Have you ever experienced something so good, so fulfilling, so joy-giving, so peaceful, so thrilling, that you just want everyone, everywhere, always to experience it too? People call you fanatic, or crazy, or in too deep, or unreasonable over this thing. They gossip about you or diminish your apparent fervor as unauthentic. This something is so good that you know if you could just focus on that thing forever, you would be perpetually happy. Its so good that you know it can’t be mimicked or duplicated. Additionally, it only gets better, it's supply is infinite, and you can only enjoy it deeper. The best part is it has eternal significance and not just for yourself but for others, if you follow its calling.
This is why many are so on fire for Jesus - for knowing him, living for him, and even dying for him. It’s one of those experiences where you just want to say, “just trust me!” because of the difficulty of wrapping up the extraordinary facets of it in a few explanatory sentences. A major part of that journey is spending time in God’s word,the Bible, if not the best part for so many reasons. Illumination cannot better be obtained in any other form than reading God’s word. The heart of God is discovered through reading his word. We receive guidance, conviction, learning, and comfort through His word. Our purpose is discovered through time in His word. God gives us revelations by his Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:10) and by his Spirit is the best way to read His word. The benefits of intentional time in the bible are too numerous to name.
With the new year starting, many have set out this year to read their bible through, which is a wonderful resolution. But I believe a major mistake is often made in this quest. One that led to me failing it many times until this past year and all because of the constraints of the goal. In order to be successful in academia, career, and life, we are taught to set measurable goals with as many specifics as possible and to include an objective, time limit, and make it measurable. While in the real world this is sure to produce success, in the spiritual world, a more patient and spirit-led approach is often needed.
The World versus the Spirit
One major difference between the world and Christians is the necessity of living by the spirit. The world teaches us we can only prove things we can understand, fit in scientific formulas, and place limits on. A recent In Touch Magazine article explained this well in saying, "While science has given us innumerable benefits, it has also hampered our ability to understand realities that refuse to be contained by data and experimentation. Scholar Philip Sherrard observed how 'modern thought, with its distrust of anything that escapes rational analysis, has practically eliminated the word 'soul' from its vocabulary." Perhaps some of the reason we see the depravity and atrocities going on in our world today is also because we have become more scientifically guided and less soul-directed. More formulas, less conviction. More compelled by the worldly focus of time and quantity and less by God's spirit and quality.
The world leads the worldly. The world even often leads the spiritual. But the true gift and power is found when the Spirit leads the spiritual. 1 Corinthians 3:1 tells us it is possible to be "worldly" even if you are in Christ, though we are called to be spiritually led and not conform to worldly ways and thinking. Worldly Christians are characterized as being "infants" in Christ; in other words, they haven't come to full understanding, knowledge, and acceptance of the spiritual wisdom, guidance, and truth that we have access to in Christ. They may say they are a Christian but agree with, applaud, and champion worldly wisdom, ways, and instruction over God's truths. But truth is only found in God. The world does not and will not understand spiritual truths. Only those with the spirit will understand wisdom and knowledge from the spirit (1 Corinthians 2:15). As Christians we have received God’s Spirit, but many of us are not controlled by, dependent on it, or even aware of it.
Just as the only access (in addition to God) to our deepest thoughts, desires, secrets is our spirit within us (or our soul), so the only access to God's deepest thoughts is His spirit. We are given this most wonderful gift upon confessing Jesus as Lord of our life - His Spirit!!! In other words, God’s spirit, the Holy Spirit, comes to live within us when we become Christians and we thus have access to understanding and wisdom that we otherwise would not have. The Spirit's job is to manifest Jesus, exalt him, guide us, give us understanding, give us conviction, empower us, give us illumination, and so much more. Because of His Spirit in us, we contain a supernatural power, understanding, guidance, and strength that no one without Christ has access to. We tap into a power that is unparalleled, often misunderstood, and impossible to imitate. Next time you find yourself trying to explain something spiritual to someone who doesn’t know Christ and they argue with you and just don’t get it, its probably because they cannot. That switch hasn’t been flipped for them to be able to understand. Without Christ, spiritual truths won’t be understood.
“As it is written, no eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no human mind has conceived the things God has prepared for those who love him- these are the things God has reveals to us by His Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way, no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgment, for, ‘ who has known he mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:9-16).
The Bible Reading Goal
So back to that bible reading goal -- it is imperative not to get wrapped up in the measurable quantity and time limit of it but to focus on the quality of the goal. It IS extremely important to read your bible daily but try reading it not through the lense of time but of intention. Three years ago as of New Years this year, I made the goal to read through the bible and finally finished it New Years 2015. Those three years have been the best years of my life in so many aspects- my spiritual life, my quiet times, growing in my relationship with Jesus, Him working in and through me, my knowledge and understanding, my discovering and following his will, and so much more. I can now put experience with what “illumination,” “divine revelation,” and spirit-led inspiration mean--truly captivating experiences.
