Most people think sermons should be short and exciting, closer to entertaining comedy routines than anything else. That’s the way most people think sermons should be. And that mindset is parallel to the way many people view Bible reading. The less time they spend doing it, the better.
For many people, reading their Bible is too hard, boring and time consuming to give it any effort.
Reading your Bible is hard. It is one of the most difficult things in life you will ever do, not only to find time for it, but also to understand it, and then to apply it to you life. I find it incredibly difficult to ready my Bible every day and meditate upon it throughout the day so that I can apply it’s truths to my life.
Our theme verse for this morning is Psalm 119:18:
“Open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things from Your law.”
In 2006, I want to challenge all of us to get on some sort of Bible reading plan, or Bible study schedule. I don’t know if you make New Year’s resolutions or not, I really don’t, but every year, I challenge myself anew to look at my life, my schedule, and the way I spend my time, and see if there is any way I can spend more time in the Word.
If you’re reading the Bible one day a week, try to read it three days a week. If you’re spending five minutes a day, try to boost it to ten. Even if you’re spending an hour every single day in Bible study and prayer, try to add another half an hour.
Maybe it’s not so much the time that you spend in the Word as it how you spend that time, and what you get out of it. But to get something out of the Word, you have to spend time in the Word. Bible reading is a primary source of power in our Christian life over sin and temptation, a source of intimacy with God and Jesus Christ, a source of fellowship with the Holy Spirit, and sensitivity to His leading.
Did you ever see the movie, The Neverending Story? It is one of my favorite movies. In it, a young boy begins to read a book, and within a paragraph or two, finds himself drawn into the book so that he actually plays a part in how the story turns out. He becomes part of the book, part of the story.
Bible reading is just like that. When you open the Bible and read it, you get pulled into it and whether you realize it or not, you become part of the story. Although the Bible is no longer being written, but I am convinced that in some sense, God continues to record our history in the scrolls of heaven. You are part of the story that was begun in the pages of Scripture. And the more you read and study Scripture, the more involved in the story you will become.
Bible study is one of the greatest adventures you will ever embark upon. Not only does it have intriguing characters, and twists of the plot, and mysteries to unravel, but like the childhood adventure The Neverending Story, this is an adventure that draws you in and makes you part of the events.
As you study the Bible, you will feel its impact on you. Yes, sometimes passages will feel like a knife in the gut. But other times, they will inspire you to the great heroics of battle. Certain verses will make you float on the air with the wings of angels. You will soar to the heavens and visit the depths of the sea. You will see and hear things no person has seen or imagined.
To put it plainly, Bible study is no boring activity. It is a never-ending adventure. Psalm 119:18, “Open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things from Your law.”
God did not write his Bible so that it could sit on a shelf. God did not write His Bible so that only pastors and professors would read it. God wrote the Word of God for every single person on the face of this earth, and his Word deals either implicitly or explicitly with every single question and issue that humans have about the most important questions of life.
Wycliff Bible translators recognize this. This is why they are involved in trying to get translations of the Bible into the hands of every tongue and language on earth. But they know that simply giving the Bible to a people group is not enough. They must read and study it. My sister and her husband work for Wycliff and last week, I received an e-mail from her, and this is what she wrote:
There was an exciting event here, in the Mende people group of Papua New Guinea. This exciting occurrence was the arrival and dedication of the New Testament in the Mende language. The Mende language group is a people group of about 5000 people and over 2300 people attended the dedication ceremony. That alone was exciting enough, but the Mende people are not content to just have the Bible in their own language. They also want to learn how to use it. They need to learn how to correctly interpret the Bible and apply it to their own lives.
This aspect of Bible Translation is called Scripture-In-Use. In other words, the people now have their own Bible in their hands, but what will they do with it? A Bible Translator’s worst nightmare is that the Bible will just “sit on their shelf” (or in their hut), and not be used.
She goes on to explain how they do this training. As I read it, it occurred to me that the Bible translator’s worst nightmare is a reality in the homes of most American Christians. We have the Bible, and all it does is sit on our shelf, and not be used.
Don’t let that happen to you. It contains the answers to all of life’s problems, difficulties and questions.
