Do you have good intentions of reading the Bible but find it confusing, boring, and irrelevant? What do you do if your experience with the Bible gets in the way of building a personal relationship with God? What small steps could you take to sustain a vibrant spiritual life where the Word of God is alive and active for you?
Bible Gateway interviewed Nicole Unice (@nicoleunice), author of Help! My Bible Is Alive!: 30 Days of Learning to Love and Understand God’s Word (NavPress, 2019).
Why do people need to read the Bible?
Nicole Unice: The simple answer is that people need to read the Bible if they want to be connected to their Creator. The Bible is God’s chosen instrument for speaking to his people today. Second Timothy 3:16 says all Scripture is God-breathed. The entire Bible has meaning and relevance to our lives. Timothy continues in this verse with a powerful list of things the Word does in our life: teaching, correction, and training.
Verse 17 says the Bible is designed to make us thoroughly equipped for every good work in our lives. Not partially equipped, not somewhat equipped, not equipped if we’re only working in a church, but every single one of us—no matter how old we are, what stage of life we’re in, or what position we have—will be completely equipped for life through the Word.
Those are some powerful promises! But I fear many of us either don’t believe that, haven’t been taught that, or have tried and given up on experiencing God’s Word in this way. It’s time to change that.
Why do you think Bible reading is so challenging and unproductive for some people?
Nicole Unice: I never want to cast blame anywhere, but as a person who has served the local church for the past 20 years, I think that we (meaning pastors and ministry leaders like myself) have not done a great job equipping our people to know how to study the Bible for themselves. It’s easy to get caught up in the work of prepping our own sermons and building our own ministries and forget that the work we’re called to do is to equip God’s people (Ephesians 4:12).
Current research notes that 96% of Americans own a Bible, but fewer than 30% read it on a weekly basis. So obviously we have a problem here. The Bible can feel really challenging and unproductive if you’ve always had it broken down into little spoonfuls, and you’ve never applied your mind and heart to Scripture with a framework that makes sense for you. It requires some work at first, but the payoff is extraordinary.
What message are you conveying with the title of your book?
Nicole Unice: Well, I wanted to make it accessible to people who know they need help with Bible reading. But at the same time, I was drawing on the truth of Hebrews 4:12: “The word of God is alive and active.” The Bible is not something a person masters; it’s something you form a relationship with. You don’t “master” relationships with things that are alive. You enter into a dynamic, back-and-forth experience with them.
The Bible is absolutely alive. One of my favorite quotes about the dynamism of God’s Word is from theologian Peter Kreeft: “When you read the Bible, beware: it will do things to you. For when you read it, it is reading you.”
As human beings, we love mastery. But God calls us into mystery; into something bigger than ourselves, something with the power to actually transform us on a foundational level. To miss out on the beauty and bigness of Scripture is a tragedy to me, and I wanted to do everything I could to usher men and women into the “aliveness” of God’s Word in their lives.
How is your book formatted?
Nicole Unice: We all know it’s hard to create new habits, so I took the approach of consistent, small steps with a big reward. One of my pastor friends says that “adults learn on demand.” Because of that, it can be hard to help adults actually take small steps that don’t give an immediate payoff. It’s like the difference between watching a YouTube video to get my garbage disposal unstuck, and actually learning the mechanics of my garbage disposal so that I’m able to fix future problems. Most of us just want to get the disposal unstuck. So I knew that what I needed to do was help readers create a new habit and take small steps each day that would lead to a huge return on their investment.
Help! My Bible Is Alive! is created as a 30-day challenge, with about 15 minutes of interactive work each day. At the end of the 30 days, readers will experience God through the Word in a way that can sustain them in their own relationship with God by just using a study Bible and a journal.
Even though I write Bible studies, I’m convinced the world doesn’t need more Bible studies. It needs more people of God equipped to be in a personal relationship with God through his Word. Relying solely on a Bible study is like bringing a friend with you every time you go to meet with God. It’s not a bad thing, but don’t you want to have your own relationship with your Creator? I know I do! I don’t just want it—I need it desperately. That’s why I created this book to get readers there.
What is the Alive Method?
Nicole Unice: The Alive Method is a simple framework for looking at any passage of Scripture. For those who’ve been in church for a while, you might know it as inductive Bible study. This simple concept is not new to my book, but, for whatever reason, it’s one that hasn’t been refreshed for the past several years.
The Alive Method is based on asking four questions of Scripture:
- “What does it say?” (Observe)
- “What’s the backstory?” (Context)
- “What does it mean?” (Theological Principle) and
- “What does it mean for me?” (Application).
I fear in the church that we’ve only focused on step 4. No wonder people are frustrated! The Alive Method takes us back to the basics and really encourages anyone to learn some basic tools and bring them to God’s Word. You don’t need a seminary degree to discover incredible insights in the Bible. The richness and diversity of the body of Christ is made beautiful when we look to one another together in the Word and don’t expect only “experts” to have the answers.
What do you mean when you write that the Bible is not clickbait information?
