Saturday, May 18, 2019

8 Top Tips for Overcoming Obstacles to Reading the Bible, Whether You Are a Christian Or Don't Know

Perhaps you are one of the many people who think it might be a good thing to read the Bible but never seem to get round to it, or who have tried and found it boring and hard work. Perhaps you have never tried it because you expected that is what you would find. You might think that those of us who read it regularly are in some way different from you. Perhaps some are, but most of us are not. We have just found, by following good advice or just by accident, that there are some things that can make it easier, more enjoyable and more beneficial in our lives. Sadly some of these tips are not spoken of enough. We tend to take it for granted that everyone knows what we know. Perhaps some of us assume that those who do not read it have some deep theological objections to it (developed without the benefit of knowledge, presumably). I doubt that. I hope you will find at least some of these tips as helpful as I have. I assure you the Bible is worth reading once you overcome the obstacles.
1. Choose a Modern Translation. Unless you are familiar with Elizabethan English and enjoy reading Shakespeare, you will find the Bible makes more sense and is easier to get into, if you use a modern translation or paraphrase, such as the Good News Bible, the Living Bible, the New International Version or the Message. If you really want to study it, you may find some of these are less than 100% accurate, but for most purposes the message is clear whichever version you choose. Remember the events the Bible describes took place before there was an English language, so it is pointless arguing any one version is "right".
2. Where to Start? If you wanted to take up hiking, would you begin with the Himalayas? Some parts of the Bible are easier to understand, and to believe, than others. Bear in mind that it is collection of writings accumulated over at least a thousand years. They are not set out in a logical order and certainly not in a "step-by-step guide" format. The first "book", i.e. section, is Genesis which begins with the story of the creation of the Universe. This contains some of the most difficult passages to understand or believe. Once you get to Chapter 12 or 13 of that book it becomes a lot easier. The second "book" is Exodus and is also much easier to follow. You might do better, however, starting with the New Testament, that is the second major division of the Bible, beginning with the Gospel According to Saint Matthew. Most of the New Testament is pretty straightforward, by comparison, apart from the "book" of Hebrews, which is aimed at people who know and understand the rest of the Bible. The other book to avoid, until you are fairly familiar with the rest of the Bible, is Revelation, also called the Apocalypse. Nobody really understands it. It is all symbolic and probably meant a lot more to people living at the time than to us.
3. Help is Available. There are lots of guides, notes and reading plans available to make reading the Bible easier. Some are intended for children, some for students, others for adults. All have different styles. All break it up into short daily reading, but some are shorter than others. Choose one that suits you. If it does not work for you after a while, change it for another. Do not just read the notes. Always read the Bible itself. You might find something in a passage you read that speaks to you in a way the notes do not. They are to help you not to limit you. See the links in the Resource Box.
4. Don't Bite Off More Than You Can Chew. Back to the Himalayas. Some people make the mistake of trying to read too much at once. They usually find they cannot keep it up. Little and often really is the best way. If you do get carried away and read a whole book at one sitting, I am glad you have got such enthusiasm, but do not let that replace your daily reading of smaller chunks. Be realistic. That is one reason for using notes, guides or plans: they set attainable targets.
5. Get into the Habit. Try to make Bible-reading a habit. It helps if you do it at the same time and in the same place every day. Some people insist that first thing in the morning is best. That works for them. If you are not a "morning person" you might do better doing it last thing at night or during your lunch-break or whenever. Just make your mind up and stick to your decision. I am not a "morning person" but I always read my Bible during breakfast. This only works for people who eat breakfast and who do not have to cope with a lot of distractions at that time, especially little ones. I also sometimes read a few verses last thing at night, especially if I am upset or anxious about something. It helps calm and refocus me, which helps me to get to sleep.
6. Choose Your Medium: This is the 21st Century! There was time that writing was done on scrolls, apart from when it was on tablets of stone, and finding your place in a long story must have been quite frustrating. The form of book we know, with pages and a cover, was developed in the time of the early Christians, and they were among the first people to see how useful it was. Perhaps they invented the bookmark. The Bible was one of the first things to be produced in that form. About 1400 years later someone invented printing and again the Bible was one of the first things to be produced on a large scale using that new technology. You may think that is where it has got stuck. But you would be wrong. You can get it as an e-book to read on a tablet or laptop, and you can get it in various audio formats so you can listen to it in the car or anywhere else. You do not have to like reading to get it. Choose the medium that suits you. See the links in the Resource Box.
7. Think About Genre. A genre is a type of writing (or it could refer to a type of film or play). Examples of genre in the Bible are: historical narratives, laws, prophecies, poetry and songs, parables and letters of advice and encouragement. It is a mistake to treat all genres as the same. Poetry is not intended to be taken literally. Not every action recorded in a historical account is meant to be something to copy. Not every character is meant to be a role-model. There are several genres mixed up in some of the "books" such as Isaiah. Thinking about this should make reading the Bible more rewarding, but it does make it more difficult if you like everything "cut and dried".
8. Read It With God: Pray. Ask God to be with you and help you as you read his book. Ask for his help to understand it and to remember the right message: the bit he knows you need to know in your situation. Some pray before they read, others after. Or both. Give God a chance to help make it real. However, do not expect blinding flashes of divine inspiration every day. On the other hand do not rule them out. God is God so let him do what he wants. I find bits of the Bible say something to me as I read them, sometimes. Lots of days I just read a bit of it and add it to my memory. I do not mean that I learn it. Only sometimes. Usually it is just stored away like anything else I have read, and it comes to mind when I need it, remarkably often.
I hope you find at least some of the above helpful. Whatever you think of this article, have a look at the Bible. You may get more out of it than you think.

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