Psalm 119:18 – “Open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things from Your law.”
Do you wonder what happens after death? The Bible tells you. Do you wonder what the meaning of life is? The Bible tells you. Do want to know how to get to heaven? The Bible tells you. The Bible even teaches us about such diverse topics as money, parenting, marriage, business and health. Some people pay hundreds of dollars to go buy books or go to seminars that teach on some of these things, and it is always a gamble whether these secular ideas will work or not.
But God has given us his ideas about all of these things for free. And of all people, He should know the answers. The Bible contains some of the most valuable information ever put onto the printed page, and yet for some reason, most people think that the Bible has nothing whatsoever to say to them today.
If they would just take it up and read it, they would see how wrong they were. Most of the greatest men and women of history have found this to be true.
Abraham Lincoln said, “I believe the Bible is the best gift God has ever given to man. All the good from the Savior of the world is communicated to us through this book.”
W. E. Gladstone wrote, “I have known ninety-five of the world’s great men in my time, and of these, eighty-seven were followers of the Bible.”
From George Washington: “It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible.”
Napoleon, that French military genius, said, “The Bible is no mere book, but a Living Creature, with a power that conquers all who oppose it.”
Daniel Webster highly recommended the reading of the Bible when he said, “If there is anything in my thoughts or style to commend, the credit is due to my parents for instilling in me an early love of the Scriptures. If we abide by the principles taught in the Bible, our country will go on prospering and to prosper; but if we and our posterity neglect it’s instructions and authority, no man can tell how sudden a catastrophe may overwhelm us and bury all our glory in profound obscurity.”
Patrick Henry was also a Bible reader. He said, “The Bible is worth all other books which ever been printed.”
Another one of our presidents, John Quincy Adams, said, “So great is my veneration for the Bible that the earlier my children begin to read it the more confident will be my hope that they will prove useful citizens of their country and respectable members of society. I have for many years made it a practice to read through the Bible once every year.”
The Bible is not without testimony even among the philosophers. Immanuel Kant, no friend of Christianity, said, “The existence of the Bible, as a book for the people, is the greatest benefit which the human race has ever experienced. Every attempt to belittle it is a crime against humanity.”
Or from a literature giant like Charles Dickens, we read, “The New Testament is the very best book that ever was or ever will be known in the world.”
And I could go on and on and on. Leaders, politicians, statesmen, philosophers, lawyers, doctors, mothers, fathers, businessmen who credit the Bible with teaching them how to get through life. The Bible is the greatest and most valuable book every written, and many of the greatest people of history attribute their greatness to the principles and truths taught within the Bible.
Psalm 119:18 – “Open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things from Your law.”
Of course, although these are benefits to reading the Bible, but there are other reasons that we should read and study the Bible. Greatness is a good goal, but in all honesty, not everyone who reads the Bible becomes a great historical figure. Everyone certainly does benefit from it, but not all in the same way.
There was a craze a couple of years ago over a little book called, The Prayer of Jabez. I don’t know if you read the book or nor, but in it, we are told the story of a man by the name of Jabez who prayed, among other things, for personal blessing. The author of this book tells us that God blesses those who pray for blessing.
I do not want to recommend or criticize the book here. All I want to say is that, in my opinion, the book was so popular because people want to be blessed. Everybody wants to be blessed. People pay good money in various parts of the world to have a holy man pronounce a blessing upon them.
Well guess what? The Bible promises that those who read and study it will be blessed. I don’t know if you will be blessed by praying the prayer of Jabez or not. But I do know for sure that all who read and study the Bible will be blessed.
These blessing might not be as you would expect. They might not be riches or perfect health. Likely, these blessings will not instantly revolutionize your life, or immediately solve all of your problems.
Some, it seems, expect the Word of God to hit them like a bolt of lightening every time they read or study it. Now, although the bolt may hit periodically, the benefits of the Word of God act more like vitamins or nutritional supplements. People who regularly take vitamins do so because of their long-term benefits, not because every time they swallow one of the pills, they feel new strength surging through their bodies. They have developed a habit of consistently taking vitamins because they have been told that, in the long run, vitamin supplements are going to have a beneficial effect on their physical health, resistance to disease, and general well-being.
