concepts and principles and see how those same concepts and principles can be applied to your life.

For example, let’s look at Matthew 19:21. Jesus says…

“Go and sell your possessions and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

If you took that scripture as a direct revelation you’d think Jesus was telling you to go and sell all your possessions to the poor. But, this is not a direct revelation. Jesus is talking to a rich young ruler who was asking what HE needed to do to obtain eternal life. He claimed he had kept the 10 commandments and was asking what he lacked. Jesus knew that the thing holding him back was that his money and possessions was more important to him than God.

So Jesus told him that if he wanted to be complete he needed to give up his possessions and follow Him instead. Sadly, he couldn’t do that so he went away grieving.

Now, we can learn a lot from the concepts behind that interaction. In order to obtain eternal life and follow Jesus we need to put Him first and be willing to give up whatever He asks, even if it’s the thing we love the most. That’s a concept that we can apply to our lives today. Is there something God could ask us to give up that we’d be unwilling to? It might not be our possessions, it may be our children, or sports, our job, our comfort, or something like that.

And sometimes, we can be INSPIRED by God through the reading of scripture. Just reading about His great love or incredible power can really speak to us and affect us emotionally. That’s another form of indirect revelation.

#3 – Personal revelation

The third way God speaks to us through the bible is through personal revelation. Sometimes, God uses scripture out of context in order to give us a sign. For example, say a woman is feeling like maybe she’s supposed to move to Africa to be a missionary but that would mean she’d have to give up all her possessions, so she’s understandably concerned and wants to make sure that this really is what God wants for her.

So, she prays for a sign. Then right after praying she opens the bible and just happens to turn right to Matthew 19:21 and reads Jesus telling the rich young ruler to sell all his possessions, give the money to poor, and follow Him.

God used that scripture out of context to give her confirmation. Now, you have to be extremely cautious about this, because it’s really easy to use this to justify taking scriptures out of context. Personal revelations are just that. They are personal. You can’t use it to justify coming up with a certain doctrine and preaching it to others.

And it’s also easy to mistake coincidences for signs. You might just happen to read something out of context that seems to relate to something you’re going through and believe it must be a sign. You’d be surprised what signs you can find if you want to find them badly enough. So, don’t be surprised if things don’t turn out the way you think they will.

Like I talked about back in the post “How Can I Know God’s Will”, you can never be 100% sure of any sign. But, if God gives you a peace, you have some kind of sign and it doesn’t conflict with scripture, go ahead and take a leap of faith and trust that if you’re wrong God will stop you.

Say it was just a coincidence that the woman thinking she’s supposed to move to Africa just happened to open the scripture to the story of the rich young ruler and God didn’t mean it to be a sign at all. If she was obedient, took a leap of faith, and tried to sell her possessions, God would stop her if that’s not what He wanted.

She might try to sell her possessions but no one would buy them. Most likely, she’ll become very confused and wonder why God would tell her to do something but then not allow her to do it. Maybe God has another way that He wants her to sell her possessions, maybe the sign wasn’t really a sign and He never wanted her to sell them in the first place, or maybe God just wanted to see if she would be WILLING to sell her possessions for Him, but didn’t want her to actually go through with it, just like when God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac.

It’s so important to read the bible daily so that you’ll be able to know when something you interpret as a sign conflicts with scripture.

Now, I know how hard it is to keep up the daily routine of bible reading. Trust me, it wasn’t until college that I was able to keep with it. I had tried many times before and failed. The thing that finally motivated me enough to stick with it was one of the greatest tragedies of my life. I was engaged and ended up ruining the relationship completely by doing something I thought was okay.

I had prayed about it beforehand and thought I had a sign that God said it was okay. But, if I had known scripture well enough I would have known that what I thought was a sign conflicted with the bible. It ended up ruining the relationship and I was forced to break all contact with her. I was devastated!

Through that experience I realized that me not reading the bible was no excuse for not knowing what was in there. I never wanted to have to go through anything like that again, so I made sure I never missed a single day of reading the bible.

Now, having learned the hard way, I figured out some tips to help stick with it. Trust me, if I could do it, anyone can!

10 Tips to sticking with daily bible reading

Tip #1 – Read small sections

For some reason people tend to get fixated on reading the entire bible in a year. That’s incredibly hard, and involves reading a lot each day. There’s no reward for finishing it so quickly. When you commit to reading a big section every day you end up just reading the words and not truly understanding what you’re reading.

But, the bible is the word of God! There’s so much to be learned from every little section that you can dwell on just a few verses and learn so much more than if you just casually read through an entire chapter or two.

Just reading words is pointless. The whole point is to learn and understand what you’re reading. It’s not a reading assignment you just have to get through so you can say that you did it. And once you finish reading the entire bible, you’ll just start back over anyway. There’s no end to it. You’ll learn more from it every time you go through the bible.

Commit to reading at least one paragraph a day. That’s easy to get yourself to do. Sometimes, you’ll naturally want to continue on and read more, and that’s great. Other times you might not be able to focus longer than a paragraph.

Now the downside to reading such small sections is that you sometimes lose the overall context of the book. It really helps to go back and skim the stuff you read the last few days for a minute just to remind yourself. Kind of like a “previously on” montage at the beginning of weekly drama television show.

Tip #2 – Read the commentary at the bottom

If you don’t have a study bible that has commentary at the bottom of the pages, you need to get one. Trust me! There’s no way you can possibly understand what you’re reading without that commentary.

