Suggestions for Improving Bible Reading

There are so many different ways that you can use to read the Bible for the purposes of building up  your faith.  In addressing improvements, there are some general rules I would suggest.

  1. More is better.  Not that a person should read more than they can understand or digest, but I believe that you will be better served by a healthy portion of scripture as opposed to a verse a day.  One of the great problems with small portions is the lack of context.  For example, you could read in one day’s “verse” “Brothers, join in imitating me and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us” (Phil. 3:17).  Now, I’m sure there is good application a person might create out of this, but wouldn’t it be much better to read this in the context of the surrounding verses to see what pattern of Paul’s is being commended, and why?  At least a paragraph, and probably a chapter, would be the minimal amount a person might want to consider for daily reading.
  2. Read for application, not information.  Now, of course you need the information (the “5 Ws and an H”) of the passage.  But you should keep in mind the question, “what is God wanting me to gain from this for my life today?”  Sometimes this is an easy question to answer, but sometimes it takes some time to figure out.  Don’t ask, “what does this mean to me?” as the meaning is not up for debate.  It is the application that can be multi-faceted.
  3. Read daily.  You simply must make this a habit, and breaks (“I’ll read four times each week”) are just too hard to overcome when left to ourselves.  I’ve been told it takes anywhere from 6-9 weeks to establish a habit, so don’t be surprised if you struggle getting going.
  4. Interact with your reading.  Take notes, or mark your Bible.  Do things that will deepen the reading experience.  When you write about it, you are using a different learning skill, and doing more to cement the lesson in your soul.  That’s why taking notes on sermons helps you understand them, even if you have no plans to keep the notes.
  5. At some point, you need to read the Bible through.  I know I spoke to the dangers of through the Bible programs, and they are real.  But there is no more important reading task to my mind, then to get through the Bible.  My wife used a 2 year plan, others have used a 3 year plan.  Jeff Brock has used a three month plan that he says is quite achievable.  Four chapters a day gets you through the Bible in a year. 
  6. Read broadly in the Word.  Don’t just do gospels, or just psalms, or proverbs.  Don’t only do epistles, or just New Testament.  Move around.  Get a feel for the whole of Scripture.
  7. Set a regular time for Bible reading.  This will help in the establishment of the habit.

Let me now suggest a few practical methods.

  1. Choose book of the Bible to read, one chapter per day.  When you finish the book, choose another, and do the same.  Keep track of the books you have read, and in four years, you can read the whole Bible.
  2. Follow number one, but also read one psalm a day, and possible one chapter of Proverbs a day.  Much more content, but it creates daily variety.
  3. Consider using “Daily Light on the Daily Path,” but with this addition–look up the verses and check out their contexts.  Daily Light is wonderful for reading verses dealing with the same theme, but sometimes a few of them are not used in context.
  4. If you really love “Our Daily Bread,” make sure you are reading the full passage suggested with the devotional–not just the verse at the top and the story on the page.  Other devotionals you might consider are “Morning by Morning” and “Evening by Evening” by Spurgeon, “My Utmost for His Highest” by Chambers (regular or updated versions, but know that you get much less scripture in this than in other devotionals and some of Chambers’ theology is rather Arminian).  My preference for growth is to read the Bible itself, not someone else’s take on what the Bible says.
  5. For the person really wanting lots of breadth and depth in reading, a friend of mine developed “The Ten Lists” system, which I followed for about a year.  It may be found here.
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Published in: on October 29, 2008 at 6:17 pm  Comments (1)  

“Only by prayer…”

Our study in Mark 9:14-29 brought us to the following conclusions.

1. The failure of Christians to experience the promised power of God is linked to diminished faith.

2. Diminished faith is a direct result of diminished communion with the Lord Jesus.

3. Communion with Jesus is maintained primarily through talking to him (prayer) and listening to him (intake of the Word of God).

Thus, the answer to the question of the disciples (who had been tagged with the same faithlessness that had marked their generation) as to why they had failed in their attempt to exorcise a demon was not meant to point to something mysterious, but something simple–they had not yet become men of prayer.

When Jesus says “this kind” only comes out by prayer, does he mean a special kind of demonic possession?  Possibly, but I think his point is that serious kingdom work that goes head to head with satanic forces must be done in the strength of a strong relationship with Jesus.  There are some things that even the weakest of Christians may find that they can do with little prayer and Bible intake–perhaps out of the overflow of what they hear in messages and the testimonies of others.  But the “heavy lifting” cannot be accomplished in this way.

I’m going to post this now, and may edit it later.  My next post will focus on how to increase our intake of the Bible with positive results.

 

So, then how do we who believe we must change our current practices in order to become the usable servants Jesus calls us to be ?  First, let us make sure we are not being “mercenary” about this, with an attitude that says, “OK, so if I do this, then I can get what I want?”  The answer there is no.  God wants us to delight in Him, and as we do so, we find that we receive our heart’s desires–which have been shaped by Him. 

Let me suggest that we choose one improvement immediately to make, and consider others each week.  Below are some helps for you.

Related to Prayer

1.  If you need to broaden your prayers into more than just request, consider the A-C-T-S acrostic as a model to follow.  Set a goal of spending two minutes in prayer for each of the following

A-Adoration.  This is praising God for who he is.  It is what psalms often do in describing God’s being–“You are high and lifted up…the Lord is righteous…” etc.  It may seem hard at first but try to think of five attributes of God’s character that you can complete the following sentence with:  Lord, I praise you for being… ”  Adoration is saying, “Father your name is holy” (the first petition of the Lord’s prayer).

C-Confession.  Take time to specifically confess sins and failures to God.  No relying on “forgive me all my sins.”  Name them, and repent of them.  If you can’t think of any, ask the Spirit to convict you.  Trust me, after the first time you do that honestly, you will not have to ask again!