If you have set your New Years goal to read through the bible in the year, I would encourage you to read through it with an intentional and focused approach instead of directed by the hands of time. That doesn’t mean put off reading it or slack on reading it, but instead to read it in a Spirit-led way. Decide not to skim through it or speed-read through it to just say you have "read the bible" like I attempted so many times. If you find yourself reading verses and chapters and not retaining or learning anything or if you are reading words to just have them pass through your eyes and head and not your heart and mind without any penetration, stop. Re-read, re-focus, and if you can’t in that moment, retry at another time. Every word in the bible is a precious treasure and is powerful. Every bit of it is "God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness" (NIV) or as the NLV puts it is "inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right” (2 Timothy 3:16). The bible is the best tool for conviction, strength, guidance, empowerment, encouragement, and a myriad of other benefits. The Holy Spirit in conjunction with God’s word is a primary way God speaks to us!
Helpful Preparation Tactics
1) Get to a quiet, still, uninterrupted place. This could be anywhere and anytime that you can really connect. For some, a busy coffee shop is a "quiet, still, uninterrupted place." For me, not so much. The bible mentions Jesus getting up very early before anyone else to go and meet with his Father (Mark 1:35), also spending time with him in prayer through the night (Luke 6:12), and getting alone to an uninterrupted place (Matthew 14:23). For me there is something incredibly special about those early morning hours before the sun rises, when no one else is up, and its just you, silence, the Word, and God. For you, it could be completely different. Find or create that "golden time" in your day and treat it as the precious treasure it is. It may involve a sacrifice, but it is well worth it.
2)Pray for your heart and mind to be prepared.
3)Pray for the Holy Spirit to meet you there, fellowship with you, teach you, convict you, encourage you, guide you, and provide you with understanding. I often ask the Holy Spirit to make words or phrases jump off the page to me, show me what he meant for me to know when he inspired the writer to write. Yes, the bible was written for YOU!
4) Thank God for the opportunity to grow closer to him, to know his heart, to understand his ways, and to have a personal relationship with Him.
1) Read the story or verse for what it is first. Take note of names or locations- sometimes they are significant when researched further.
2) Notice phrases or words that really stick out to you - what do they mean? Why do they stick out?
3) Reflect on if your reading is parallel to anything you have or are experiencing?
4) Draw out any principles or truths from the reading. These will stand the test of time.
5) If you don't understand something or feel that there is more to be learned from it, don't move on. Many times I have read a verse or chapter and have felt the Spirit nudging me to stay put. Usually I would read and just know there was so much more to it. I would marinate over the same reading for days. One day, it would just click like a light bulb - “ illumination." These were some of the best "divine intervention and revelation" moments---verses I couldn't have dissected and interpreted on my own but required the spirit's timing.
6) Pray and reflect on how you can implement or apply to your life. Listen in prayer for a while to see if God lays anything on your heart.
7) Pray and thank God for your time in His word and pray for His word to stick with you throughout your days!
Other strategies or pointers that worked for me:
1) Read some of New Testament and some of Old Testament each sitting. I personally started with Genesis and Matthew. A friend told me that she did a plan where it read one Psalm each sitting while reading some of Old and New Testament. This also seems like a great approach.
I can't tell you how many times I was reading in the Old Testament and it "supernaturally" matched up to what I was reading in the New Testament. One of my favorites was I read, "And if we are careful to obey all this law before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness." Deuteronomy 6:25. This was during a time when strict adherence to the Law led to righteousness. But then I flipped over to the New Testament and read, "Christ is the end of the law so that their may be righteousness for anyone who believes” (Roams 10:4). When Christ came, he fulfilled the law for us and our new righteousness was found in confessing him as Lord!
2) When you finish a book of the bible, date it.
3) Read within context. Even Satan used scripture against Jesus - but he took it out of context. Context is important!
All in all, even after writing about approaches that worked for me, remember first and foremost to JUST READ YOUR BIBLE! Second, and in my opinion to get the most out of it, let the Spirit lead you on your adventure! As long as you are focused on quality not quantity, you will grow to new depths in your bible reading journey. The word of God is "living and active" (Hebrews 4:12) and by engaging it intentionally, you will experience this first hand. The most important action is opening and reading your bible, if nothing else. So don’t get wrapped up in doing it wrong or right because its always right to just read your bible and never wrong. I’ll say it again, THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IS JUST OPENING AND READING YOUR BIBLE! Come as you are!The last 3 years in my bible have been an incredible journey, and I hope it is for you too!