The same is true of reading the Bible. At times it will have a sudden and intense impact upon us. At times it will give you a whole new window of understanding on the world. However, the real value lies in the cumulative effects that long-term exposure to God’s Word will bring in our lives.
I once heard of a man who complained that he had attended church for over 20 years. “That’s over a thousand sermons!” he said. “And I cannot, for the life of me, remember a single one of them.” He therefore concluded that listening to sermons, and therefore attending church, was pointless.
But on one occasion, he happened to mention this to a man who did attend church. This man patiently listened, and then nodding his head, said, “Hmm, yes, good point. I too have attended church my whole life and don’t remember too many of the sermons that were preached, and, now that I think about it, I’ve been married to my wife for over 20 years, and in that time, she’s cooked over 20,000 meals. But I can’t remember a single one of them either. So, I guess I’ll stop eating.”
You see, the second man knew that the accumulative blessing of Bible study was just like the accumulative blessing of eating three good meals a day. Without eating, you starve physically. Without Bible study, you starve spiritually.
The Bible provides untold blessings to those who read and study it.
Psalm 119:18 – “Open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things from Your law.”
It would be impossible for me to go into the numerous blessings that Bible study provides, but let me just try to list a few examples for you. Of course, the first and most important blessing that comes from Bible study is a knowledge of how to be saved. If it were not for the Bible, we would know nothing about what God has done for us so that we can go to heaven and spend eternity with him.
Humans is not been without their countless ideas about how to get to heaven, but when it comes to our word verses God’s word, I always bet on God’s Word. And in the area of how to get to heaven, God’s Word says that all you have to do is believe in Jesus Christ alone for eternal life (John 3:16). You don’t have to do anything. You cannot ever be good enough. You can’t ever please God. You can’t bribe God to let you in. No, since it’s God’s heaven, I think he gets to make the rules on how to enter, and according to what He has written, anyone who just believes in Jesus Christ alone, has eternal life.
Now that’s a blessing! But you wouldn’t have learned that from anywhere else but the Bible.
Another blessing that can be gained from the Bible is how to have victory over sin. We all do things we wish we didn’t. We say things we later feel guilty about. We lie to our spouses, we yell at our kids, we steal from our boss, we cheat on our taxes.
Well, another blessing of God’s word is that it tells us how to stop doing these kinds of things. Stopping these activities won’t get you to heaven, or keep you from heaven, but they sure will help you enjoy life more. How much would your life improve if your marriage were better? What if you were able to manage your money better? These are all blessings that the Bible can help you gain.
Of course, it is not just your quality of life that improves, but Bible reading can also improve the length of your life! In the pages of Scripture we have the fabled fountain of youth. Now it can’t prolong your life indefinitely — everybody dies — and there are sometimes accidents when people die young, or die before they should, but in general, studying and obeying the Bible can prolong your life.
The reasons for this are many, but think about it this way. Who made the human body? The Bible tells us God made it. If that’s true, then He knows how to make it last the longest, and if he told us anywhere how to do that, it’s within the Bible. The health principles found within the Bible were written by the Being who made your body.
So get out there and get studying it. Get on a Bible work out routine, and chances are, your quality and length of life will improve. Charles Spurgeon, who has been called the prince of preachers, said, “A Bible which is falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t.”
The Bible also promises to provide wisdom to those who read and study it. Ask yourself, “Do I want to be wiser a year from now than I am today, or dumber?” To ask the question is to answer it. We all want more wisdom. Wisdom is what makes you successful in life, in marriage, in raising your family. Wisdom is what causes your business to grow. The Bible tells us over and over that wisdom is found with its pages.
The Bible can help you stand up to your enemies. How it can comfort you during life’s troubles. And I could tell you about some eternal blessings that can be gained as well. Not all the blessings are only for the here and now.
I recognize that for many people, it’s not that they don’t want to read and study Bibles, it’s that they don’t know how to go about it. There really is nothing fancy or difficult to Bible reading, but for some reason, people try to make it difficult. The general rule is to simply treat the Bible the way you treat any other book.
