When you hold a Bible in your hands, you are holding one of the most precious objects imaginable. No antique or priceless artifact, no famous piece of art or giant diamond is more precious than whatever medium communicates God’s own self-revelation.
The Bible is not just the most printed, distributed, and quoted book in the history of the world; it is God’s own word to us. These are the very words of God in one coherent word (message). It is not the pages and ink themselves that are of such value. It’s not the mere jots and tittles, letters and markings, but the content of what God himself has said.
What a marvel it is today that we have in one manageable volume (or app or audio collection) the record of God’s inspired speech to humanity through his prophets and apostles. Tony Reinke celebrates the wonder of the access we have today to God’s compiled word:
As God’s plan moved from a come-and-see religion (Old Testament) to a go-and-tell focus (New Testament), chisel and stone gave way to primitive advances in paper and ink, making it possible for written communications technology to advance. God’s words, first scratched in stone, then on processed animal skins, and then on products of trees, would become the Creator’s centerpiece for drawing together his people separated by continents, languages, and millennia. Over time, the many scrolls of the Old Testament and the many books and letters of the New Testament were gathered into a codex, translated, and mass-published as a single book of unified authority that we now conveniently carry in one hand. Every time we open our Bibles, our souls are being fed through centuries of technological advancement. (12 Ways, 32–33)
In this way, the Bible is the most important piece of technology you’ve ever touched. So, what do you do with one? How do you make the most of something so valuable?
What Comes First
The obvious first answer is read it. That’s the most basic, straightforward, initial way to engage any collection of words. Books are written, and published, to be read. The biblical authors wrote down the stories, visions, prophecies, and letters so that other people in their day, and those who would come after them, could read about (or have others read aloud to them) what God had said and done in history.
Bible intake begins at the speed of reading. Like a movie producer designs his reel to be viewed at normal speed, so Bible intake begins with typical reading, perhaps at the speed you’re reading this article. But reading is just the beginning of fruitful engagement with the Bible.
The Bible is a book, but no ordinary book, and so we do far more than simply read. Let me suggest five basic, but life-transforming, actions to take with a Bible.
1. Ask questions, expect answers.
The Bible is indeed a very old book, but not one that will fall apart in your hands. Yes, handle God’s words with care, but not because they are fragile. His word will meet the cynic’s most demanding challenges. God can handle your questions. All of them. Every legitimate query will have its answer in due course.
Don’t be afraid to pause and pose questions — the simplest kind and the very hardest — and then expect to find answers. And be ready to do what it takes to pursue them. We call this Bible study. And it can be time-consuming, and greatly rewarding. Perhaps the main obstacle that keeps us from doing it well today isn’t that we’re not smart enough, but that we’re too lazy to put in the energy to ask the hard questions, and the time it takes to really pursue the answers.
2. Pause and ponder.
Study shapes the mind, but the ancient practice of “meditation” feeds the heart. Meditation is the slow-food of Bible intake. Study slows down our reading in one way, but meditation does so in another, and to another degree. Meditation is almost certainly the most underrated way of engaging the Bible in our day.
If reading watches the film in normal speed, and study views a scene in slow motion, meditation freezes the frame, and then enjoys the brilliance and glory of what’s happening at that specific moment. Meditation pauses, not to discover the meaning, but to steep our souls in the significance, and try to feel a greater sense of it in our hearts. Meditation funnels our Bible intake to the heart. It takes the mental work of reading (and study) and presses it down into our emotions to better feel the weight of the meaning. Meditation also pairs well with Bible memory, and the most fruitful memorization, I’ve found, is a rigorous form of meditation.
3. Respond in prayer.
The most natural next step after lingering in meditation over God’s words to us is to speak back to him in prayer. We can “pray the Bible” in at least two senses: one stricter, another more substantive. You might want to pray back to God the precise words of the biblical text, quoting back to him exactly what he’s saying to us. But another way to “pray the Bible” is to take in his words, meditate on them, press them to our hearts and make them our own, and then pray back to God, in our own words, in view of what we’ve heard from him in his speaking to us.
Either way, don’t leave the cycle of communion incomplete by just reading and studying God’s words, and even meditating on them, and then turning to walk away. That’s not a relationship. How amazing that God not only makes himself known to us. He not only speaks to us. But he also wants to hear from us. He listens. Prayer is an astounding gift.
We haven’t yet learned the fullness of what to do with a Bible if it’s not inspiring and guiding our prayers.
Prayer is a good initial step of response to the words of the God of the universe, but let it not go unsaid that obedience is essential. When we open the Bible, we come into contact with the King of kings. Through Christ, we approach his throne of grace. Hearing his words, and not obeying them, is a ticking time bomb. He is patient and kind (Romans 2:4). He makes his sun to rise on the righteous and unrighteous (Matthew 5:45). He is patient toward us, not wanting any to perish (2 Peter 3:9). But he will not always suffer our disobedience.
Pray that you will never lose the profound seriousness of coming into contact with the very words of God.
One way in particular to share God’s word is one-on-one Bible reading. Invite a neighbor, co-worker, or friend to sit down with you and read a brief passage together, perhaps from the Gospels, and discuss for a few minutes. Taking God’s very words in the Bible as the catalyst for interaction is powerful. One-on-one Bible reading may be the single most effective step you can take to bring a nonbeliever to faith.
Another way to share God’s words, whether quoting them exactly or paraphrasing to clarify the meaning, is to put them into the various rhythms of communication in our lives. Whether it’s an encouraging email or text, or something we mention in the course of conversation, or in praying aloud with others, or even sharing through social media, we have dozens of opportunities every day to share what we have read, understood, and tasted in God’s word.
Reading the Bible is just the beginning of experiencing the weight and wonder of the very words of God. Next time you sit down with the Bible, slow down, steep your soul in God’s own voice, and don’t let go till he blesses you.