I try to make a practice of reading the Bible through each year. It sounds more labourious than it actually is because the Bible is really one of the most gripping stories the world has ever known. It spans time and space and relates to people of every race and every nationality. It’s true that books like Leviticus and Numbers can get you bogged down but for the most part, the stories and principles are as relevant today as they were when they were written. Not only that, but because it’s God’s word, it’s ALIVE and when we read it with that understanding, that LIFE give us LIFE also.
For a Christian, nothing can take the place of a clear understanding of God’s ideas, and these come through His word more powerfully than anything else. Even a great prayer life, which is something we all want, cannot replace our need to get God’s opinion on the issues we are struggling through.
For Christians in the Western world, Bible reading is not a big deal. Most people who’ve been Christians for more than a year or two have several Bibles in different translations and sizes on their shelves…and often enough, on the shelf is where they stay. It’s not a normal question for us to ask each other if we’ve read our Bibles this week, and even though we all know we should do it, generally our Bible reading is one of the first things to go when we get busy. We can breathe hurried prayers in the day, but getting that 10 minutes or half an hour to read is often just one more thing we don’t have time for.
It’s hard to realise that not even 300 years ago people were being burned at the stake and killed in other horrible ways just because they were trying to get the Bible into the hands of ordinary people. People were murdered for owning a page of the Bible or learning the Lord’s prayer, and those who were attempting to print the Scriptures in England and Germany were hunted from place to place and often forfeited their lives for their determination to get you and me to be able to have a Bible in our car or handbag. Even now, in places like China and Indonesia and the Middle East, having a Bible is illegal and people own them at the risk of their lives.
For a thousand years before that, only the priests were allowed to read the Bible and it was spoken in Latin rather than in the language of the people. This meant that the majority of the population had to rely on a man’s interpretation or the Church’s theological position to try and understand God’s position on ordinary daily life. Community life was enslaved by rituals and legalism, much of which had no bearing on what God actually thought or had planned for His people. No wonder the dark ages gave way to the age of enlightenment where people not only threw off the shackles of religion, but also of their perception of a god who only wanted to take from them. The Baby definitely got thrown out with the bath water!
And now, here we are in the 21st century, a season where it’s no holds barred on who believes what and everyone can believe anything they like. Lots of people who really love God are trying to work out how to follow Him in a way that will give strength and light to their every day lives, but the trouble is, we are so often confused because the Church says one thing and society says another and we’re not too sure of what God thinks about anything in particular.
It’s times like this that the importance of knowing what the Bible says because we are familiar with it is incalculable. You can look up a verse or ask a question of others, and that’s a good thing to do, but nothing can take the place of familiarising yourself with the Word of God and being able to use it like a good swordsman.
Early in my Christian life I looked at the size of the Bible and the time I had available and thought ‘I’ll never be able to read all that, much less remember what it says…’ However, it turns out, I was wrong. I made a beginning, and I kept on going and gradually, over a period of time, I began to realise that I was remembering bits here and there. I made a time each day to read it and before I opened it, I would ask God to help me understand what I was reading and give me revelation over what it said…and HE DID! The more I read, the more I took in and the more real it became to me. Even now, 35 years later, I still read something familiar to me and see something new.
It’s not always easy to find the time, I know, but there are ways to organise your life so you can take in the Word of God, and this is especially important for people in Church leadership. Try doing your devotions on the net if you’re a techie, or buy a set of CDs of Bible reading. When you go to church, TAKE YOUR BIBLE and even though the verse may be up on the screen, use yours. Turning to the specific scripture that is being read will give you the practice you need at finding your way around your own Bible.
God’s opinion is more valuable than anyone else’s. How about committing yourself to a year of finding out what He thinks, by reading His word…and doing it!