186: The One Thing That Makes Reading and Understanding the Bible More Meaningful

Do you struggle with understanding the Bible? When you read it, does the Bible seem like a collection of books that may be somewhat related, yet you don’t understand how they connect?

If that’s you, know that you are not alone. The Bible is a complex book that can be difficult to understand at first reading. Even if you’ve grown up going to church and learning stories from the Bible, you may not understand how they all connect.

The Bible is really just one book that tells one story. It is the story of God’s redemption of His people. From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible speaks of God’s intended design for creation, how humanity has failed to live up to that design, and God’s plan to restore His people to Himself.

In this episode, I will share one thing you can do that will make reading and understanding the Bible more meaningful and accessible.

I love a good story. Do you? I’m an avid reader who has a hard time putting down a book if it has an engaging plot. My husband, who does not like to read so much, does not understand how I can read all the time. I think it’s the way God wired me. I’ve been a reader from an early age.

Beyond reading books, I also love movies or tv series that have compelling plots. One of my favorite movie series is Star Wars. I just found out that this month marks the 40th anniversary of the Return of the Jedi movie in that series. That makes me feel so old! I remember going to see it with my parents in the movie theater when it came out. It was the first Star Wars movie I had seen. I ended up watching the first two on VHS tapes after I discovered I loved the movie. I wanted to know the background of the events portrayed in the Return of the Jedi.

Over the years, I’ve watched the movies that constituted the prequels of the original movies as well as movies set after the original ones. And I’ve loved watching the backstory movies that have come out, along with the streaming series that have been released in the last few years on Disney+. 

I think one reason I like this series or franchise is because of the consistency of the story and the compelling ways it has been told. I know so much about the different characters in the stories and where they fit in with the overall Star Wars story. 

The same is true when it comes to the Bible. I’ve loved reading the Bible since I was a young girl. I also love the Bibles themselves. Meaning, anytime I can get my hands on a new one, I love it. I was just telling my husband the other day about a new study Bible I learned about this week. I mentioned that I know I didn’t need another Bible, but I thought this would be a good one because of the study notes in it. And he remarked that yes, I don’t need another Bible because I have so many. But he understands why I would want one.

For more than 20 years, I’ve been involved in various Bible studies offered at my church or in my community. And a lot of these studies have whet my appetite for the Bible, making me want to go deeper and learn more about what it says.

Since I started seminary classes, that desire has increased exponentially. I’ve taken classes on the Old Testament and how to interpret the Bible. And those classes have shown me just how rich and deep the Bible really is. I’ve come to have a better understanding of how the big picture of the Bible is revealed throughout Scripture. And, to my surprise, I’ve learned to love the Old Testament. I’ve always shied away from trying to understand the Old Testament because it is full of names and events that are sometimes hard to make sense of.

However, I’ve learned so much about how the Old Testament connects to the New Testament, and that knowledge has made me so much more in awe of God and His divine design of the Bible and how He inspired the writers of the Bible over thousands of years to tell one story. I wish I had time to tell you all the connections I’ve made between the Old and New Testaments.

But here’s what I want you to take away from this episode. The way you begin to understand the bigger picture of the Bible is to become a noticer. Yes, you have to pay attention to what you are reading. As I prepared for this episode, I thought about how I could best describe what we need to do or be to understand the Bible better. Noticer was the first word that came to my mind. So I looked it up just in case I was making the word up in my head. The Collins Dictionary defines a noticer as a person who takes notice or observes.

Let me just interject here that I know perhaps you don’t consider yourself a good reader. Or maybe you’re like my husband, and you don’t like to read a lot. Let me encourage you to keep reading the Bible. What I have to share next is absolutely possible for you to do.

How to Become a Noticer When Reading the Bible

First, we have to read the Bible and read it a lot. That is the advice one of my professors gave when it comes to interpreting and understanding the Bible. And it’s true. If we only read some parts of the Bible and not others, we will never be able to fully understand the big picture of the Bible. And if we only read the Bible one time, we’ll have a harder time understanding the big picture.

Going back to my example of the Star Wars movies, one of the reasons I love them is that I’ve taken the time to watch all of the movies and the streaming series, and I know the big-picture story of the Star Wars franchise. I mentioned I started with the third movie in the original trilogy, so at that time, I didn’t have all of the background information that would have helped me to enjoy the movie better. 

The same is true when it comes to reading our Bibles. When we just jump into the middle of a book in the Bible, we’re not getting the whole story. So we’ve got to read it all for it to make sense.

Before you’re overwhelmed with the thought of reading the whole Bible, I want to encourage you to remember that learning about and understanding the Bible is a lifelong pursuit. I don’t think anyone ever understands every single thing God is trying to communicate through the Bible. So don’t think you’ve got to rush through and read the Bible in one year.

My best advice is to take a reading plan of your choosing and work through the Bible at your own pace. There are tons of reading plans you can find online. Or, you may just want to read through one book of the Bible at a time with no deadline of when you’ll get through it.

Second, as you are reading the Bible, begin to notice where you’ve heard certain words, phrases, people, or places in other parts of Scripture.

Let me give you a couple of examples. I am working through the book of Titus. It is a short book with just three chapters. But it is full of great instruction that is applicable to us today. While reading through the book, I noticed that Paul mentions in Chapter 1, verse 2, that God does not lie. Then when reading further into the chapter, verse 12 talks about the Cretans, the people Titus was preaching to, as liars.

In Luke 2:22-24, we read about the sacrifices Mary and Joseph were to make at the temple after Jesus was born. This is one occasion when you don’t even have to know something about sacrifices to know that this is something important to know about. It says in verse 23 that the requirement is written in the law of Moses. So you could go back to Exodus and find where this law was first given to understand its meaning and purpose.

The point of paying attention to repeated words, phrases, people, or places is so that you can begin to connect different parts of Scripture together. As you learn more and more about various aspects of what the Bible says, you’ll begin to notice more things that seem familiar to you because you’ve read about them somewhere else in the Bible.

I encourage you to keep a notebook or notepad handy to write down things that stand out to you. This way, you’ll have a written record of what you’ve learned or what you want to learn more about. As I read through Titus a couple of times, I wrote down those themes I mentioned earlier on a sheet of paper. My next step is to go back and figure out what the book has to say about those themes and how they are connected.

Third, use some sort of study Bible or Bible that has cross-references in it. I mentioned the example of sacrifices earlier. My study Bible shows where in the Old Testament the original instructions for sacrifices are found. Using cross-references can help you begin to make connections throughout the Bible. Especially between the two testaments.

So let’s recap what it takes to be a noticer. We have to read the Bible a lot, notice repeated words, phrases, people, and places, and make use of cross-references to make connections. 

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