Often, during times of my Bible reading, I get lost in the story. I become enamored with the people, the surroundings, the circumstances. Especially when it comes to the miracles of Jesus, I’m astonished at the things that happened.
For example, one of my life long dreams would be to experience what it felt like to walk on water. For real, imagine jumping off a dock thinking you’re gonna drop in, then slam!! It’s impossible! It’ll never happen! But it did happen, and I can’t begin to imagine what it felt like. I wonder if Peter had a new understanding of “sea legs,” by the time he was finished walking on the water?
But, sometimes if I’m not careful, I find myself getting lost in the extraordinary and forfeiting what God wants to speak directly into my life.
Sometimes when I read the Bible, it’s a supernatural experience. I know God’s with me, I can sense His presence, and whatever He’s saying to my mind and my Spirit is sweet as candy. Other times, during my Bible reading, it feels like I’m smashing my head against a rock. Nothing I’m reading makes any sense, and I have no idea what it’s for. Learning to know that both are
Both of these experiences help us grow. In different ways, they help us deepen our relationship with God.
With that said, there’s something many of us have learned in elementary school that will radically change and improve our Bible reading. They are the five W’s (with a little twist):
Who? What? When? Where? Why?
These five questions, asked either together or separated from themselves, will help you start reading the Bible in a new way.
Who wrote the book? What was their purpose? What was their writing style?
In the New Testament, Paul authored many of the letters. Paul’s primary purpose was to teach, encourage, and in some cases correct the churches he had helped start. Therefore, some of his corrections deal with adjusting the followers of Christ back to an appropriate spiritual practice and some of his encouragements to other followers of Christ require a push towards a needed spiritual practice.
Your areas of weakness and your needed areas of encouragement are probably different in some aspects. They could even be the opposite of what Paul writes in the New Testament. Therefore, understanding Paul’s purpose and writing style will help you determine how to apply his writings to your life, since you know He was dealing with extreme cases.
What else does the surrounding Scripture say? What’s the overall thought in the letter or book?
Unfortunately, we have an inclination to cut out tweetable phrases from the Bible that seem like they’re promised to make us feel better. In reality, we try to match these verses with our lives in a way that is completely incompatible with the context in which it is found. Like the phrase “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” isn’t meant as a permission for someone to satisfy their quest for revenge.
In the simplest way I know how to put it: If a phrase in Scripture didn’t mean something in the context with which it’s written, then it can’t mean something new now.
When this happened, what was happening?
What was the culture like? What was the political tension? Are there any important geographical factors?
These questions require some monotonous study. A free resource you can use to begin to find out this type of information is WORDsearch Bible. When you discover that the Israeli and Philistine armies stood in a stand-off for over a month in the story of David and Goliath because they were standing on two sides of a mountain, it begins to make sense.
Neither army wanted to march into death valley to try to take the other army by climbing uphill. In addition, the single combat, the one-vs-one and winner takes all showdown, was a normal thing back then.
Where can I apply this in my life?
One of the main things we need to constantly ask when we read the Bible is, “where can I apply this in my life?” Does this reveal something about me at work? Does this show something about me at home? Does whatever I’m reading apply to my thought life?
We shouldn’t read the Bible for information, but for transformation. One of the best ways to do that is to constantly ask yourself where you can apply what you’re reading in your life.
Why does this matter to me?
Often times the Bible can seem like it makes no difference whatsoever. It can appear that what you’re reading matters in no way to your personal life. These feelings of non-importance can creep in when Bible reading is dry and absent of the presence of God.
But if we will continually store up the treasures of God, we will be ready to dispense spiritual matters to others when we are called. Therefore, sometimes your Bible reading may not make a difference to your personal life. But, if you can grasp what God is saying, it could be all the difference in giving faith, hope, or love to someone who desperately needs it.
Bible reading will benefit you, but it’s not all about you. Sometimes, our Bible reading builds us up so that we can have strength to lay God’s foundation in someone else’s life.