How to Read the Bible When It’s Hard

I’d sit there, feeling defeated for a few minutes, and then close my Bible and move on with my day. At other times, I didn’t even get that far.

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Growing up, my experience with the Bible was that it seemed very complicated and overwhelming. I loved theology books, but whenever I sat down to actually read the Bible, I would come across passages I didn’t understand. The only way I knew how to answer those questions was to go read more theology books, or maybe do some inductive Bible study, which at the moment felt too overwhelming. I’d sit there, feeling defeated for a few minutes, and then close my Bible and move on with my day. At other times, I didn’t even get that far. Just the thought of reading the Bible felt too overwhelming. Shame from not having already been reading consistently each day made me feel like hiding from God. So I’d push the thought from my mind and move on with my day… until my conscience started bothering me about not reading the Word enough, and I would start the whole cycle over again. 

So how can we overcome this feeling of defeated overwhelmedness when we come to the Bible? By changing our goal. The goal is not to master the Bible. The goal is to know someone.

We were created for fellowship with an infinite and transcendent God, but because our fellowship with God has been broken by sin, we can only catch glimpses of the glory we long to see. C.S. Lewis said it this way…

“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” ― C.S. Lewis

We all have a common human experience, that of longing for something we can’t quite wrap our mind around. We were made for relationship with God, and in Augustine’s words, “are restless until we find our rest in Him”.

The Bible is God’s answer to our restless hearts. Hebrews 4:12 says that “the Word of God is alive and active.” It is the story through which He reveals Himself to us. Our hearts are longing to know God intimately, as they were created to do, and the way we can know Him is in the very act of being dependent on Him when we read His Word. 

The Bible is a paradox; it tells of an infinite God that transcends our finite understanding. And yet, somehow, we can know Him. It takes faith in God to take part in that kind of a process… the process of a finite being knowing the Infinite. When I came to the Bible with the goal of mastering it in my own flesh, the task was impossible and frustrating. But when I come the table with nothing but my need, the Infinite God meets me there. He meets me in the low place of recognizing my spiritual inability to master the Bible. It’s just not something I can do apart from Him, and my flesh revolts at that prospect. The Bible confronts my pride and unbelief, even before I have cracked its pages.

We need to ask God to give us hearts that long not to master the Bible in our flesh, but rather to see Him through its pages. And then we need a system of Bible study that helps us to get through the hard sections we don’t understand.

I appreciate Ray Ortlund’s simple system of Bible Study. First, pray for the Holy Spirit’s help in understanding the Bible and knowing Him better. Then, read just one section (about a paragraph’s worth) very slowly. Then, ask yourself two questions:

  1. What is the author talking about?
  2. What is the author saying about what he is talking about?

That’s it. It’s really that simple. This is something anyone can do, you don’t need a seminary degree or a handle on the Greek language to do it. May you go forth in dependence on God as you search to know Him through this incredible book.

If you are interested in seeing this Bible Study method in action, you can listen to Ray Ortlund’s sermon where he puts it in action in the book of Philippians.

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