After you read a paragraph, read the commentary at the bottom of the page for the verses you just read. Then, really dwell on it. Pray about it. Spend time thinking about what concepts and lessons you can learn from what you just read. Think about what it means. Is there anything there that surprises you? Is there anything there that confuses you? How does it relate to your current understanding of life, God, and the bible?

Tip #3 – Pray for God to speak to you through scripture

Before you read, pray to God for understanding and ask Him to speak to you through what you’re about to read. Don’t neglect this step! It’s very important!

Tip #4 – Read the introduction to the books

Before each book in a study bible is an introduction that will tell you who wrote the book, to whom, and why. This context is so important. The research has already been done for you, all you have to do is read it. But again, don’t just read the words. Really try to understand it. Think and visualize how it fits on the timeline of the bible and how the context relates to everything else. Visualize the person writing it, what they were going through, what it must have been like for him to write it. Visualize the people who it was written for and what it must have been like for them to READ it.

Don’t skip these introductions! It’s incredibly important!

Tip #5 – Do it the same time each day

You might have to experiment. For me it was easiest to do it right before I went to bed. Some people might have trouble staying awake to do it at night and may have better luck first thing in the morning. Some of you might rather do it on your lunch break. Regardless, keeping the same time each day helps make it a routine and that makes an enormous difference.

Tip #6 – Have a friend commit with you

Have a friend commit to do it too. As you go through it you will have revelations and questions and it’s great to have someone to text or talk on the phone to about it. Share with each other what you learned and your questions. You can also help keep each other accountable.

Tip #7 – Read the New Testament first

It’s a mistake to start in the Old Testament. The New Testament is more directly applicable to us today and you can avoid the confusion of what parts are of the old law and thus not meant for us. It’s also easier to read and understand, and scholars understand it better so the commentary is more helpful. The Old Testament is so old that it’s difficult for scholars to know what a lot of it means.

Now, it’s important to know the background of the Old Testament so that the New Testament will make sense. So, watch the last lesson a few times to really get it all in your head. That will make a ton of difference.

The commentary should also help some in describing Old Testament references made in the New Testament books.

I would advise starting in either Matthew or John which both tell the story of Jesus’ life, then reading the book of Acts which tells the story of what happened after Jesus went back to heaven. Then, start reading the epistles after that. Epistle is just another name for “letter”. The rest of the new testament after Acts are letters written by the Apostles to early churches and those are really great!

Tip #8 – Don’t allow yourself to miss a single day

Trust me, if you let yourself miss even ONE day it will be unbelievably difficult to keep from missing again. It’s only one paragraph, you can do it. At the very least, open up the bible and read a sentence. Not reading at all is simply not an option. Period. Be militant about it. If you accidently fell asleep early or something, then read twice as much the next time. But NEVER purposely skip a day thinking you’ll just make up for it the next day. That doesn’t work, trust me! Only make up for it the next day if you’ve ALREADY accidently missed and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Tip #9 – GotQuestions.org

Write down this website and add it to your favorites. www.GotQuestions.org! Anytime you have a question about something you read in the bible just go to that site and send them your question and a bible expert will answer it for you! It’s awesome! And the vast majority of questions you’ll have will already have been answered on the site and are posted so you don’t have to wait for the answer.

This is one of the greatest resources on the planet! It’s like having a personal bible tutor! And it’s completely free.

Tip #10 – Use the NIV

One of the most common questions people ask is about which version they should use. There are a bunch of different versions out there and it can get pretty confusing.

Many people assume the King James Version is the best since it’s the oldest, but that thinking is based on a big misunderstanding. Believe it or not, the KJV is the LEAST accurate version. The newer versions aren’t translations of the KJV, they are translations of older manuscripts that weren’t available at the time King James had the bible translated.

Not only do we have older, more original manuscripts to work from now, but our scholars are much more familiar with the language and culture than they were in King James’ day.

The “thy’s and thous” in the KJV were how they talked back in 17th century England. That’s NOT how they talked back in biblical times.

When it comes to translating scripture, there are two different ways to do it. You can try and translate it as literally as possible, or you can try and interpret what the original language is meaning to say and word it in a way that conveys that meaning.

The problem with trying to translate it literally is that our language is so different than Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic that you can’t just translate it word for word. You have to do at least a little interpretation.

But, the problem with adding interpretation is that interpretation is subjective and there is a lot of disagreement and a lot of holes to fill. Interpretation often is guided by the scholar’s theological beliefs, which is backwards from how it SHOULD be. That’s why there are so many different translations and why they are so different.

On one extreme you have the New American Standard Bible, or the NASB, which is widely held to be the most literal version, but can at times be a little difficult to read. And on the other extreme you have The Message which really isn’t a translation at all, but instead one man’s interpretation.

Interpretations like the message and the living bible are not really scripture and shouldn’t be used for bible study. They don’t take the place of the Bible.

You can read all the critiques of the various translations from scholars for yourself, but from my study of the critiques it seems pretty clear that the NASB is the most accurate version while the NIV is probably the best balance between accuracy and readability.

The NIV was written by a large group including 100 scholars from all over the world and from all different denominations to make sure the interpretations that were used were as objective as possible.

So, it is commonly advised to use the NIV for your common bible reading, and refer to the NASB when doing in-depth study. If you want a free resource for an NASB translation, use youversion.com. You can even download the app to your phone.

Okay, I know that’s a lot of information to throw out at you at once, but it’s all so important. Good luck, Ashley! :)

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- Jim Graham
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