7 Habits for Effective Bible Reading

A little booklet for getting big results from your Bible study
This ebooklet is for you, if: You believe the Bible is the word of God You sometimes struggle to hear God talking in it It will show you a simple but powerful method for finding valuable lessons in you Bible. You can apply this method to any passage, chapter, or verse. Even if you are an experienced reader, it will make your reading more rewarding, profitable… and effective. If your reading is more effective, you will find you understand God more and find more lessons and guidance about how to really live the Christian life. Something we all want to do, but need help with. And that’s exactly what the Bible is there for.

Why is reading the Bible so hard?
Reading the Bible is hard! It’s difficult to get into the habit of reading it, even if you want to. And when you do sit down to read it, often the words don’t seem to mean much. But why is it so tough? Many people claim to believe the Bible and love it, but don’t look forward to reading it! Why is that? Let me suggest a few reasons: We see reading as a duty or sacrament. God is watching us, and he’ll be pleased if we cast our eyes over his Word from time to time. He’ll be even more pleased, we tell ourselves, if doing so is a real sacrifice. There are lots of hard bits in the Bible. The Apostle Peter even admits that he sometimes struggles to understand what his fellow-apostle Paul is trying to say. It’s human nature to focus on what’s difficult, so

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sometimes we only see the hard bits. We invest all our brains in working on those bits, and the obvious stuff slips by. And since we don’t even feel like we understand the hard bits it ends up very frustrating. The English is hard. There are many clear, modern translations out there now… but for many of us, the Bible is still in the language of thees and thous. Even once we get around that, we have to deal with figures of speech yanked out of three different foreign languages and rammed (often clumsily) into a completely different one. Translators are only human after all. We assume that the Bible says a lot of things that it doesn’t. We’re brought up to believe that the Bible is full of all sorts of teachings and ideas that aren’t really there. Many of them are openly contradicted. We read these things, and assume that we’re misunderstanding or missing some vital elements. Sometimes we are (and we need to keep reading to get a complete understanding), sometimes we’re not (and we come to realize that we were brought up with lots of wrong ideas about what the Bible said). All of this disappointment creates an unvirtuous circle. We read it, and it’s hard, and we don’t get much out of it. The next time we drag our Bible out and force ourselves to look inside we feel a mix of guilt and foreboding. We’re not looking forward to it. Our experience tells us that we never benefit much. Approach anything with a negative attitude, and you’ll only get negativity out! Which means that it’s hardly a surprise that we don’t read half as often or half as much as we intend… and that in turn, of course, makes it all the harder. Promise 1: None of the “seven habits” to tell you to pull your socks up and just read more. I’m sure you’ve told yourself that before. I will make sure that you have the tools to benefit when you read, so that in the end you will want to read more.

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It’s not supposed to be this way!
My goal is not to tell you to force down more of God’s word. I want to help you develop a taste for it – to taste and see that it is good, to feel it benefit you, and eventually to actively hunger for its nourishment. If you follow these steps, and it doesn’t work, then I have failed – not you.

Understanding is not the whole story
A lot of people seem to treat the Bible as a sort of puzzle. The goal, they reckon, is to understand it. Once they’re finished, they will have a clear (hopefully beautiful!) picture of the whole thing. And then they will be finished. The Bible has done its job, the puzzle is complete. If you’ve ever felt frustrated that you couldn’t understand some parts of the Bible, then you might have a shred of this attitude in you. “The Bible is there to be understood. Reading it is mainly an intellectual exercise. If I don’t understand then I’m not reading it well enough.” This view is wrong. Promise 2: None of the “seven habits” tell you any particular understanding of the Bible… or encourage you towards any particular interpretation.

The whole story is transformation
The most effective reading of the Bible is not the one that means you understand everything intellectually. It is the one that helps you be transformed from what you naturally are, into somebody who’s far more like Jesus – and far more pleasing to God. This doesn’t just mean you understand more, but that your whole mode of thinking is different. The most effective reading will mean that over time, your thoughts, feelings, and actions will become closer to what God wants them to be.

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A reader that aims for understanding will immediately ignore everything that they understand easily. An effective reader knows understanding is the first step – and once they understand something in the Bible, they wring all the goodness from it that they can. An effective reader makes sure that what they read has an effect on them. Paul talks about people “ever learning, but never coming to a knowledge of the truth”. They understand a lot… but they don’t really know God any better. Their reading is not effective: it has no effect on them. Promise 3: The “seven habits” won’t give you an immediate, full understanding of everything you read. I’m going to show you how to benefit from God’s word every time you read it. There are more than a lifetime’s mysteries to discover. It’s wise to start with the easy ones.