Nicole Unice: I recently read an article that said the attention span of human beings has decreased dramatically in the past 15 years. We now have attention spans that come in under nine seconds—shorter than goldfish! So we have to fight an uphill battle to keep our attention sharp and go deeper in life.
The Bible is not snack food; it’s a full meal. So it takes some work and effort to come to the point where you can engage what’s written in the Bible and understand it.
That’s why we built the 30-day challenge with lots of small wins—a reward at the end of every five days, a texting service to send you gentle reminders, Facebook groups for community support.
We can’t just stop trying because we’re all becoming like goldfish! We actually need to help this generation re-engage with the deeper, richer stuff of life because it’s worth it.
What are the observation tools you write about?
Nicole Unice: Truly, there’s nothing innovative here—just a reiteration of the stuff we all learned in middle school English. What I’m trying to do through the Alive Method is help readers hone in on a verse or text and actually understand it for themselves, not just gloss over it because they’ve heard it before.
I spend a long time on John 3:16 because it’s probably the most well-known verse in Scripture. People easily recite it or read it, and yet, they don’t actually understand it for themselves.
So the first step of the Alive Method challenges readers to actually restate in their own words what they just read. The way I do that is by noticing basic observations: verbs, lists, repetition, conjunctions, pronouns—taking the words themselves and really asking questions of what they mean, what they connect to, why the writer is using the kind of word to get across that idea. It’s a very simple concept with very powerful results. In fact, it’s the step where I see people have the most “aha” moments and discoveries for themselves.
What should be a person’s goal when approaching the Bible?
Nicole Unice: The goal is to approach the Bible with the belief that God desires to speak to you through his Word. Whenever something you read challenges you, it’s actually meant to do so.
When I teach the Alive Method in person, I hold a Bible open above my head and look up at it. We’re “under” God’s Word. We aren’t over it. We won’t master it; we’ll enter into it. And if we enter in with a posture of humility and belief, God will meet us there.
Each day of the Alive Method begins with a breath prayer—simply slowing down and repeating a short prayer before we open the Word. There are multiple places in Scripture where it says God opens our minds to understand his Word (Luke 24:45; Philippians 1:9). We need to pray for that very same thing as we open the Word each day.
What are the top 10 books of the Bible you recommend to people for getting into the Scripture reading habit?
Nicole Unice: I give this list as the next steps in the Alive Method. I chose these 10 because I think they give some easy “wins” with practical understanding. They help us understand the ministry of Jesus and the work of the church in our day, and then take us back to the foundational principles of Creation, sin, redemption, and God’s promises to us. Of course, all of Scripture is God-breathed but some parts are definitely easier to interpret than others! So that’s why I start with these:
What is a favorite Bible passage of yours and why?
Nicole Unice: Wow, it’s always hard to pick one! Over the years, I’ve found that different seasons and transitions in my life have been marked by different passages of Scripture that I end up clinging to during the change. Right now, I’m working on memorizing Psalm 27. I’m terrible at memorizing—there have been very few passages I can recite word for word. But there’s something so comforting about having a passage of Scripture completely lodged in your mind; one that you can recite to yourself as you go to sleep, or when you’re stuck in traffic, or when you feel anxious or overwhelmed.
I’m working on the entire Psalm, but one of my favorite promises from that Psalm is this one: “I remain confident of this, I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living” (Psalm 27:13). What a promise! What a beautiful truth we can claim, pray, and own in our lives today.
What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App and Bible Audio App?
Nicole Unice: I’m a huge fan of Bible Gateway, and here’s how I use it: I love the web tool for searching out words or ideas. Maybe you have a vague memory of a verse you read a long time ago—you can just type out a couple of words and usually find what you’re looking for. Or, right now I’m researching “joy,” and I’m able to find all the times God talks about “joy” and “rejoicing” by using Bible Gateway.
The Bible Gateway App and Bible Gateway Bible Audio App also help address one of the main habits I want to build in my readers—being in Scripture every single day. The Alive Method gives an approach for a 15-minute or longer devoted time in Scripture. There are days when everything goes wrong and we don’t open a print Bible, but we always, always look at our phones. Having the Bible Gateway Bible App there and even reading one verse a day is better than doing nothing.
I have a crazy dream that all believers would have at least one verse at the forefront of their hearts and minds every single day. And the Bible app helps immensely with that. As for audio, the Bible was meant to be read aloud. Having a great narrator read Scripture to you as you commute or carpool is a powerful way to learn!
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Nicole Unice: I think I’ve said a lot. If you want to know more about the book or how you can use it in your church, check out mybibleisalive.com. I built some great resources to help churches take on the challenge!
Bio: Nicole Unice is a pastor and teaching elder in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. Author of Help! My Bible Is Alive!, Start Here: Beginning a Relationship with Jesus, She’s Got Issues, and The Struggle Is Real, for the past 20 years, Nicole has served the local church through teaching and leading various ministries and startup initiatives from capital campaigns to campuses. Her books come to life through her popular video curriculum series found on RightNow Media. She holds degrees from the College of William and Mary and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Nicole lives in Richmond, VA, with her husband and three children.
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