Tools to help read, understand, and be shaped by the bible
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17
I think most people who want to follow Jesus, have some measure of desire to read the bible and engage with it in a way that feels meaningful, practical and relatable. But I think many, many people really struggle to do so. This short blog is just a few ideas to get you started if you feel like you need some tools and ideas.
This is one of my favourite tools for understanding Scripture. Whether you’re new to the bible, or have loads of knowledge, I think you’ll find The Bible Project helpful. They make short videos to help you understand what’s going on in the bible, and the main themes and ideas that flow through it. Their videos are short (less than 10 minutes), punchy and incredibly rich theologically. You can watch their videos for free on their website or on Youtube.
Here’s their video about what the Bible Project is:
What is The Bible Project?
Here’s an example of one of their videos:
Heaven & Earth
If you use this resource regularly, you may want to consider donating towards them – it’s a non-profit crowd funded outfit.
2) The Read Scripture mobile app
This is a simple but great app that uses the The Bible Project’s videos, and integrates them with a reading plan. You can read through the bible in a year, or choose particular sections to work through, ticking off each daily reading as you go. I’ve spoken to a number of friends who have found the bible more accessible and have felt it come alive in new ways since using this app.
Intro to the Read Scripture Mobile App
3) Tom Wright’s ‘For Everyone’ series
Tom Wright is one of the most influential theologians alive today. He has definitely been one of the biggest influences on me, my theology and my following of Jesus. He writes big fat academic books which are definitely not for everyone. But, in his mastery, he has also written accessible, easy-to-read, books on each of the New Testament books. These books are designed to be read and understood by anyone, without any extensive biblical knowledge or academic understanding. He stays away from, or clearly explains, big theological words, and applies scripture to modern day life in a really accessible way. The books are structured with short excerpts of scripture (using his own personal translation) followed by two or three pages of commentary where he usually tells a story from his own life, links it to the bible passage, and shows the beauty and challenge of the message of scripture. It makes a good daily devotional reading tool. It’s simple, engaging and accesible.
4) Lectio Divina
Don’t let the Latin scare you on this one! It’s nothing complicated or new – it’s been around since the 4th century. It’s a simple method of engaging with scripture in a dynamic, relational way. You’ll find loads online about Lectio Divina, and the specific steps vary depending on what you read. The main concept is to read scripture slowly, savouring each word as if it were a fine meal. The method is intended to create space for reflection and to allow God to speak to you personally and powerfully through the text. Below is what I consider a simple and orthodox 4 step outline. Before jumping in you’ll want to find a quiet and comfortable space without distraction and choose a piece of scripture that you want to read. You might find it helps to stop and quieten your mind before starting.
- lectio (reading) – Slowly read the selected passage. Read it several times. Read it out loud at least once. Read it slowly. Notice each word.
- meditatio (meditation) – think about the text you have read. What does it mean? Why is it in the bible? What would the original hearers/readers have thought or felt? How does it make you feel? What else in the bible does it make you think of?
- oratio (prayer) – take your thoughts prayerfully to God. Speak to God about how the bible text is stirring your heart.
- contemplatio (contemplation) – here you ask God to speak to you personally in light of the truth of the scripture you’ve reflected on.
I think Lectio Divina can be a really helpful tool used to complement, not replace, other forms of study of scripture which rely on the input of other trusted and respected scholars and theologians.
There’s no one-size-fits all in terms of how we engage with scripture. Relax – it takes time. It’s more a marathon than a sprint. Journey together with this with some friends who you can be honest and real with.
Ask the Holy Spirit to lead and guide you throughout.
Enjoy God in the process.