All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
II Timothy 3: 16-17
The Bible is an important part of a healthy spiritual life. When we were in school, we learned all of the basic food groups. And we were told it was important that we eat something from all of them on a daily basis. The Bible kind of works in the same way. Many of us pray, some do it with great fervor and some throw up a prayer here or there, or make their cross before eating. Many of us attend church, some who really come to worship and others who come in late and stand idly by. This is not criticism, but observation. Most Christians have at least some semblance of a prayer life and worship. However, there are many Christians, specifically Orthodox Christians, who do not read the Bible regularly, if at all. A survey I once took at summer camp indicated that for 90+ percent of campers their only interaction with Scripture was the Epistle and Gospel in church, if they got there on time. Most of us were not raised with the discipline of reading or studying the Bible with any regularity.
So how can we kick-start Scripture reading in our lives? There are multiple ways to do it. And none is better, it’s just important to start somewhere and make this a daily discipline. If you’ve never read the four Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—start there. Read about the life and ministry of Christ. That is the centerpiece of the Bible. Get an “annotated Bible”, meaning a Bible with some notes to help explain what you are reading. “The Orthodox Study Bible” has good notes and helpful articles. We don’t have to devour the Bible in large quantities. Read a chapter at a time. Read the notes. Take your own notes. Sit with Scripture. In other words, after you read a passage of Scripture, sit and let God bring thoughts to your mind about what you’ve read. Keep a small journal with these thoughts. It might be one sentence a day.
Once you’ve read the Gospels a few times, then read the Book of Acts. This book recounts the history of the early church. From there, move to the Epistles. These letters written to the early Christians and the early churches still apply greatly to our lives and our churches today. Also, many passages will be familiar as we read them in the Divine Services of our church.
Once you’ve gotten through the entire New Testament, it’s time to tackle the Old Testament. And “tackle” is a good word, because parts of the Old Testament are dry, confusing, and yes, in places a little boring. One thing I would encourage you to do is get a plan to read the Bible in a year. They sell special Bibles with sections to read each day, and there are multiple Bible in a year plans. The good thing about the Bible in a year is that first of all, you can read the entire Bible in a year if you spend 15-20 minutes a day reading it. Secondly, in most Bible in a year plans, there are readings from two separate books, so that if one reading (let’s say from Leviticus) is difficult to comprehend, it will be paired with a book like one of the Gospels, or a narrative book, like Genesis, so that at least one of the two readings will be easier to comprehend.
There are also Bible in a year podcasts, several people, including Orthodox people, who read the Bible in a year and make some helpful commentary as well. Again, twenty minutes a day with a podcast can get you through the Bible in a year. Most people commute more than that. Just today, in fact, I was listening to a Bible podcast where the commentator was reading from the book of Genesis. He read the story of Abraham and Hagar, which is probably not well known to most people. At the end, in his comments, he talked about Abraham being faithful, and at times also failing to be faithful. And he said, you can still be faithful even if you fail at times. That one line will stick with me all day, and now I won’t feel so discouraged about my failures to be faithful, because I know that failure does not mean I can’t have faith. These are the little nuggets of knowledge and direction, as well as encouragement that come from reading the Scriptures, even obscure passages, when we take the time to study them, or to read/listen to others expounding on them. One does not have to spend hours reading the Bible. A few minutes each day will give us inspiration, knowledge, direction and encouragement.
And don’t be intimidated if you don’t understand a passage. There are many passages I don’t understand. And there are many more passages that I understand more deeply the more times I read them. I read the same passages over and over again and still and coming to a deeper understanding of them, even though I have read them many times. That’s the beautiful thing about the Bible. It’s not meant to be read only once. It’s meant to be read many times, so that on each look, we uncover a new treasure.
Shine within our hearts, loving Master, the pure light of Your divine knowledge and open the eyes of our minds to comprehend the message of Your Gospel. Instill in us also reverence for Your Holy Commandments, so that having conquered sinful desires, we may pursue a more spiritual life, thinking and doing those things that are pleasing to You. For You Christ our God are the light of our souls and bodies, and to You we send up glory, with Your Father who is without beginning, and Your All-Holy, Good, and Life-giving Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen. (from the Divine Liturgy, prayer before the Gospel Reading)
Read the Bible today!