How to Start Reading and Understanding the Bible

Reading the Bible on your own can be intimidating, but nothing feeds your souls more than time in God's word.  Read on to discover simple ways you can begin immediately reading (and understanding!) the Bible.

Do you have a hard time reading the Bible?

You are not alone!

For many years after becoming a Christian the greatest struggle I faced in my Christian walk was reading the Bible consistently. I knew I needed to read the Bible on my own. After all, the Bible served as the foundation for the very faith I now confessed. It made sense that I should acquaint myself with what it said. 

And believe me, I tried to read it.  (And failed.) 

And I tried some more.  (And failed again.) 

It seemed to me that no matter how much I read the Bible, I simply couldn’t understand it. Now I’m a tried-and-true, bonafide, genuine, real-deal, type-A perfectionist. 

There’s nothing I hate more than failing. So after several go-rounds of this trying and failing, of all this reading yet not understanding, I simply became disheartened. I threw up my hands and threw in the Bible-reading towel.

So there I was: a Christian who didn't (couldn't? wouldn't?) read the Bible.  

While I had no clue how I was supposed to read, study, and understand the Bible, at the same time, I was becoming increasingly aware of just how necessary Bible literacy was for a Christ-following Christian. This discrepancy sparked within me a crisis of conscious. 

It caused me to seriously consider the authenticity of my beliefs.  Could I still confess to being a Christian while shirking my responsibility to dig into the Bible and read?

I found the answer in the very place I didn’t want to look for it:

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples…” John 8:31

Really?  Could it be that clear cut?  (And did He really have to be so terse about it?!)

Here, Jesus seems to be making a distinction between those who merely believe in Him and those who legitimately follow Him.  And the difference is marked by the extent to which a person abides in (dwells, considers, remains present in) His Word. 

It seems that I had found my answer, but I certainly didn’t like it.  Surely, there was another way to interpret that verse.  Surely, Jesus wouldn’t ask that we toe a line that tightly. Surely, neglecting His Word wasn’t paramount to neglecting my salvation.

Or is it? 

I couldn’t find a single Bible verse to support my lack of Bible reading (no matter the myriad of reasons I had for abstaining), but check out how vehemently the Bible promotes our love for, devotion to, and presence in His Word:

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.  Deuteronomy 6-7
This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. Joshua 1:8
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17
 But he answered, “It is written,‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”  Matthew 4:4
Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?  Hebrews 2:1-3

There’s simply no two ways about it.  We can sit on the sidelines of His Word and continuously claim that we believe, but if we want to actually follow Jesus, we must be in His Word. 

I BELIEVED. BUT I WANTED TO FOLLOW. 

So I took a deep breath, picked up the metaphorical towel, and limped back into His Word. 

And since I made that decision to persist in the reading of His Word, God had used His Word to irreparably change my life. I say that with not one ounce of the triteness I know we Christians can sometimes say those types of things. 

I say that with such tremendous gratitude because, listen to me, I didn’t even know my life needed that desperately to change, to be unraveled and then reassembled.  I could not have known because I was not in His Word. 

So if you’re sitting there on the other side of this computer screen wanting to go from merely believing in Jesus to actually following Him, if you’re sitting there wondering how on earth you’re supposed to go about the task of digging into and understanding the Bible, then I have good news for you - I’ve figured out how to do it.

That’s right, after a mere 15 years of being a Christian I have finally found the ONE key to understanding the Bible.  Are you ready for this?  Cause it’s HUGE.  It’s life-altering.  It’s absolutely revolutionary.  I promise you that if you can do this ONE THING, then you WILL begin understanding the Bible.  Ready?  Ok, here it is: 

READ IT.

Yup, you read that right. You remember that one thing I began doing all those years ago but got so discouraged with that I eventually just threw up my hands and quit?  It turns out that one thing was exactly the right thing to do.  I just needed to keep on doing it. 

All these years later, I have come to the realization:

In order to begin understanding the Bible, you have to keep reading it.

Perhaps you were hoping for something a bit less obvious.  Or maybe just a little more nuanced.  But to tell you anything less obvious or more nuanced would only serve to distract you from the very place I greatly want you to be: in His Word. 

So, yes, the one and only thing you need to do to begin understanding the Bible is to start (and continue) reading it. 

Here’s the thing.  God has asked us to know His Word.  More than that, He has commanded it. Take a look back up to the Bible verses I flooded you with a few paragraphs back. 

Our God is not a God of confusion.  He is a God of clarity.

He is not a God who hides.  He is a God who reveals.

He has not set out to trick us, or mislead us, or to distract us, but to make known to us the path of life. 

IF WE ARE FAITHFUL TO READ HIS WORD, HE WILL BE FAITHFUL TO ILLUMINATE IT FOR US. 

So ladies, that means all we need to do to understand the Bible is keep reading it.  But here’s one thing I beg you to consider as you get ready to dive into the deep waters of Scripture on your own: Immediate understanding of the text should not be our highest priority. 

Do we want to understand the Bible?  Yes. 

Most certainly. I believe we can, and I believe we will. 

Will we always understand what we’re reading instantly? No. 

If we go into Bible study with that as our baseline expectation, we will give up disappointed. There is a cumulative effect on our study of Scripture. Just because we aren't immediately understanding everything as we read it does not mean that we are not growing in our understanding of it. 

God is bigger than us. 

His ways are higher than ours. 

We exist inside time. 

He makes His home outside of it. 

To assume that we can gain instantaneous understanding and insight into a Word that an all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-mighty God has authored is to think far too highly of ourselves.  God’s deepest desire for us in our study of His Word is not that we would come to a quick understanding of it, rather that we would linger there with Him in it. 

The point of Bible study is not to understand everything about the Bible. 

The point of Bible study is to come to know God. 

I now understand that part of the reason I got so discouraged in my early attempts at studying the Bible on my own is that I had a skewed understanding of what it meant to fail or succeed in my study of the Bible. I wrongly assumed knowledge and understanding to be the win.  I was wrong. 

Coming to know God is the win. 

Read your Bible. Let God meet you through His living and active Word. Go for the win.

If you’re ready to begin reading, here are a few questions you can use to guide you through the study of any particular portion of Scripture. 

These five questions are designed so that you can begin reading and understanding Scripture right now no matter how little or how much knowledge you have to begin with. 

These questions will direct your attention out to the sweeping panoramic view of the whole of God's story yet still draw you in to the basic and most important tenants of the Christian faith.  I hope you find them helpful.

5 QUESTIONS TO ASK: 

  1. What does this passage teach me about God? [Who is He?  What is He like? What does He do?] 
  2. What does this passage teach me about man? [Who are we?  What are we like?  What do we do?  How are we like God in each of these things?  How are we unlike God in each thing?]
  3. What does this passage teach me about the relationship between God and man? [As it currently is?  As it was originally designed to be?]
  4. What truth does this passage illuminate?  What lie does this passage uncover?
  5. What conviction, correction, instruction, encouragement, or promise does this passage offer me?

I go into much more detail in my book His Word Alone:  A call to put down your Bible studies and pick up your Bible.  

Start reading, my friends!  I’ll be back soon with another post on effective Bible study.  Until then, abide!

Reading the Bible on your own can be intimidating, but nothing feeds your souls more than time in God's word.  Read on to discover simple ways you can begin immediately reading (and understanding!) the Bible.