The Bible is God's gift to the Church. It contains everything we know about Jesus and it's the foundational document of the Christian faith. It tells of how God dealt with the people of Israel, and of how in Jesus that long history reaches its fulfilment. Christians everywhere are encouraged to read it, daily if possible, learn it and live by it.
But at the same time, it's not an easy book. Some people just aren't great readers. There are parts of the Bible we just find difficult to understand. There are others that don't seem to have much to say to us and some we struggle with for different reasons. And this isn't surprising: it was written over perhaps a thousand years by many different people, all of whom lived in a world very different from our own. So how can we get the best out of it? Here are six ideas.
1. Don't be intimidated.
Yes, it's a thick book and it can be confusing. But 'all Scripture is inspired by God, and is useful...' (2 Timothy 3:16). Sometimes, if we're honest, we might read a passage and not know how it relates to our own lives, or to other parts of Scripture. Instead of worrying about what exactly what parts of Ezekiel or Revelation might mean, it's wise sometimes just to read them and store them in our minds. Illumination might come later.
2. Get help.
Wise men and women have spend whole lifetimes studying the Scriptures and writing notes and commentaries on them. It's very arrogant to assume we have nothing to learn from them. Yes, of course God can speak to ordinary, unscholarly Christians, but that's no reason not to take advantage of other people's learning. Find Bible reading notes from someone you trust and use them – like Fresh From the Word, BRF, CWR or Scripture Union.
3. Don't over-complicate things.
You don't have to know everything in order to know something. It's sometimes said, 'a text without a context is a pretext', and that's right – we can sometimes make the Bible say what we want it to say. But we don't have to be Bible scholars in order to benefit from the Bible. If we approach it prayerfully and reverently, God can use it to speak to us.
4. Be organised.
A reading plan, whether it's the Bible in a year or a few verses a day, is really useful. It helps you cover the ground, so you aren't just reading your favourite bits, and it's a way of helping you see how it all fits together.
5. Make notes.
Either scribble them in your Bible or keep an exercise book in which you note down things that strike you and questions you ask. That way when you go back to it you have something to build on – you're creating a resource that could nourish you for years.
6. Don't be legalistic about it.
Protestants are very, very keen on Bible reading. It's a precious resource. But we shouldn't allow ourselves to pressured into doing it so it becomes a chore rather than a joy. We need to find our own rhythm of reading, which might not be every day; and we need to remember that it's the Spirit, not the Bible alone, that forms Christian disciples.
Follow Mark Woods on Twitter: @RevMarkWoods