by Chris Martin
I lead the student ministry at our church, and a significant amount of my time and energy leading the student ministry is devoted to helping students learn why it is important to read the Bible and how they can do it when it feels so inaccessible to them. So I’ve talked a lot about this topic lately, and it’s important to me. We can’t be in a real relationship with God if we aren’t willing to engage with Him through His Word. We will struggle to know Him otherwise. Trying to grow in our relationships with God without reading His Word is like trying to grow in our relationships with friends or family without ever listening to them talk. It’s silly and ineffective.
But the Bible can be hard to understand for many of us. What are some steps we can take to better understand what God says about Himself in His Word? Here are three pretty basic ideas:
1. Actually read your Bible.
This may sound sarcastic or something, but I’m serious. When I have conversations with students or adults about how they can better understand the Bible, one of the first questions I ask is, “How much are you reading the Bible each week?” If they are saying they don’t understand the Bible, they usually respond by saying they aren’t reading it more than once or twice a week.
The most important first step you can take to getting a better understanding of the Bible is reading it more often than you do now. Author and Bible publisher Trevin Wax once wrote:
“Not every meal is at a steakhouse. Not every meal is memorable. Can you remember what you had for dinner, say, two weeks ago? Probably not. But that meal sustained you, didn’t it? In the same way, we come to feast on God’s Word, recognizing that it’s the daily rhythm of submitting ourselves to God and bringing our plans and hopes and fears to Him that makes the difference.”
If we don’t have the patience to slog through occasional periods of what feel like fruitless Bible reading, no fancy methods or tools are going to be the magic bullet to make us interested in God’s Word.
2. Consult a study Bible.
Once you’ve actually maintained a routine of regular Bible reading, introduce the interpretive helps provided by a study Bible. If you aren’t aware, a “study Bible” is a Bible with notes on every page from trusted academics, pastors, or leaders from church history that help you understand the text you’re reading.
Study Bibles are great even if you feel like you have a good grasp on the Bible as a whole. As long as the notes in the margins don’t distract you from the inspired text on the page, the extra insight from people who have different perspectives can give you a fuller understanding of the Scripture than you have had previously.
3. Talk with a friend about what you’re reading.
Meeting with a brother or sister in Christ to talk about what you’ve both been reading in Scripture is one of the best ways to spend an hour of your week. Whatever these meetings look like—whether they’re over McDonald’s coffee on Friday mornings or in between picking up kids from school and activities—reading and talking with a friend about the Bible will help you understand it.
Christians were not meant to follow Jesus by themselves. The local church is not like a family—it is a family. We are called to walk with one another on the narrow path, bearing one another’s burdens and loving each other sacrificially. This could mean laying our lives down for one another, but it can also mean simply giving up a couple hours of sleep to meet early in the morning to shepherd one another through the simple obedience of cracking open the spine of God’s Word.
Understanding the Bible can be difficult. It was written long ago and translated from languages most of us don’t know how to read. But we can understand the Bible. It just takes effort and perhaps some help from our brothers and sisters in Christ. Don’t give up. Ask for help. Read and see what God has to say about Himself.