The first Sunday of January, my church offers up a “bible reading plan” designed to take you through the bible in one year, then graciously includes the week’s readings in the Sunday bulletins. This year, they even added a chronological reading plan.
For a couple years now, I’ve failed the plan(s) the first week in.
I thought the chronological plan would help me. Chronological works better for me because it makes more sense (I’m not a fan of those shows that flip back and forth through flashback scenes, either – I lose track). I even started writing a bible study called “The Life of Christ” using the chronological plan. That was three or four months ago, and I’m only done through Day 4 or 5.
I’ve tried “topical” plans – same problem as the regular non-chronological plans – I can’t do the whole “skip around in historical context” thing. I get lost.
I’ve tried “character” plans where you study a specific character or group of characters, and done slightly better (especially when I was looking at female characters in the Bible).
I’ve tried sitting down and reading it like a book of literature – essays, poems, non-fiction short stories, biographies, etc. Like one might read A Wrinkle In Time or The Screwtape Letters, or even Grapes of Wrath. It doesn’t work for me. My brain wants to visualize the scenes and there isn’t enough “scene setting” for me to do that unless I stop and research it through historical, artistic, and other sources (which totally blows any form of “plan”).
Does that make me derelict? Unfaithful? Not at all. It makes me honest about how I personally learn.
I can’t read anything but dime store novels quickly. My brain doesn’t work that way. It’s a reading style way too superficial for me. Too fast. Too lacking what I need to read for understanding – context, depth, diverse interpretations by others far more well-schooled than I am, time to think it through, possibly repeat all of the above, and then a way to record what I got out of it.
So how do I study my Bible? Using a combination of things and without a timetable or deadline:
- I dig deeper on the verses referenced in the message each Sunday. While the pastor delivering the message has unpacked much of the verses for us, I may read or re-read it later and some other “voice” in it will call out to me. (See To the Hesitant for an example of seeing something in a passage many pastors may not have unpacked or even noticed.)
- I dig deeper when someone speaks or writes about a passage and that still small voice in me says, “Wait. What?!?”.
- I dig deeper and cartwheel outward to other passages when someone speaks or writes about a passage and that still small voice in me gets loud and shouts, “Yes! This!” because I want to make sure it isn’t the enemy just messing with me (and the enemy will).
- I dig very deeply and do Olympic level cartwheeling when the passages are used in a message I’m delivering myself.
- I compare multiple translations.
- I read a diverse array of commentaries on the passage or chapter.
- I research historical context.
- I journal it in writing and through art or graphics (think visual logosomatic language).
- I talk over my interpretation with my family or another pastor.
- If it’s relevant, I add a post about it to the Seeing Red: The Life of Christ chronological Bible Study I’m writing for my church’s youth/young adult programs.
All of which are done after meditation on the passage and prayer for discernment. If it takes me the rest of my life to read the entire Bible, so be it. At least, for me, I will know that I read it and knew it well.