I don't have the time.
It's not interesting.
It's too hard.
I'm not a reader. I don't read anything much.
I've read bits of it but...
It's for Christians.
Hold that thought.
I meet with three small groups of women during the week and together we study the Bible. Until this year, two groups did Bible studies and the third was a Bible reading group. I made the third one a Bible reading group because most of its members had small children who tagged along and with small children rattling around the place, I thought it would be too difficult to attempt a Bible study. Besides, most of the group didn't have a background in regular Bible reading. And the phrase "Bible study" sounded too scary.
So the Bible reading group meets for lunch - everyone brings their own - and then after food and chatting we settle down for about an hour of Bible reading. We pray and then read a chapter of the current book we are working through. At the end of the chapter I ask the same two questions -
Did anything stand out?
What didn't you get?
Most are usually happy to talk about something that stood out. Sometimes we tackle something we didn't get. Lots of the time we just leave the things we didn't get - and that's OK. It's not that I want to promote a form of laziness in Bible reading. Trying to nut out the hard stuff is important. But read on...I'll get back to this. If there is time, energy and the children are playing well, we do another chapter. Sometimes we get through three chapters. Mostly it's one or two. The discussion eventually finds its way to some points of personal application and then I close with a short prayer.
Last week I picked up One to One Bible Reading by David Helm. WHAT A GREAT BOOK. It's all about how to read the Bible with someone else on a regular basis for a mutually fixed amount of time, just as my Bible reading group has been doing for a while.
In the book he covers:
why reading the Bible with someone else is a good thing,
who you could read the Bible with,
how to get started,
what a typical time together would look like, and
the question of whether or not to prepare before meeting together.
Helm then provides two different frameworks for reading - a simple approach called The Swedish Method which runs a bit along the lines of my two question technique (it adds the third question of personal application up front, whereas I tend to let the application gradually drift out in discussion or through my wrapping up prayer) and a slightly more detailed approach (the COMA method - Context, Observation, Meaning, Application).
The final part of the book is a resource section with an excellent overview of the different types of books in the Bible and some ways to get into the different genres, including some photocopiable sheets of COMA questions for each of the genres.
One of the things I really love about this book is that it is short and concise. I read it in an hour. Now I am thorougly convinced of the benefits of one-to-one Bible reading so what I was reading was all very familiar, but if this idea is new to you and you need some pondering time as you read, I imagine you could still knock it over in a couple of hours. It gets straight to the point, it's eminently practical and it demonstrates the benefits and joys of tackling some one to one Bible reading. It is the perfect handbook on this subject.
Feeling worried even so? Don't think you know your Bible well enough to take this on?
Any committed Christian is capable of initiating a good conversation on a biblical text. In reality, your fears in this area of personal work betray two Screwtape-like lies that every Christian must resist. First, that gospel growth depends on us and on our abilities. This is simply not the case. Our proficiency in the Bible is not the final arbiter in seeing spiritual growth occur. The Holy Spirit can and does use timid people just like us. The second lie we fight against is disbelief - disbelief in the potency of God's Word. We need to be reminded that God does his work in his way and it is his word that accomplishes whatever he desires in the world. (Page 24)
Still worried about having a go? Then go and find someone further along in their Bible reading than you and ask to read with them. You don't actually have to head the charge here. The point is to read the Bible with someone. (By the way, there is a good section addressed to the person "heading the charge" as it were - about resisting the temptation to give a lecture about the passage being read. Nothing kills one to one Bible reading than one person dominating the discussion. I may or may not be guilty of this.)
One of the things I really love about one to one Bible reading is that yes, the Bible is hard in parts - but we need not be scared of it.
As I said earlier, we often don't tackle the bits we didn't understand with my little lunchtime group . A recent, glorious example of this was when we read through Joel a few weeks ago. Three chapters. I departed from my usual method of one chapter at a time and we read all three chapters at a run. Then I asked my two usual questions and for once everyone was happy to answer the second question - "What didn't you get?" - and everyone pretty much said they didn't get any of it!
One brave soul then ventured to say that there were a couple of verses that stood out, that made her heart sing, in the midst of a whole lot of incomprehensible text. It was a couple of verses about hope. So we looked at those verses and had a good discussion about hope in Joel and then in ever widening Biblical contexts.
I wrapped up our discussion by saying that we should all make a mental note of those two verses because in fact they help in part to inform the rest of this book. The next time we all read Joel (on our own or together) we can do so with those two verses in mind and Joel will be a little more clearer. And then even clearer the time after...
Because that is what Bible reading is like. We don't get it all on the first sweep. And we do get to read it over and over, time and time again. And each time we will get it a little more than before, as what we understand starts to inform what we don't understand in ever widening circles.
Come back to my lunchtime group. In the time since we started reading together, all thanks to God, some have put their faith firmly in Jesus and others have started tackling reading the Bible on their own. They don't understand all of what they are reading, but they are no longer scared to have a go. They are making it a part of their daily routine and have launched into the lifelong, wondrous pursuit of Bible reading. Nutting out the hard stuff (that would be "Bible study") will come later, as a natural progression.
I have seen all the reasons so often given for not reading the Bible dissolve away with this group, all because we have sat down once a week during school term time over two or three years and simply read the Bible together. And for this reason I made some changes this year. I now have two Bible reading groups and one study group.
Click here to order a copy of One to One Bible Reading (or here for the eBook version). It is easy to read and it may just encourage you to get yourself caught up in that beautiful, chaotic web of personal relationships, Bible reading and prayer. Go for it. Be encouraged. It is a rich blessing.
For the word of God is living and active...