Psalm 119, which is known as the longest chapter of the Bible at 176 verses, uses almost all those verses to celebrate the beauty and benefits of God’s precepts and instruction. As I read verse after verse, page after page of this psalmist singing the praises of Scripture, I wonder, is this just hype—a way of fulfilling the requirements of this acrostic poem—or does the psalmist really experience God’s teaching in such a joyful way? And I also wonder whether most Christians today think this way about God’s Word.
Every Christian I know reveres the Bible, even if they don’t really read it. Many acknowledge its importance and authority, but as for sitting down with it, well, if they were honest, they would have to say the Bible can feel a little too overwhelming, a little too long and fragmented and obscure to just sit and read the way you would read some other book. Better to experience it in the bits and pieces you get in church or on social media, right?
Is Bible-reading destined to be a chore that Christians feel obligated to fulfill, or are there ways to experience it with the joy and anticipation the writer describes in Psalm 119? Can the Bible become like a book from your favorite writer that you can’t wait to get back to?
I believe anything that brings us in touch with the Bible is good, whether it is a short devotional that reflects on one verse or a multi-volume commentary that offers an extensive scholarly treatment. There are countless ways to encounter the Bible today. Online Bible apps offer devotionals and studies on every imaginable topic. I teach a Sunday school class using The Foundry’s Faith Connections series, which brings us a solid study of a portion of the Bible every week. Thousands of books offer perspectives on biblical teachings. Bible-focused blogs, websites, and social media groups abound.
I experience the Bible in many of those forms, and I would not want to give up any of them. Studying Scripture in a small group opens up insights I would never discover on my own, and I am grateful for gifted commentators and writers who can bring history, theology, and personal insights to bear in their treatment of God’s Word. But there is one discipline I hold onto no matter which of these other methods I use. I make time to immerse myself in the Bible, reading it book by book, chapter by chapter, in big chunks on a regular basis. I try to come to it fresh, with no agenda, and forcing no outcome. I let it speak.
As you can imagine, that means I have read through the Bible many times over the course of my life. Why? Haven’t I read it all before? Isn’t that enough?
As I write this, I am teaching a complex novel, The Sound and the Fury, by William Faulkner, in one of my literature courses at Azusa Pacific University. I love the novel and have read it many times, but students often find it bewildering at first, and understandably so. The first of the novel’s four sections is narrated by a severely mentally challenged man who cannot distinguish between past and present. He tells his story in jumbled fragments that span thirty years and multiple incidents. Some of those incidents are clarified in later chapters, which can make a reader feel the need to go back and read the first chapter again, with more understanding.
One time I told my class, “This novel begins to make much more sense by about the fourth time you read it.” They groaned. They barely have time to read it once! But what I told them is true. As with other great literature, the book gets better—more of its meaning reveals itself—in subsequent readings.
Reading the Bible is similar. Some of its meaning is plain right away, even for a child. But the more you read it and the deeper you go, the more you understand it in ways you never could have imagined. The Bible also speaks to you in different ways at different ages. The Bible itself is the same, but you are different. Sometimes I come to a passage that blows me away, but I don’t remember ever noticing it before. I think, When did they put that in the Bible? For whatever reason, those verses that floated past me in previous readings now come to life, and I read them as if for the first time. The Bible is a book you never finish. No matter how many times you have read it, it always has the potential to feel new.
The Bible is not just information. It is not just quick inspiration. Over the long term, immersing yourself in its words changes the way you see the world, the way you see reality, and the way you understand God.
The Bible is not just information. It is not just quick inspiration. Over the long term, immersing yourself in its words changes the way you see the world, the way you see reality, and the way you understand God. It reveals God slowly, the way spending time with a person gradually allows you to know them. One of the most important ways the Holy Spirit reaches us is through Scripture. If we neglect his voice in that place where he speaks, we are shutting off a crucial part of our relationship with him.
Through the Bible, we also learn how God has operated in the lives of people across the centuries. We learn from other figures in the Bible how to approach God—how Paul describes him, how Jesus talks of the Father, how the psalmists praise him and cry out to him, how Moses, Jeremiah, and Isaiah listened to him, humbled themselves before him, obeyed him, trusted him.
The Bible is not meant to be just an occasional treat or a light snack. It is a feast. I want to take my time to enjoy it.