I haven’t taken any writing courses or read many books on the subject (more on that in another post), but I’m pretty sure one of the first things you should figure out is who your audience is. I’m not quite certain who mine is—who you are. I have an idea that you’re probably followers of Jesus at different places in your respective journeys.
I’m starting this MAKING CHANGE series with something I feel has been the most integral in my life as a believer in Jesus. It’s more important than what I could say about money or setting fitness goals. I have embraced reading and studying the Bible, and it has helped me to know God and myself better.
Getting to Know You, All about You
After I graduated high school, much to my family’s and maybe even my own disappointment, I decided to delay going to college, though I could have had significant music scholarships at any of the universities in Arizona. For whatever reason, I just didn’t think I was ready. Looking back now, even though I was still somewhat of a new believer, I think God was behind the delay, because he did a lot of work in my heart during that year off.
I took a fulltime office job and broke up with my girlfriend—well, she broke up with me—and had little contact with friends who’d started college. I think God had me where he wanted me. I bought a Bible, one I could easily understand. It was the Life Application Study Bible and featured the Living Bible paraphrase. After spending the day typing and filing, I would read well into the night.
I look back with fondness, like it was the beginning of a relationship, as when I first started dating Cindy. I was getting to know God and how he felt about me and the world he created. Who were these Israelites? Why did Jesus come anyway? Why does God seem so angry in the Prophets? Why would the apostles give their lives for the gospel? Was God asking for mine?
A word of caution if you’re wanting to read the Bible: God may very well speak to you. He did speak to me through his Word. I received direction for my life in that year and am doing today what he was calling me to back then.
So how do you get started? Before I give you some tips, please allow me to remind you what I said in the Intro to this series: I don’t profess that I’ve achieved where I want to be. There is still so much about Scripture I don’t understand. I do feel, however, like I not only have a wealth of knowledge of the Bible, but on rare occasions, I actually have implemented what I’ve learned. Here’s what’s helped me and what can help you:
- Get an easier-to-understand translation. I use the English Standard Version in my study, when I’m doing some serious reading and digging in, because it’s a word-for-word rendering. But I use the New Living Translation in what I’ll call devotional reading, when I’m just getting alone with God. The NLT is a thought-for-thought translation, so it will sometimes add clarification. There’ll be time for deeper study. Until then, get a copy of the NLT or some of the other thought-for-thought. (I’m giving one away; see below for details.) If you’re a rookie, even The Message isn’t a bad idea. It’s essentially like the Living Bible I started with 15 years ago. (I’m giving one away too.)
- Start with a goal. I like smaller goals. Instead of the entire Bible or even the New Testament, maybe just the gospels. Or Paul’s letters. Or the Torah (first five books of the Old Testament). I recommend not setting a timeline, or if you do, be okay with adjusting it. God may slow you down, or you may miss some days.
- Read a couple chapters or so, highlighting things that pop out at you.
- Journal about those highlights. You don’t have to write a book, maybe just some thoughts. (We can’t all be great writers!) Use a simple notebook or invest in a nice Moleskine, my favorite—another giveaway. I use a combination of paper and my laptop. As you write, listen for what God may be saying. He’ll very often use my own pen to speak specific things to me. (I recommend bringing your notebook to church. Who knows, God may speak to you there too. If you want to bring your laptop, I’ll give you the WIFI password. Just kidding about that.)
- Mostly, I’m not studying, so I’ll make a note to study something more in depth later. Although, at times I will use short study helps during my journaling. The Life Application notes are great. Even more, I like my ESV Study Bible notes. I use Bible software with deeper commentaries in my study.
- After I’ve read and journaled, I’ll pray about the struggles and joys in my life and for those I know. (Talk about needing to grow. I desperately need to grow as an intercessor, one who prays for others.)
- It’s good to review your entries regularly—at least once a month. It’s easy to forget what God may be saying, and you’ll find he repeats himself until we get it.
Take a moment and look at your life. Are you satisfied as a follower of Jesus? Have you become complacent? In all the resolutions I’m looking at, there has to be a commitment to grow. If we continue doing the same thing, we’ll find ourselves the same in 2012.
Two final notes:
- Try to make your devotional reading a regular time in your day, but don’t feel guilty for missing a day. As you grow, you’ll find that God will speak beyond the 30 minutes or so you set aside to read Scripture. God wants to spend time with you. He’s not that friend who makes you feel guilty for never hanging out. But he does want more than a Facebook-friend kind of relationship.
- Put away the 5-minute devotionals and other “Christian living” tomes Christian book publishers push. Here’s what the author of Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream says about the Bible:
We have settled far too long for “Bible lite,” both as individual Christians and in the community of faith. We have adopted a Christianity consumed with little devotional thoughts from God for the day, supplemented by teaching in the church filled with entertaining short stories and trite opinions on how to be a better person and live a better life in the twenty-first century. Meanwhile, we hold the matchless Word of God in our hands, and it demands a superior position in our lives, our families, our small groups, and our churches. —David Platt