This is the one-hundred-fifty-first lesson in author and pastor Mel Lawrenz’ How to Live the Bible series. If you know someone or a group who would like to follow along on this journey through Scripture, they can get more info and sign up to receive these essays via email here.
How do we make Scripture reading and study a rich discipline of our lives? Here are some fundamental guidelines.
1. Just read it. Don’t wait until you have a master-plan for consuming the whole of Scripture. Don’t wait until things are “just right” or you have a large block of time to read Scripture. Avoidance keeps us from God’s voice, and simple procrastination does the same. When my grandfather was teaching me how to fish, and watched me fiddling with my tackle, playing with bobbers and hooks and sinkers (with which I was utterly fascinated), he told me “you won’t catch any fish unless your line is in the water. Just fish!” And I found out that he was right. I never once caught a fish when my line was out of the water. It is guaranteed. I’ve thought of that lesson many times when I suspect I’ve been keen on talking about the theory of spiritual life instead of just doing it.
Just read it. Before you go to bed, read just one chapter; or just read a few verses. Commit to opening your Bible at least once every day. If you want to grow a garden, you’ve got to get the seed in the ground. Years ago my wife and I had a beautiful vegetable garden. I found that I really enjoyed tilling the ground in the spring (another personal fascination with equipment, I’m afraid), then enriching the soil with loam and rich, natural fertilizer, then tilling it many times over until the consistency was smooth and spongy–dirt that looked good enough to eat. But it was all pointless until you get to the store, buy the seeds, and get them in the ground. You can cultivate and rake, and prepare the soil all you want, but with no seed in the ground, you haven’t even begun.
Just read it.
2. Join the reading with praying. Again, if you are simply beginning this discipline, don’t worry about the form and the quantity. Pray “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law” (Psalm 119:18). And then after you’ve read, take a few minutes to quietly reflect on the thoughts prompted by the passage. Tell God what you’ve learned, what you want to thank him for, and ask for further guidance.
3. Read and trust. When we read Scripture, seeds are being planted. We may not see immediately how the story of Solomon or Paul’s letter to Titus or the book of Revelation will benefit us today. But as surely as seeds that are planted in rich, loamy soil with plenty of moisture will sprout, grow, and flourish, so will the faithful daily readings of Scripture. Jesus taught about the word of God, like seed, falling on deaf ears (the path), or into superficial interest (the rocky, shallow soil), or into worldly competition (the thorny soil). But when it falls into the heart of someone who is really listening, who trusts that God has spoken out of his love, then a living crop of truth will come to pass. It just takes time, and trust, and a discipline that gets the seed planted in the first place.
John Wesley offered six suggestions on how to read Scripture regularly, faithfully, thoughtfully, and effectively:
1. Set apart a little time every morning and evening.
2. Read one chapter out of the Old Testament and one out of the New, or, just read one chapter, or part of one.
3. Read “with a single eye,” in other words, with a “fixed resolution” to know God’s will as expressed in Scripture.
4. Constantly look for connections between what you are reading and what you’ve read elsewhere in Scripture. This is extremely important, and where we get the joy in reading Scripture as whole themes come into clearer focus. Keep putting it together. Synthesize what you’re reading with what you’ve read in the past. This method is called “the analogy of faith,” because you are comparing what you are reading today with the truth of the whole faith. It is how solid conviction is born in our hearts as the notes sounded in Scripture flow together into harmonies that are repeated over and over.
5. Begin with prayer because “Scripture can only be understood through the same Spirit whereby it was given,” and end with a word of prayer so that the word will be written on your hearts.
6. Pause as you read. Reflect on how it applies to your life. See if you can apply it soon after you’ve read it.
To use Wesley’s own words: “And whatever light you then receive should be used to the uttermost, and that immediately. Let there be no delay. Whatever you resolve begin to execute the first moment you can. So shall you find this word to be indeed the power of God unto present and eternal salvation.”
(Adapted from Patterns: Ways to Develop a God-Filled Life by Mel Lawrenz. Zondervan)
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Mel Lawrenz (@MelLawrenz) trains an international network of Christian leaders, ministry pioneers, and thought-leaders. He served as senior pastor of Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin, for ten years and now serves as Elmbrook’s teaching pastor. He has a PhD in the history of Christian thought and is on the adjunct faculty of Trinity International University. Mel’s many books include Spiritual Leadership Today: Having Deep Influence in Every Walk of Life (Zondervan, 2016). See more of Mel’s writing at WordWay.