My earliest memories of the Bible are in the church in which I grew up. I remember Bible stories from Sunday School and the pastor talking about particular verses from the Bible while I sat in our regular family pew at church. But I really have no recall of ever having read the Bible for myself. It wasn’t until my late teen years that I took up the task of reading the Scriptures. And, I have to tell you, it absolutely changed my life. I found that many of the stories I heard as a kid were a lot juicier than I realized. I also discovered that there were simply a lot of things in the Bible that I didn’t know even existed. But maybe the most profound breakthrough for me was plowing through all four Gospels and seeing the life and teaching of Jesus. My adoration and appreciation of Christ rose exponentially after watching him in action throughout Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
I was so impressed with reading the Gospels that I moved into the rest of the New Testament. Then, I went back to the Old Testament and read it all. In a matter of months I had read the entire Bible. But what I then discerned is that, although I had read the whole Bible, I had more questions than when I started. There was just far too much I didn’t understand about it. So, I read the whole thing again… then again… and again… somewhere along the line I’ve lost count of how many times I have read the Bible – I estimate that I’ve read the New Testament around four-hundred times and the Old Testament about two hundred. And I still have so much more to learn, discover, and unearth in this richest of books.
Maybe all that reading of the Bible seems over the top. I assure you, it isn’t. Why in the world would I spend so much of my life in plain straightforward reading of the Scriptures? Let me offer several reasons:
I cannot lay hold of God’s promises if I don’t know what they are. Living from a place of faith and calm in the midst of uncertainty and unrest doesn’t just happen. It comes from knowing the words of Scripture and applying them to everyday life. The promises of Scripture are like an asthmatic’s inhaler, enabling us to slow down and take a deep breath.
I cannot be like Jesus if I don’t know him very well. Reading Scripture about Jesus is like eating food. I have to do it regularly. It nourishes me for the day. Bible reading is stored energy, stockpiled emotional and psychological capital. I can speak and act like Jesus throughout the day by making moment-by-moment withdrawals from that vast reservoir of stored Scripture knowledge.
I cannot be wise if I am not connected to wisdom literature. By nature we are all ignorant and have to learn through humility and experience what is wise, just, and good. But over time we can shed folly and become wise. I cannot do it on my own. I need a word from God each and every day to face life’s challenges, its ups-and-downs, as well as its mediocrity and mundane nature. Every day the Bible tweaks my life and prompts fresh mid-course corrections.
I need to see God for who He is, and not what I think He is. Everyone has an idea about God. But I believe the Christian Scriptures tell me who God really is in all of his attributes, character, and sovereignty. God is pretty big – so big that I can read the Bible for a lifetime and still get to know more about him. I read my Bible in order to sharpen my vision of God and to think more accurately about all that matters most in this life.
I need to see the Church for what it is, and not what I think it is. Everybody and their dog have an opinion about how church should be and operate. But I must take my cues from the Bible about what is most important about the church and what it should be doing. I read the Bible in order to better know and understand who God’s people really are, and what they ought to be doing in this world.
I need God. Reading the Bible is a personal experience — an actual encounter with the author. Daily Bible reading requires routine and structure, but it is not mechanical—just as a body requires a bony skeleton, but it is not the skeleton that gives it life. We do with the Bible what the Psalms guide us in doing—adore God, thank him, complain to him, wrestle with him, express perplexity to him, etc. Without God I am lost. Which is why, apart from Scripture, I am lost.
Reading the Bible is an investment of time, energy, reflection, meditation, and prayer. Struggling through its contents can change your life. It did mine. One of the most important decisions you could ever make is to read the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation because it is God’s Word that reveals to us the God whom we serve.