Puzzles are just not my thing. I have never been able to figure out the rubics cube, and I don’t like solving riddles. Really, it’s not so much that I don’t like them , the issue is that I am not very good at them, and who enjoys feeling like a failure? Personally, I would much rather have some insight, instructions, or guidance than a block of colored squares that I have no idea how to align correctly. I think the way I feel about puzzles is the way some people feel about reading the Bible. Overwhelmed, lost, confused, and, for lack of a better word, puzzled. It is certainly how I felt for many years, and how I sometimes still feel.
I know I am not alone in this struggle. As a Bible study leader, if there is one question that I have been asked more than any other, it would be something along the lines of “I have a hard time understanding the Bible when I read it on my own, how do you make sense of it?” The truth is, the Bible actually has some helpful instructions to guide us in figuring out this particular puzzle, go figure!
Before we talk strategy, we need to understand why we desperately need the Bible. We pay our bills because we know that if we don’t our utilities will be turned off and people will threaten to kick us out of our homes. We go to college so that we can learn a profession and have a foundation for our career. It’s human nature to need motivation in order to take action. Thankfully, God has provided some motivation for us! Romans 12:2 encourages us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we can know God’s will for us. Psalm 37:4 tells us that if we look to him, delight in him, he will give us the desires of our hearts. His will is for us to be exactly what he created us to be, so if we want to satisfy the desires of our hearts, we have to seek him through his word.
I was once intimidated by reading the Bible because I didn’t feel like I could understand it. I didn’t know all the Biblical history, the words are weird, and there are mysterious metaphors and parables. What I didn’t realize was that it wasn’t about me understanding facts and knowing who all the characters are, it was about hearing God speak to me and allowing him to change me. We shouldn’t be reading and understanding a book, we should be developing a relationship with God through reading his word. Acts 2:38-39 says that if you accept Jesus as your savior you will receive the Holy Spirit. With the Holy Spirit inside you, God’s word comes alive as you read it! There are some thing we have to do to allow that to happen, and we will get to that, but it’s important to know that tapping into that Holy Spirit is our key to hearing what God is trying to tell us as we read his word. That is the only way we can renew our minds in order to be transformed. Ultimately, the purpose of reading God’s word is to know God’s will for our day, for our career, for our family, and for our lives through knowing Him and His love for us. A renewed mind, transformation, love, and the receiving the desires of my heart sound like pretty good motivation to me.
Now lets talk about how to do this. There are four things that I do religiously (pun intended) in order to read the Bible and hear God speak to me.
First, pray. Sometimes I am in a hurry and try to squeeze in some time with Jesus, but in my hurry to complete my ‘Good Christian’ checklist, I forget to focus on him and really be present and listen. Luke 24:45 tells how Jesus opened the disciples minds so they could understand scriptures, and I promise he will do the same for you and me. Pray before reading the Bible, even before you decide what to study. Pray while reading, after you have read, and later about what you read. Pray that God would speak to you, that your heart and mind would be open to what he says. Pray often and fervently. When we do this, we will tap into that Holy Spirit, and we will see that the scriptures are so much more than old stories. We will see the heaven-sent truths that God gave us, that he knew we would need even before we were born. Prayer is the most powerful resource we have. Pray.
Second, read often. I’ve been a nurse for many years now, but I will never forget the first time I walked into a patient’s hospital room. It was intimidating, uncomfortable, and scary. After years of practice and walking into countless patient’s rooms I have become much more comfortable. I have gained confidence and competence that only comes with practice, and at the same time I will always be humble and ready to experience something new because you have never seen it all and can never know it all. Being in the word is much like that, awkward at first, but the more you do it, the more comfortable you become in navigating it. We grow closer to God as we learn more about him and what his word has to say to us. The more we read, the more we know. Be consistent.
Third, don’t try to eat the whole elephant at once. I don’t know about you, but I like to eat my elephants bite by bite, and a little each day. It takes years and years to eat a whole elephant that way, you might not even finish the entire elephant in a lifetime, but at least that way you have tasted each part, savored each bite, and allowed each bit to nourish you a little at a time. So, each day, pick a verse, small passage or a manageable section of a study. Do what you can. Be the tortoise, not the hare. Little by little, you will see progress. Be patient.
Fourth, get help. This took me years to realize. After struggling many times with reading the Bible on my own, I learned that I get a lot more out of my time in the word if I use a study guide, attend a Bible study with a group, or read a book of the Bible with a friend. It’s important to spend time with God on our own, and it is encouraging, helpful, and fun to hear what God is telling someone else about the same passage you are reading. We all need support in our journey, if you don’t have any, I’ll be glad to be yours.
So there you have it. God gave us the Holy Spirit to solve the puzzle for us. Prayer, consistency, patience and support help us to tap into that gift. If we do these things, we can expect a transformation. A transformation into the woman he created us to be. God is good, open his word and see for yourself.