T-Thanksgiving.  Thank God for specific blessings, provisions, lessons, etc. that come to mind.  You should have no trouble coming up with these, but if you do, think of things that have kept you alive, sheltered, and fed as a start.

S-Supplication.  Ask God for things.  But make it balanced.  Intercede for someone else as often as you ask for something related to yourself.  And be sure that whether you say it or not, what you are asking qualifies as something that is viewed as bringing God glory.

2. If you get discouraged by having more people to pray for than you can possibly cover in a day, consider the “six cards” method.  Take 3 3×5 cards, and cut them in half to create 6 3×2 1/2 cards.  Take one and list the people that you absolutely should pray for every day.  Take the other five and divide up your list of people you want to pray for regularly.  Then, Monday through Friday, carry your everyday card and one other and pray through those names.  The next day, keep your everyday card, but take a different card and pray through that set of names.  So, Monday through Friday, you are praying for the everyday card every day, and each of the others one day of the week.

3. If you think you need to deepen your prayers and find ways to keep them on target with God’s will, consider praying scripture back to God.  When we pray things that God has said to us back to him in petition, praise, adoration, thanksgiving, or intercession, we know we are “saying it right.”  I have used lots of materials by Ken Boa (www.kenboa.org) with great results.  His Handbook to Prayer: Praying Scripture Back to God has been a favorite of mine.  Also, go to his website and look at the Daily Growth email.  You can sign up and get new daily readings and prayers from Scripture to pray every day.

4. If you are ready to try praying for one hour straight, I strongly commend Dick Eastman’s book The Hour That Changes the World.  I require my Spiritual Formation students to try this, and the response is overwhelmingly positive–they say that they cannot believe how quick the time goes.  Eastman divides the hour into 12 five minute segments, and while you may struggle to fill one or two, you will find others that are hard to keep to five minutes.

5. Consider the following as additional tools for your prayer life

  • A Journal to keep track of specific requests and specific answers.
  • Prayer walks–walking around specific places to remind you to pray for those there.  I know of parents who walk around their children’s schools (outside, not as an uninvited guest) to pray for their kids, their teachers, etc.  A confession here:  I walk through our sanctuary at various times praying for those who will come, and praying for God’s power in our gatherings.  I need to do it more.
  • Creating prayer groups for specific concerns.  It is not the church’s intent or our desire to think of everything that you ought to be praying about.  Don’t wait for a program–get busy.  If you are talking with someone about specific concerns and you find you share a burden, commit to getting together to pray for that concern.  Just do it!

6.  If keeping focused when you pray is an issue, try one or more of the following.

  • Pray out loud–speaking is one way to keep yourself on track.
  • Write out your prayers–again, this requires greater concentration and focus
  • Choose a setting free from distractions.  Don’t pray near people, radios, TV, etc.  This is why some people resorted to the closet (often called the prayer closet).

I am going to go ahead and post this now, and may edit it later, so you may have to check back.  I’ll create a second post later on how to increase effective Bible reading.

Published in: on October 26, 2008 at 4:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

Congratulations to Jonathan Kleis!

Jonathan, who along with his wonderful wife Noella and their children serve as our missionaries in Italy, just completed his ordination council here at Grace.  He was unanimously affirmed and recommended by the council to the Deacons and church for ordination.  All the council members spoke highly of both his presentation and his demeanor.  He showed great skill in answering questions from the Scriptures, and we rejoice in this step in his continued service to the Lord and the church.

Published in: on October 16, 2008 at 2:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Give Up or Get Going?

The last few weeks’ sermons from Mark 8 and 9 have been pretty intense in their applications.  After all, Jesus was confronting head on the mistaken assumptions his disciples made about the kind of Messiah he was, the kind of kingdom they would experience, and the path they would have to choose–“…deny [your]self, take up [your] cross, and follow me.”  As we considered together last week the ramifications of this call to our own lives, the “disconnect” that exists between the average Christian life and what Jesus expects became both clear and disturbing for many of us.  Afterwards, a number of people, young and old, remarked that it can be discouraging to think deeply about how we fail to deny our own ambitions, die to ourselves, and follow Jesus. 

I took a few moments on Sunday night to follow up on this, and I wanted to repeat it for those who might not have been there, so here goes…

Listening to Jesus’ call and realizing we are not there can lead to one of two responses.  The first is to give up, but frankly that is the path of unbelief.  Shrinking back from following undermines our assurance and may testify to lack of true faith.

The second is the path Paul takes.  Now, in my mind there is no one more qualified to say, “I have denied my own ambitions, died to self, and followed the path of suffering that Jesus walked,” than Paul was.  By the time he writes Philippians, he is is jail for preaching the gospel.  He testifies, in ch. 3, that he has, in fact, followed this path, counting everything he once valued as nothing to gain Christ.  But he goes on to say that he hasn’t mastered this–he doesn’t consider himself “perfect” or complete in this.  Instead, he lets go of the  past, and presses on to better following after God’s call upward and onward.

If Paul could feel that he hadn’t gotten it all right yet, but had to keep pressing on, then I have hope and encouragement that this should be my response.  I cannot wallow in regret, nor should I revel in past victories.  Instead I need to keep pressing on.  The measure of my faithfulness is always taken in the present.  The same is true for all of us.

Let’s make sure not to give up.  Let’s think deeply about where our lives are not being lived on the threefold path described at the end of Mark 8.  And then let’s call upon God’s Spirit to enable us to change–one aspect or area at a time perhaps–so that we prove to be true followers of Jesus.

Published in: on October 15, 2008 at 10:38 am  Leave a Comment  
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