Do you have questions about life, friends, family, God, or your future? If so, the Bible is for you! Thousands of people just like you find their lives more meaningful because of the Bible’s message. People all over the world turn to it to find answers to questions like:
- Does God really care about me?
- What does God expect of me?
- Can I really make a difference in the world?
- Is it really possible to live forever?
- Is there really a hell? Is heaven for real?
- Does God really listen when we pray?
- What should I do with my life?
But the Bible is more than an answer book to turn to when the pressures of life are overwhelming. It is really a library of books. It’s filled with stories about real people. It has great poetry and beautiful songs. It has prophecies and promises. But most importantly, it is the true story of God’s visiting our earth through his Son, Jesus Christ.
As you read about him, you will discover the most terrific friend you could ever have—someone who’s around twentyfour hours a day, any time you need him! So take some time each day to read the Bible. It could be the most important and life-changing step you will ever take.
THE MESSAGE OF THE BIBLE
The Bible begins by telling how the eternal God created the world and everything in it. He gave people a beautiful place to live and supplied everything they needed. Best of all, he was their friend.
That glorious beginning, however, was ruined when people disobeyed God and plunged into rebellion and sin. This broke humanity’s relationship with God and brought judgment and death to the earth, its creatures, and humanity itself. Even so, God did not abandon his disobedient creatures. He set out to reclaim fallen people, much as a shepherd sets out to restore lost sheep to the fold.
The Old Testament provides many references to a special individual who would provide salvation for his people. That special individual, the Messiah, was not to be merely a man, however. The Messiah was to be “Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14; 8:8), which in Hebrew means “God is with us.” The Messiah would be both God and man, and those prophecies were fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ.
When Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sin, he also removed all guilt produced by that sin and restored the broken relationship between God and humanity. Furthermore, he lives today and speaks continually to God on our behalf. “Therefore he is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through him” (Hebrews 7:25). He gives eternal life to all who trust in him.
HOW TO STUDY THE BIBLE
To get the most out of this Bible, you will need to study it on a regular and orderly basis. You may, however, have some questions. You may wonder, Where do I begin reading? Or, What do I need to know before I start? The following paragraphs and features will help you get started and give you some important hints and information to help you begin an effective study of the Bible.
Pray for Wisdom and Understanding. The most often overlooked and undervalued aspect of Bible study is prayer. Yet prayer is essential to gaining wisdom and understanding when you read God’s Word. Through prayer, you can approach God and acknowledge your incomplete knowledge of his Word, as well as your need for him to open your heart to his instruction. So determine to begin each time of study with prayer. Only God can give you the wisdom to understand his Word.
Where do you begin? There’s no rule that says you have to read the Bible straight through, beginning on page one. Since it is a library of books, you can begin almost anywhere. However, if the Bible is fairly new to you, start your reading in the New Testament with the book of Mark (p. 761). This book will give you a dramatic introduction to the events that changed the world and can change your life. It is a short, fast-moving biography of Jesus Christ, written by a young man who probably witnessed most of Jesus’ three-year ministry. In addition, Mark probably knew Jesus’ disciples well and drew on their memories to help write this book.
Then follow the growth of Christianity by reading the book of Acts (p. 830). This picks up where Mark ends and continues the dynamic story of the first Christians and how they spread the Good News of Jesus Christ all over the world.
Then read the book of Romans (p. 857). This is one of the many letters written by Paul. It was sent to a group of first-century Christians in Rome. In it Paul clearly tells how selfish, arrogant, sinful humans can find acceptance with God. After you finish Romans, read some of the shorter books in the New Testament before turning to the Old Testament.
In the Old Testament, read the people stories in the book of Genesis. Then continue with some of the other books named after the main characters—Joshua, Ruth, Ezra, Job, Jonah, and others. Be sure to read complete stories rather than stop at the end of a chapter. For instance, the story of Gideon covers Judges 6–8 (pp. 192-195). The story of Jonah covers the whole book (p. 701), but it is only four chapters long and can easily be read in one sitting.
Then turn to the Psalms (p. 415) and read enough of them to get a sense of what it means to worship God and pour out your feelings to him. Save the longer prophetic books (Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel) and the books of God’s law (Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) until last. You may want to set up a pattern of daily reading that includes several Psalms along with a section from either the Old or New Testament.
How to understand what you read. There are three important steps that will help you understand your Bible as you read.
Observation. The first step is to observe carefully what the author actually wrote. What is he saying? What is the obvious point? It might help if you stop and restate what the passage says in your own words. Or you can underline the key phrase that sums up what the author is saying. You can then try to understand what he means.
Interpretation. The second step is to try to interpret what the author meant when he wrote this passage. Why did he write what he did? What did it mean to him when he wrote it? For instance, in the book of John, the author says there were a lot of other things he could have written, “But these are written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life” (John 20:31, p. 828). As you read John 5, you might wonder why John included the story of the healing of the man at the pool of Bethesda. This requires the use of your imagination. A Bible commentary and Bible dictionary will also be helpful as you try to imagine what was going through the author’s mind as he wrote the passage.
If this second step is difficult for you, be patient. Take your time and reread the passage until its meaning becomes clear.
Application. The third step involves applying the meaning of the passage to your life. Ask the questions “So what?” and “What difference does this passage make in my life?” When you apply the meaning of the Bible to your life, you will find that the Bible’s purpose is to “teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right” (2 Timothy 3:16, page 915).
Don’t be afraid to underline key statements in your Bible or to make notes. This will help you locate passages that hold special meaning for you. To further your understanding, join a Bible study and share with others interested in knowing more about the Bible.
Finish What You Start. In life, the benefits of doing anything are often not realized until the task is completed. The same is true when reading a book from the Bible. Once you choose a book to read, read it from beginning to end. Although you may benefit spiritually by reading a verse from one book or a story from another, you will benefit more by reading the entire book from which the verse or story came. Reading the entire book puts each verse and story in its proper context. Thus, you will have a better understanding of what each verse and story means. In addition, by reading books from beginning to end you will become more familiar with the Bible as a whole. You may even discover passages that will one day become your favorites.
Invest in a Few Good Resource Books. The Bible alludes to many ancient customs that are unfamiliar to us today. So the subtle meaning behind such allusions can easily be lost to us. To understand the culture in which the Bible was written, you may want to purchase a few good Bible resource books.
There are two types of resource books you should look into purchasing: first, a one- or two-volume commentary on the whole Bible; and second, a Bible dictionary. Most one- or two-volume commentaries are concise. They give you the necessary information on important words, phrases, and verses from the Bible. They will not give you commentary on every verse, and they will not go into detailed explanations on any one verse. But they are good resources to help you begin to understand God’s Word in its ancient context.
Bible dictionaries contain short articles (in alphabetical order) on people, places, and objects found in the Bible. Most Bible dictionaries also contain maps, diagrams, and pictures of Bible cities, regions, and artifacts. You can find these resources wherever Christian books are sold. If you apply these practices to your daily personal Bible study, you are bound to develop habits that will help you grow in your faith.