“The rain and snow come down from the heavens
and stay on the ground to water the earth.
They cause the grain to grow,
producing seed for the farmer
and bread for the hungry.
11 It is the same with my word.
I send it out, and it always produces fruit.
It will accomplish all I want it to,
and it will prosper everywhere I send it” – Isaiah 55:10-11
Question for the day: How consistent are we in our Bible study?
We are examining this week John Wesley’s “Means of Grace.” We are looking at those activities that open a door for God to connect with us. A very distinct part of being a Methodist is adhering to these disciplines on a consistent basis so that we may be transformed by them. As avenues to experiencing God’s sanctifying grace, these are a few of the primary activities that Wesley found to be requirements of the true seeker’s life.
We have looked at prayer for the past couple of days, and now we turn to “searching the scriptures.” I love the way he phrases it, “searching the scriptures.” He doesn’t say, “reading the Bible,” or “occasionally opening the Book.”
“Searching the scriptures,” conveys to me a sense of intentionality and personal responsibility. It says to me that I must be intentional about my approach to the Bible. I must make it my own responsibility to read and to seek God’s message for me in these ancient pages. It says that I must not take other people’s words for what it says. It promises that there is treasure to be found, but I must put forth some effort to capture it.
The most common challenge in reading the Bible that I hear from most people is, “It is hard to understand.” I agree 100%, as a person that didn’t read the Bible until I was an adult. But I have a few suggestions that might make it easier:
1. Find a version that reads easily for you. Many people still have the King James Version that they were given in the 3rd grade. Nothing against King James, but I can’t make any sense of it. If that is you, try this instead. Go to the Bible store (LifeWay, Family Christian.) Do not go to the Bible section. It is overwhelming. Go to the counter and tell the person you are looking for your first Bible and you need some help. They will take you to the Bible section and help you through the 1000 or so books on the shelf. These are the versions I recommend you look at: New International Version (NIV), New Living Translation (NLT – my favorite), New Revised Standard Version (NRSV – and the official version of the UMC) and the Common English Bible (CEB).
Before you go, pick out your favorite scripture. If you don’t have one, that is ok. You might try: Psalm 23, Psalm 91 (my favorite) or John 10. When you are looking at these Bibles in the store, turn to your chosen scripture and see how it reads. Which one sounds most natural to you? This is a good indicator of how easy it will be for you to read it otherwise.
After you pick your version, there are a couple of other choices: a. leather or hard-bound – I choose hard bound because it is easier to make notes in, but the choice is yours. b. tabs – YES. If at all possible, get the tabs. It makes it so much easier to find the books. Don’t be a martyr. Admit (like the rest of us) that you don’t know where the book of Obadiah is and accept the help.
2. Develop a plan. If you have never read the Bible much, don’t make the mistake of starting at the beginning. Take my word for it. You might make it through Genesis and Exodus, but the next 3 books are extremely difficult (for everyone) and you will probably abandon your efforts pretty quickly. Instead, try starting with the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) the first four books of the New Testament. The Book of John is my favorite, but any of them is a great starting place.
Then read a few lines each day. Don’t try to read it all at once. Read a few lines, ask yourself, “What does that mean to me?” and stop. Doing it this way gives you an entire day to think about (meditate) on it, and truly let it sink in to your heart. If you have questions, ask Pastor Wade: email@example.com. He is always happy to get those kinds of emails and is glad to help.
3. Always pray before you read. Make it your practice to ask God for understanding before you pick up the Book. “Lord, help me to understand what You are saying…” is a great way to begin. Remember, this is His Book. A love letter to you. Ask Him to open your eyes to the truth He has for you.
3. Don’t go it alone. It is really hard to absorb all the Bible has to offer when reading it alone. The best way I have found to truly understand it, is to read it myself, listen to what it says to others, then reconcile what I think God is saying to me personally. If you truly want to grow in your knowledge, join a small group. And pick one that focuses on the Bible. We have several offerings this summer that can help anyone do that:
1. Nativity Group – Reading the Book of Philippians, Leader: Julia Griffith
2. Celebrations Group – Reading the Old Testament Prophets, Leader: Virginia Hawsey
3. Discovery Group – Reading the Book of Acts, Leader: Chip Landen
For a listing of all our small group studies this summer, please click on the link below:
If you need help of any kind, finding a group, finding a Bible, or just getting started, please contact me:
Lana Johnson, Director of Spiritual Formation, firstname.lastname@example.org
You have revealed Yourself to us in this magnificent way that we can understand: Your Word. Help us to see it as the gift it is. Give each one of us a hunger and thirst for You, that only Your Word can fill. Give us a desire to know You better, and the discipline to seek You in the pages of this treasure. Create in our church a community of believers that seek You together, helping each other along the way. And may Your Word produce the fruit it was meant to in our lives.
In Jesus’ name we pray,