Bible+Theology, Spiritual Practices

How I learned to get more out of my Bible reading

Being in Love this Book over the past year has had many of us reading Scripture more regularly. With the “YouVersion” reading plan and four journals, our hope was to create in us a habit of reading more regularly and more in depth.

In our journals we were encouraged to read, reflect, and respond. This practice can be helpful to make sure we are not only reading Scripture, but also meditating on it and applying it to our lives. As I’ve engaged with the “Read, Reflect, Respond” process, I’ve found it to be a simple but useful way to connect with God through Scripture in a meaningful way.

Read

The first step seems obvious–read the text.  But I’ve found it’s one thing to read… it’s another to really read.  

I must take time to think about the context of what I’m reading, otherwise I won’t fully understand what I’m reading. I ask myself simple questions like:

  • Who is writing this particular passage?
  • To whom was it written?
  • Why was it written?

The answers to these questions help me understand what I’m reading–and prevent me from reading into Scripture meaning that was never intended. Like we say at Blackhawk: “The Bible was not written to us, but for us.”  

The beauty of this is that you don’t need a theological doctorate to discover basic, but crucial, answers to these questions. An incredibly helpful tool for this is a “study” Bible. At Blackhawk,  we recommend the NIV Study Bible and the NIV Cultural Background Bible. With introductions to each book of the Bible and countless footnotes on important passages and concepts, you can get the most out of your reading, which will set you up for the next two steps.      

Reflect

Once I’ve read a passage of Scripture and taken the time to discover more of its context (both historically and within the Bible), my first question of reflection is, “How was this understood or received by those who first heard it?” I might not fully know, but this question helps ground me once again in the truth that it might be written for me, but it was not originally written to me.  Then I can reflect on its message for me.  At this stage, I find these questions helpful:

  • What does this passage tell me about God’s character and actions?
  • What does this passage tell me about humanity (both as ones created in God’s image and creatures in need of God’s grace and redemption)?
  • What does this passage tell me about the life God desires and intends for us to live (both individually and corporately as his church in the world)?

I want to reflect on a passage with “open hands”–I want to lay aside what I might want it to say so it can have its full impact on me. For example, I want to be careful to not think of others who need to hear this message, but rather allow God’s Word to have full impact on my head and heart–my life.

Respond

This is perhaps the most personal and important aspect of being in God’s Word. In his epistle, James writes, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22).  These words are a good reminder that our time in Scripture should not merely be about gaining more knowledge about God or the life of faith, but should be about our responding to it.

As I read and reflect, certain words in the text stand out. As those words pop up, it’s helpful for me to ask God what He is drawing my attention to.  Often God calls me to respond in one of three ways:

  • Thanksgiving and gratitude: Is there something or someone for whom I need to give thanks?
  • Confession: Often we think of confession as solely the admittance of sin. But God also calls us to confess the truth of who God is. This might look like acknowledging a certain aspect of his character–“God you are slow-to-anger”, or “God you are powerful and trustworthy.”
  • Action or changed behavior: Are there areas of my life where I’m inactive when I should be active?  Are there areas where God is calling me to rest where I’m perhaps avoiding Him or others due to my “over” activity?

I find that this stage of being in Scripture always leads to a time of prayer.  It’s okay if our prayers aren’t long and elaborate. There’s also room for our short and simple prayers of thanksgiving, confession and/or asking for guidance and strength.  For me, praying helps make this time of responding “real” and also helps it to stick–both in my head and heart.

Repeat

Finally, I repeat the process. I allow my new insights and questions from my time in Scripture to take me back into Scripture to read, reflect and respond over and over again. The depth of insight we can gain from being in God’s Word is a well that will never run dry.


About the Author: Craig Gartland
Craig is Pastor of Spiritual Formation at Blackhawk and oversees Adult Ministries. He completed his Master of Divinity at Fuller Theological Seminary and spent over two decades of his career in campus ministry. He is married to Sharon and they have four children. His passions include cycling, listening to jazz music, photography, and the writings of C.S. Lewis.