How you choose to approach someone is often very important to the outcome of your meeting. Your attitude as you go in for a job interview, meet potential in-laws, interact with a teacher, or even talk with a friend, makes a difference in the quality of experience you have.
How do you approach the Bible when hearing it or reading it for yourself? Take a minute and consider: (1) what your attitude tends to be toward the Bible, and (2) what you actually do when you open it. After you’ve considered these, ask yourself if your attitude and process are helping or hurting your Scripture experience.
Now that you’ve considered your current method, how do you think you should approach the Bible? The foundational premise of Scripture engagement is that when you engage the Bible, you engage God himself. Spiritual reading of the Bible is a relational process; we primarily read to meet and know God. We should approach the Bible the same way that we would want to approach God himself. Let us explain.
If you had the chance to be in the physical presence of Jesus (of course, you are in God’s presence all of the time, but play along), would you choose to go? It would probably be terrifying (think of all the times in the Bible where the words “fear not” were needed to calm the hearts of people who had a direct experience with God!). But let’s say you decide to meet Jesus. How would you want to approach him? How would you prepare to meet him? Lots of thoughts probably would run through your mind.
You probably would experience high anticipation and expectation. After all, this would not be “just another meeting”! You wouldn’t be indifferent or bored; in fact, you probably would have a sense of fear and even unworthiness. Thinking about meeting the holy and good God surely brings out a sense of your own sinfulness, so you’d want to confess your sins and ask for forgiveness—just to get that all cleared up before you met. Then, you would be ready to come into God’s presence with gratitude and joy at the chance to meet with your Father and Savior. Your focus would be on him alone. You’d listen carefully to whatever he would say, open and ready to pay attention to every detail and nuance.
When you come to God’s inspired Word, in a very literal way you are coming to God. It is an amazing biblical truth that we have access to God through Jesus (and his sacrifice) by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 2:18; 3:12; Hebrews 4:14-16; Romans 5:1-2). The more you prepare your heart and mind for meeting God in his Word—just as if you were coming into the physical presence of Jesus—the more life-changing and powerful your experience with Scripture will be. Coming with expectation, anticipation, confession, worship, and focused attention will directly impact your experience. No matter which Scripture engagement practices you use, how you approach the Bible will determine the impact of your time in God’s Word.
We’re not saying that every time you engage the Bible it will feel like a miraculous experience. The disciples don’t appear to have been overwhelmed by Jesus every moment they were with him either. However, if you come to the Bible without any personal investment or preparation, distracted and just “putting in time,” your time with the Bible tends to have almost no impact. On the other hand, when you prepare yourself to read the Bible, remembering that to engage Scripture is to engage God, you will have a significant experience. When you come to the Bible, prepare your mind and heart, knowing that God uses his Word, no matter whether it feels miraculous to you or not (Isaiah 55:11).
Here are some simple suggestions for preparing yourself to meet God as you engage with Scripture:
- Choose a time: Set aside a specific amount of time in your weekly calendar to engage the Bible. Just as in any relationship, you have to spend time with God to know him. This is probably the biggest downfall for more people than anything else in the whole process of Scripture engagement: We just don’t make the time. As the saying goes, “We don’t plan to fail, we fail to plan.” Make time because of the joy that comes when you actually get to come close to God (Psalm 84:2, 10). Setting up time to meet with God is not a “should and ought,” it is an “I get to!” And with that said, you should also . . .
- Choose a good time: Choose your time with the Bible during a “prime time” of your day—not when you are the most exhausted or distracted. God calls us to give him our “first fruits,” our best, not our leftovers.
- Choose a place: Go wherever you naturally go when you want to focus on something important. For some, this will be a quiet place; for others, a busy place. Some like to have music playing. Going into a specific room for your reading and praying is a practice that Jesus encouraged (Matthew 6:5-6). You know yourself; do what works.
- Get rid of distractions: Get rid of as many things as you can that usually distract you. Be honest here, what is likely to take your mind away from engaging the Bible? Our world seems to be designed to distract us from focusing on almost anything, but with diligent effort, you will grow in your attention to the Bible.
- Quiet your heart: Take the first minute or two of your time with the Bible and just think about what you’re going to do. You are coming to God’s Word to meet God himself.
- Pray: Briefly ask God to teach you, to meet you, and to bless your time in his Word. Ask for the Holy Spirit to illuminate the passage for you (1 Corinthians 2:6-16). Commit to God that, with his strength, you will obey what you read.
- Start: Check out the many different Scripture engagement practices described on this website. Choose one and get going. It is better to start small and continue the practice than to start with huge goals, get disappointed, and stop. Something is better than nothing!
- Keep moving: If you get distracted or tired, don't worry or criticize yourself. Guilt won’t keep you motivated very long. Simply bring your mind back to the passage and start reading again.
* If you are interested in reading more about preparing yourself to hear God’s Word, here are two helpful resources: Shaped by the Word: The Power of Scripture in Spiritual Formation by M. Robert Mulholland, Jr. and The Fire of the Word: Meeting God on Holy Ground, by Chris Webb.