Are you someone who knows you “should” read the Bible more, but whenever you try, you feel stuck, confused, unmotivated and discouraged?
Well, don’t feel too bad. I’ve been there. Many times.
Can I just be honest? The Bible is hard to read.
The poetry is difficult to understand. The cultural references go over my head. The repetitive nature of the Old Testament doesn’t exactly make beach reading. Don’t even get me started on “apocryphal writing.”
What’s more, it can be hard to know where to start, or even to want to start, when dealing with heavy emotions like grief, fear, disappoint or anger.
I’ll say it again: the Bible is hard to read. I don’t know that many Christians are totally honest about this, because we feel guilty saying it. So we don’t talk about it…and when it comes to really understanding it, many of us get stuck.
For those of you who are going to argue with me, I do think that the gospel message is quite simple and doesn’t require a theology degree. Furthermore, I don’t think that it’s ever wasted time to read the Bible, even when you don’t fully understand what it’s saying (see Isaiah 55:10–11 and Romans 10:17).
But if I’m going to “live on every word” as Jesus did (Matthew 4:4), I have to do more than read a verse, scratch my head, stare off into space, and then see if there is something more interesting on Facebook happening at the moment. (Speaking from experience, folks.)
Personally, I’ve found it immensely helpful and freeing to have the right tools for discovering the Bible for myself. Over the past couple of years I’ve expanded my repertoire in spiritual disciplines quite a bit, and I’m eager to share what has helped me. So, if you’re ever stuck when trying to read the Bible, I hope they’re as useful to you.
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Consider More Than Just Reading
When I think about reading a book, I imagine myself sitting in a comfy chair during my free time with a cup of tea, starting at the front cover, and reading each page in order until I’m done (if the kids will let me, but that’s another story). A good book will keep me engaged with an interesting plot and descriptive writing if it’s fiction, or thought-provoking insights and sound arguments if it’s non-fiction.
But the Bible does not work like that. If I were to assess it by my modern tastes and preferences for entertainment, it is not a “good book.” (I know. Call me a heretic and cast me out.)
If you’ve ever tried to read the Bible cover to cover, did you stall at all? Maybe you even tried various methods, like reading through it in various chunks over the course of a year, or going through it chronologically.
I’ve done those things, and I actually do recommend going through the whole Bible periodically so you can gain familiarity with the whole text. But honestly? If all you do aspire to do is check off Bible reading plans (if you can even get through them), you might be missing out.
Consider Psalm 119:10–16:
I seek you with all my heart;
do not let me stray from your commands.
I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you.
Praise be to you, Lord;
teach me your decrees.
With my lips I recount
all the laws that come from your mouth.
I rejoice in following your statutes
as one rejoices in great riches.
I meditate on your precepts
and consider your ways.
I delight in your decrees;
I will not neglect your word.
That doesn’t sounds like someone who is simply reading words and then checking off the reading assignment for the day. He is consuming them, meditating on them, rejoicing them, memorizing them, internalizing them.
I used to think that I’d had a good “quiet time” after I had read the Bible and prayed. Check and check. I like checks in boxes. But what does it mean to “read” the Bible anyway, aside from just getting through the text in your reading plan? It turns out, there’s a lot more to it!
I found this article helpful: Bible Reading Plans Vs. Bible Study.
Get a Fresh Perspective
When you hear the same things over and over again, they can start to have a mind-numbing effect. This can especially be true with stories you heard as a kid that read more like lullabies than life-changing truth.
A fresh perspective on the Bible can snap you out of the lullaby effect. A good Bible teacher will help you reconsider what you’ve read a million times, ask the hard questions and help you gain a new understanding. You’ll be eager to dig into the Scriptures further on your own after considering the teaching, as the Bereans did after they met the apostle Paul in Acts 17:11.
Personally, the BEMA Discipleship podcast has done this for me. It presents narrative of the Bible from a perspective I haven’t considered much: a Jewish one.
It’s easy to forget that the writers of the Bible were addressing an ancient Jewish audience—Jesus and his disciples included. Most of us read the Bible from a modern, Western perspective—not to mention translated into a different language—so that we miss so much of what scripture is actually saying (and not saying).
In the podcast, Marty Solomon explores what Jewish rabbis teach about the Scriptures, from creation up through the New Testament. I was shocked at how much I didn’t know, even after I’ve been studying the Bible for years.
It’s quite humbling.
(Fun fact: my husband and I enjoy the podcast so much that we reached out to Marty and his cohost Brent and got to grab lunch with them when we were traveling through their area on vacation.)
Even if BEMA doesn’t do it for you, go on the hunt for a great teacher who makes you think, especially if you’re stuck when it comes to reading the Bible. Maybe it’s a theologian or apologist. Maybe it’s someone you know personally who has a lot of knowledge and can guide you. If you don’t know who it is, I encourage you to pray that God will lead you to someone.
Discover the Bible with Spiritual Disciplines
Did you know that there are endless ways you can dig into the Bible besides just, well, reading it? There’s a newer-to-me concept called “spiritual disciplines,” which are basically ways that you strengthen your spiritual muscles with daily diligence. If you’re reading feels a bit stale and you’re feeling stuck, trying one of these is a great way to freshen up your quiet times:
Memorizing Scripture: This practice was pretty standard if you were raised in a Jewish household during Jesus’ time. Memorizing long passages of scripture is an ancient practice that has been practiced less and less as the Bible has become more accessible (i.e. we’ve become lazy).
You have to be intentional about on a daily basis if you are going to make any serious progress. I’ll be honest: I’ve tried with minimal success to memorize verses on notecards, but I always lose momentum.
