Who wants to spend $15 on a devotional book when you can read the Bible in a fulfilling way for free!
Here’s a list of some of my favorite ways to get more out of the Word of God. And remember, it’s the Holy Spirit’s job to guide you into all truth (John 14:26 & John 16:13), so remember to pray for His help before you read!
The prayer I typically pray is: “Holy Spirit, help me to understand everything I read today and write the words of scripture on my heart. Give me wisdom, and help me to gain a better understanding of Jesus so I can be a faithful witness to Him.”
If you’re a young Christian:
Start reading the Bible at the beginning of the New Testament; this is where Jesus’ life and teachings are described, so it’s the most relevant for Christians. Jesus’ time on earth is described in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (which are called the Gospels). John has a bit more theology and is harder to understand, so I recommend starting with one of the other three. The first time I read the Bible with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, I started in Luke, then went back to Matthew and read the whole New Testament in order.
For the more mature Christian:
Make it a treasure hunt. Remember how Proverbs says to search for wisdom like precious gold and silver? I’ve found it really satisfying to search the Bible for the answer to a particular question. For instance: “What has Jesus commanded Christians to do?”, “What does the Bible promise?”, “How did David worship the Lord?” And then prayerfully search the scriptures for as much wisdom as you can glean. -Or- ask the Lord to give you the question AND the answer! (Those seeking wisdom really excite the Lord!)
Focus on one book. Many Bible studies do this, but it’s even better to do it on your own. I recommend reading the book over and over and over again, paying attention to the big picture first (who is writing the book to whom and why? Can anything be gleaned about the historical context?), then the smaller details (what is the Holy Spirit speaking to you personally?). Since the books were written as individual units, it is essential we also read them that way.
Focus on one author or audience. Read and compare Paul’s letters, or all of John’s writings. Or focus on one church (say Ephesus), or one people group (say the Philistines) and follow that audience through the scriptures.
Make a comparison. Try comparing one book to another (say, Genesis to Revelation, or 1 Cor to 2 Cor). It can be especially interesting to see how the Old Testament mirrors the New. Or watch to see how different apostles reveal unique aspects of the same mysteries.
Ask for divine guidance. One of the easiest ways to practice hearing and identifying the voice of the Holy Spirit is to ask Him where in the Bible to read and then pause and listen for what He says. He will absolutely tell you something! Dig deep in prayer and wait for His voice! Often He’ll take you to surprisingly relevant and personal truths!
Look for Jesus. Every story in the Bible points to Jesus, and reveals something unique about the nature of God. Pick a chunk of scripture or a book and start praying that the Holy Spirit would allow you to know Jesus in a deeper way. You could even ask specifically, “Holy Spirit, show me how this passage reveals Jesus’ first (or second) coming,” or, “Holy Spirit, reveal a facet of the Father’s nature that I’ve never seen before.”
Take it slow. Read a very small portion (especially of something already somewhat familiar so you don’t accidentally take it out of context) and meditate on it throughout the day, or during a “quiet time” with the Lord.
Pray the scriptures. It can be really powerful to connect to God by agreeing and proclaiming what He’s already spoken in His word. You could do this by praying a Psalm, or one of the prayers of the saints already recorded in the Bible. Or you could turn something else into a prayer. For instance, take the words Jesus spoke and start dialoging with Him about them, and proclaiming and pledging your allegiance to Him and His wisdom.
Pick a historic time period. For example, strive to learn us much as you can about the church right after Jesus ascended into heaven, or the building of the first temple, or the time of the first Diaspora, and then search the scriptures for everything pertaining to that specific time (including those looking back, or prophesying forward, to the time period of interest). If you were looking to understand the time of the building of the second temple, for instance, you could read Ezra, Nehemiah and even parts of Daniel and Isaiah.
- I like to write, underline and highlight in my Bible so that I know what I was thinking at various times I was reading. Sometimes I’ll put question marks in the columns or write out what I don’t understand–the next time I read the passage I am often pleasantly surprised that the Lord has addressed my concern or question.
- Keep a journal to record what the Lord is showing and teaching you.
- Use a website like blueletterbible.org or biblegateway.com to analyze the Biblical language on a word level or to check out other translations of the Bible.