How do you read any other book? Do you read the second paragraph of chapter 4, then all of chapter 18, skip to chapter 7 and read the last paragraph and then give up reading the book because you don’t understand what going on? No, you would never read a book that way. But for some reason, that is what most people do with the Bible.
I would encourage you, if you have never read much of the Bible before, to pick it up, and, starting in page one, read it all the way through. From start to finish. There will be some dry sections, I guarantee you. You will not understand everything, I promise. But that is the way to start.
Of course, I can just hear someone saying, “But it’s such a big book! That will take me forever!”No, it won’t take you forever. If you read the newspaper or a magazine for 20 minutes a day, you can read through the Bible in less than a year. It only takes fifteen minutes a day to read through the entire Bible in one year.
You will receive a lot of blessing for only putting in fifteen minutes a day.
I supposed I knew my Bible,
Reading piece-meal, hit or miss;
Now a bit of John or Matthew,
Next a snatch of Genesis.
Certain chapters of Isaiah,
Certain Psalms — the twenty-third,
Twelfth of Romans, first of Proverbs,
Yes, I thought I knew the Word.
But I found a thorough reading,
Was a different thing to do.
And the way was unfamiliar
When I read the Bible through.
You who treat the Crown of Writings
As you treat no other book —
Just a paragraph disjointed,
Just a crude, impatient look —
Try a worthier procedure,
Try a broad and steady view;
You will kneel in very rapture
When you read the Bible through.
– Amos R. Wells
Now, after you have read and studied through the entire Bible, you can pretty much do a variety of things after that. You can read through it again if you like. Some people have made it a practice of reading through the Bible every year for their entire lives. That is a commendable practice.
And if that is what you want to do, there are several different Bible reading schedules you can use to mix things up a bit. One such schedule I currently favor is the one by Robert Murray M’Cheyne.
That’s for getting a broad view of Scripture. If you want to learn a certain book of the Bible is more detail, you can try reading through that book every day for a month. If it’s too long to read it through in one sitting, divide it up into manageable sections, then every day for a month, read that section. The next month, move on to the next section. For example, let’s say you pick the Gospel of John. It is 21 chapters long, so let’s say you divide it up into 3 sections. 7 chapters each. For the first month, you read through chapters 1-7 every day. In month 2, you read chapters 8-14 every day. In the third month, you read the final 7 chapters every day.
By the end of those 3 months, you will know that particular book forward and backward. By taking on average seven chapters a month, you can read through the entire New Testament this way in about three years.
Another method is to do an in-depth study of one book over a period of a couple months or years. It is this kind of in-depth, verse-by-verse study that the best preaching pastors do for the sermon preparation as they preach through books of the Bible.
If you are going to do this kind of study on your own, let me give you a few tips. First of all, there is no substitute for simply reading the Word. Just like with all the other methods, the best place to start is by reading and praying, praying and reading. Some of the best Bible scholars of the past and present never would teach or preach on any book of the Bible until they had read it through at least 60 or 100 times.
So read, read and read some more, all the while praying. At the bare minimum, make sure that before you begin a book study, you have read through the entire book at least one time, and have a general idea of the thought flow and structure of the book.
Then, once you have the big picture of the book, begin making an outline of the book, find the general ideas of each section and chapter, and then maybe of each paragraph. From there, begin your verse-by-verse study. Again, the key here is reading and praying. Read the section. Jot down key ideas, and key words and key people. Take notes. Scribble your thoughts. Then, once you have a basic idea simply from reading through and praying over the text, if you want, you can start consulting some of Bible study guides which are available. These should not be used as a crutch, but should be used as tools to correct or confirm your own insights.
If you want some help finding some of these tools, I would encourage you to buy some commentaries and study guides. E-mail me for suggestions.
And that, in a nutshell, is basically all there is to it. Read the word of God. Study the Word of God. As you continue on with this practice, you will probably want to start increasing your time, to ten minutes and then to 15, and so on, because spending time in God’s Word is like a cup of tea.
The longer the tea bag sits in the cup of hot water, the stronger the tea becomes. The longer you steep yourself in God’s Word, the stronger you will become. And the stronger you become, the more blessings you will receive.