Part 1: How I learned to read the Bible
By Becky Herrington
As a podcast co-host for the show, Paying Ridiculous Attention to Jesus, I often get questions about how to connect more with Jesus. Lots of them deal with prayer requests and going through hard stuff, but then there’s this question:
Becky, the Bible is sooo boring and hard to understand—any tips for reading it?
First off, I get it—the Bible’s an intimidating book. There are about one million VERY THIN pages written in fancy language. And reading the text in columns brings you back to studying The Odyssey (or some equally long, challenging book), which makes you feel like you’re back in high school English class. Also, not all of the books and chapters are in chronological order, so it doesn’t read like a story (even though it is).
On top of all of this, the Bible has a reputation for being a boring book that you HAVE to read and is full of things that really just make you feel guilty. So I get it—why would we want to sit and read this book every day?
>>Related: Find out the surprising thing that happens when you quit applying the Bible to you.
The truth is that the Bible is the story of Jesus' relentless pursuit of us, and reading the Bible helps us understand more about who Jesus is and also who he says we are. These insights aren’t just interesting—they’re life changing.
So here are two ideas for how to read the Bible
Try a word study. Word studies helped me immensely when I started following Jesus because they helped me understand his vocabulary. I realized that part of the problem in our culture is that words have gotten all jumbled up in meaning, and I frequently needed to declutter my mind from how the world defined things and figure out what words meant according to God instead.
For instance, Galatians 5:22-23 talks about the fruit of the Spirit, including love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We know what these words mean according to a dictionary, but what do they mean according to God?
Here’s how to find out.
Step one: First, choose a word to study. For our talk now, let’s choose joy.
Step two: In the back of most Bibles you’ll find a dictionary, often called a concordance. (If you don’t have a concordance in the back of your Bible, then get yourself a Jesus-Centered Bible). Here you can look up words like “joy” and it’ll tell you places in the Bible where this word is used. For example, in my Jesus-Centered Bible there are almost 70 references to joy throughout the Bible.
(Note: your Bible’s concordance isn’t exhaustive; they have HUGE concordances that are much more thorough, but what’s in most Bible’s is enough to get an idea.)
Step three: Look up each verse that references your word. For context, remember to read the verses that come before and after the verse you look up, too.
Step four: In your journal, write down what each verse is showing you about joy. Once you’ve gone through all the verses about joy, circle or highlight the themes you find and what you learned about joy. What was different than what you expected?
Pay attention to what Jesus said and did. Unless you’re a new follower of Jesus, the chances are high that you’ve heard his story in the New Testament a lot of times. So many times, in fact, that it might feel like you already know it and that there’s nothing new to learn. But WOW—when we really slow down and pay attention to those red letters (used to highlight Jesus’ words) and we don’t skip around, Jesus suddenly becomes like a magnet our lives.
[Sidenote: My buddy Rick Lawrence and I love helping people pay ridiculous attention to Jesus. We have a podcast where we zoom in on stories from the Bible every week and talk about them. You can follow along with us here. I am also including a special episode for you to listen to below.]
Here’s how you can pay attention to Jesus even if you already know his story:
Step one: Open your Bible to the New Testament (toward the back of your Bible) and find Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and the first few sentences of Acts. These books include the accounts of when Jesus was here on earth, which is why they’re our focus.
Here are a few notes as you read. First, these chapters are actually pretty small, so don’t be intimidated. Also, what’s covered in one of them may also be covered in another, which seems redundant. They each have a unique perspective, though, so it’s good to read all of them.
Step two: With every passage you read, ask, “What does this say to me about who Jesus is?” and write down some notes to yourself in response. In the Jesus-Centered Bible there are also “reframing Jesus” sections that put a cultural spin on what he said and did that can help open your mind a bit and bring his heart into today’s world.
Step three: Once you’ve made it through Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and the first few sentences of Acts, look back on your notes for all the things you learned about Jesus and ask, “How does this impact my life?”
Studying the Bible is an endless pursuit, and hopefully these two ideas will help you read it with less guilt and more enjoyment. When I started doing these things, I became addicted and looked forward to my next encounter with Jesus. I want the same for you, so let me know how it’s going.
Also, be looking for the next part of this series for a new adventure in Bible reading. Stay up to date by signing up here and we'll include a free 7-days of prompts to pay attention to Jesus.
Reading the Bible is all about understanding more about who you say Jesus is and who Jesus says you are. If discovering a life that centers on Jesus is new for you find us on JesusCenteredLife.com to learn more.
I thank God for leading me to read the “paying ridiculous attention to Jesus” bible plan. It’s been amazing learning from you guys. God bless you.
Good advice. If someone wants to get even more
Context. I highly recommend the book Misreading Scripture Through Western Eyes. I have been blessed to walk with Jesus ( mostly poorly but in His direction at least) for over – gulp – 50 years and this book is one of the BEST I’ve ever read. It’s likely ” too much” for someone just starting out ( but then again, they have less To ‘unlearn’) but what an eye opener.