Currently I’m taking a different approach. Instead of picking short passages, I’m simply working through books of the Bible. Right now I’m in Proverbs, memorizing one section at a time. Once I’ve memorized a section, I move on to the next one—I might not be able to quote the whole thing from memory a year from now, but I’ll certainly have a lot of it internalized!
Copying scripture: I don’t know why I didn’t discover this idea years ago, but I love it now! You don’t need anything special to make this work; just spend a few minutes copying a passage onto paper. By writing it, you’ll spend a lot more time processing it and internalizing the message. (Writing can also be a part of your memorization process.)
While I think there’s value in writing through larger portions of scripture, I’ve also enjoyed using my Write the Word journals if I just need some quick ideas about where to start. If you’re ever drawing a blank or are stuck, just open up your next entry and start writing!
Praying through scripture: Who ever said praying and Bible reading had to be two separate practices? I’ve found that I’ve been able to get a lot more out of both by engaging my heart and mind in prayer while reading a passage.
The Psalms are some of the more natural places to start when looking for inspiration in your prayer life. Either read them and pray them as they’re written, or expound on them in your own words, either aloud or in a journal. I walk through the Psalms for an entire week in the Teach Me to Pray Journal if you want more guidance.
Sometimes you may want to pray through a particular topic. I recently went through Praying the Promises of the Cross by Arabah Joy, which gives you a verse a day to pray through, based on the promises God offers throughout the Bible. This is helpful because it has prayer prompts that will teach you how to do this.
Related post: How to Pray When You Just Can’t Focus
Journaling Scripture: The possibilities are endless when it comes to putting pen to paper. Simply by copying down scripture and already praying through it, as described above, you can dig into your Bible pretty deeply. Beyond that, I’ve found it helpful to write my responses to certain passages, look up words and concepts, and map out themes. While it may sound intimidating to start, practicing the habit of keeping a journal open whenever you read can prompt you. You might even like a journaling Bible, which you can use to write in the margins or to do artistic Bible journaling in.
Meditating on Scripture:The word “meditate” is instructed multiple times throughout the Bible, and it means to think deeply about the text. This practice can feel a bit uncomfortable if you’re not used to it, but I’ve found it worth the effort.
Pick a short passage and let it sit in your mind as you either read it a few times, copy it, or repeat it. Relax your mind and body. Let its meaning sink in for a few minutes and ask God for guidance. Don’t worry if you lose focus or aren’t sure if you’re doing it right. Try it a few times and see what moves your spirit.
Dig Deeper Through Bible Study Methods
If you’re still not sure how to approach Bible reading, having someone coach you through techniques can be very helpful. Awhile back I came across in a class called Bible Study Methods, taught by one of my favorite Christian bloggers, Arabah Joy. In it she outlines the following:
Verse mapping: This simple system involves writing a passage of scripture, making observations about the text, studying words and context and concluding with a personal application.
Word study: This method zooms in to look at the origin, meaning and uses of a particular word in scripture. The goal is to learn as thoroughly as possible a writer’s original intent by the word he used.
“APPLE” method: For any passage of scripture, look for these components: Attributes of God’s character, Promises from God, Principles for living, Lesson learned and Example to follow.
Topical study: Take a look at God’s word on any given topic. This method considers every scripture related to your topic in order to gain God’s perspective, instruction, revelation ad understanding, as well as a personal application.
“TASTE” method: When looking at a passage of scripture, follow these steps: Talk to God before reading, Ask him to speak, read the Scripture, Take two minutes to listen quietly and Explore the passage.
Lectio Divina: This phrase is Latin for “divine reading” and simply involves combining scripture reading with prayer and meditation. This devotional method of studying the scriptures has been used by Christians for centuries.
Chapter summary: This method is a way of understanding the contents of a chapter of scripture and involves reading through the chapter multiple times, asking a series of questions and summarizing your discoveries.
This is a course I’ve enjoyed going through a couple of times to refresh my understanding and get new ideas about how to study my Bible better. I’ve enjoyed verse mapping and word study the most, but have tried them all.
And if you want to dig deeper like this but don’t even know what passages to start with I’ve got multiple scripture lists I lovingly call “mama verses” that you can download for free in my collection of free resources for email subscribers. I compiled them based on different emotions and experiences most moms go through at one time or another.
Are You Stuck Reading the Bible Because You Don’t Have Much Time?
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been frustrated with spending my time in God’s word because I was interrupted, or I was too tired to focus. If you’re in a season (like being a mom of little kids) when you don’t have as much time, don’t let that discourage you from doing what you can.
In my experience, a grace-filled “do what you can, when you can” approach has been very helpful. Some daily practices like scripture meditation, journaling and memorization can be done in five minutes or less. My husband and I have also enjoyed the BEMA podcast because it’s easy to listen to while commuting, working out or doing housework.
As much as possible, make your Bible reading a routine, whether that’s when you first wake up, at lunch, before bed or while your kids are eating breakfast. If you feel like you can’t get enough in one sitting, break it up! Currently I spend about fifteen minutes journaling, praying and memorizing scripture before listening to BEMA or another educational podcast or class while working out. I’m also a fan of spending time with God as a family, so we do prayers and family devotionals at different points in the day and week.
If your current routine isn’t working, try something else. What works now might be different than what you did a year ago, and it will continue to evolve.
I hope you’ve found some of my recent journeys into the Bible helpful in your own studies and discovery. If you’re a mom who is looking to strengthen your relationship with God in the chaos of everyday life, be sure to check out loads of resources I offer!
Your turn: do you ever get stuck reading the Bible? Which of these tips would you like to try, or what’s worked for you?