Three rules for the right frame of mind
It’s easy to approach God’s word with a wrong attitude: “Reading it is a duty. It’s cryptic and impractical.” Don’t be like that! Before you try to read, be sure to remind yourself of these facts: God’s word is a blessing. The Bible has only been available so freely for a fairly short time. Be grateful. It’s designed to teach you – to furnish you with positive lessons. Trust that they will be there. Agree with yourself that you will act on them. There will be difficult bits, but they need not get in the way of the many clear teachings. Accept that they are there because God is trying to teach you something hard – and he is willing to take time. This is the frame of mind that you want. Before reading, pray that God will help you achieve it. Thank him for providing his Word. Ask for his help finding lessons. Ask for his strength to carry them out. Ask for his wisdom, guidance and patience where you struggle to understand for yourself. And now, with mind prepared, here they are…

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Seven habits for effective Bible reading
This is the workshop version. Get some paper or, better, a notebook that you like and will want to keep, choose a Bible passage, and try working through these steps. 1. Summarize the passage. The language is hard to understand, so try to retell the passage simply, in a way you can understand, but that is true to what the text says. Aim for a written summary that’s around one quarter the length of what you read. (If that sounds a lot of work – don’t read so much in one go!) Don’t judge – just put down what it says in your own words. 2. Look at the context. Flick back through the previous few chapters and get the gist of what’s going on. Write down what’s been going on before and (if you don’t mind breaking the suspense) roughly what’s coming next. [TIP: if you are reading the first chapter of a book, then there isn’t much context to look back at! Instead, see what the early verses tells you about the overall situation and purpose of a book. Often they will identify important information about time and place, or key ideas that come out in the book over and over again.] Those two are all about grasping roughly what the passage is about. It might seem like extra labour, but I find going through this process helps even with familiar passages. You’ll discover that most of the familiar passages in reality only have a few bits that are familiar, and a load that are a surprise. If the above habits are about zooming out for a bird’s eye view – simplifying the whole passage so it will all fit in your head in one go! – the next three are about zooming in: 3. Identify key words or phrases. Look for either a word or concept that comes up again and again in the passage. Or find the “money quote”: a short extract that sums up the main theme or tension in the passage. Write it down. Or write a few down if you spot a few. This will often help to clearly see the main themes or ideas in the passage. 4. Look for echoes. The Bible deals with similar themes over and over again. Think of other parts of the Bible that are similar to this. Sometimes it’s very specific: a phrase or form of words. Sometimes it’s a vague similarity of

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ideas. Take John 1:1 for example. “In the beginning was the word”. Where have you heard that phrase “in the beginning” before? Right in Genesis 1:1. That’s an echo. If you can’t find echoes in the Bible, look for echoes with your own life – or anything else you’ve experienced. 5. Confront those difficult bits. You should have pretty much ignored them so far. Now write down anything that you don’t understand, that doesn’t fit with what you already believe, or that just seems wrong! Write them down, think about them for a while… but don’t feel obliged to solve them. They will still be there later. Now that you’ve written them down, you may find yourself more open to hearing a solution in future reading or study. Be patient as you keep reading, and over time you will come to understand many of these. Finally, it’s time to draw conclusions about what you’ve read. If you follow the five habits above then you’ll learn a lot… but it’s the next two that will help you really come to a knowledge of the truth. 6. Learn about God and Jesus. If you don’t learn about God and his son, what’s the point of reading? Does the passage reveal anything about God’s character? If Jesus Christ is in it, what do you learn about him? 7. Find a practical lesson for yourself. The Bible is there to transform you. Is there anything in the passage that will help God transform you into a better disciple, if you accept it? For each stage, write down what you find – but remember that the last two are the most important. You’ll find as you work through these steps that each one builds on what you found in the last. If you’d looked at the chapter and tried to find a practical lesson straight away, would you have found anything so profound? No.

Seven habits lite
You don’t always have time to go through every step above with pen and paper. When you’re reading in a hurry or without the tools, remember this mental checklist:

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After reading, go back over it and try to get an overall feel for what the passage is saying Flick back and forth a few chapters, see if any themes pop out Pick out your favourite bit – the verse or verses that are most interesting Any juicy echoes or difficult bits? A quick read isn’t the best time for this kind of detailed study, but sometimes they leap out… What’s God telling you about himself? Remember that today! What’s God telling you about what you should do? Remember that too! That’s all! Now get your Bible out and do it.

What to do next
If you are looking for other resources to help you then please visit my blog at 7biblehabits.blogspot.com, where I’ll be God Willing posting related resources such as bookmarks and workbooks, as well as posts on Biblical and religious topics. You will also find the most up to date version of this ebooklet there. http://7biblehabits.blogspot.com/ You can also contact me through this blog.

7 Habits for Effective Bible Reading v. 0.1 Please pass this along to anybody who you think would find it useful. Let me know what you think of it at http://7biblehabits.blogspot.com/