For years I struggled with Bible reading. Not only was Scripture challenging to understand, but that challenge also left me with a lack of desire to read it. Every day I felt defeated before I even started; and most days I didn’t start at all.
I eventually learned that I was making three primary mistakes in my approach to reading Scripture. And it turns out I’m not the only one—they’re barriers for many others who want to read Scripture but stop short. I’m hopeful you can learn from my mistakes and avoid them altogether.
Mistake #1: Looking for Myself
My first major mistake is that I was looking for myself in Scripture. I viewed the Bible as a big “to do” list, and if I checked all the right boxes, then God would respond by fulfilling all my desires. I approached the Bible primarily to get my application points, feel like a good, moral person, and move on.
When someone suggested I read Scripture as a story about God—not me—it felt unnatural at first. What exactly was I supposed to look for if not my “to do” list? To help me find God on the pages, I started asking myself a few questions each time I read Scripture:
- What does God say or do in this passage?
- What does this reveal about what God loves?
- What does this reveal about what God hates?
- What does this reveal about what motivates God to do what he does?
- In all of that, what attributes of God are displayed?
The questions we ask of the Bible impact the wisdom we glean from it. As you ask yourself these questions, I believe you’ll be drawn in by the beauty of what you see in God, and you’ll start to be motivated by love for God more than by a sense of obligation. Reading the Bible is not a means to self-help or an attempt to earn God's favor—it’s an opportunity to behold the beauty of God and be drawn in by him.
Mistake #2: Disregarding Context
My second major mistake stemmed from mistake #1. Since I was only looking for what steps I need to take to appease God and have a perfect, joy-filled life, I hovered over certain passages of Scripture and disregarded the rest. There were so many laws that seemed strange to me (like, am I allowed to wear clothing with mixed fibers or not?) and people with names I couldn’t pronounce. Those parts confused me or bored me!
What I didn’t know at the time was that all those parts I’d been avoiding had more to offer me than I could imagine—they set me up to know God and his story in a way that impacts my own. In the past, I only took note of the consequences God brought to sinners when they wandered off. I had entirely missed the parts of the story where he kept pursuing them in love, kept blessing them in spite of their sin, begging them to return to him. My heart was so moved by his love that it changed how I responded to him when I sinned. Instead of running from him out of fear of punishment, I started turning to him, because I had learned how his heart responds to his people. Prior to that, I had completely misunderstood God—I’d been dropping down in the middle of a movie for five minutes, with no real idea of the storyline or who the characters were, yet hoping to understand it. Not only is it impossible to understand something when you handle it that way, but it’s also impossible to love it.
In correcting this mistake, I decided to read through Scripture in the order of the story’s chronological timeline which, much to my surprise, is not front-to-back. I wanted to see the overall storyline or metanarrative. I began each book by identifying:
- who wrote it,
- when they wrote it,
- who they wrote it to, and
- what style they wrote it in.
The Protestant Bible has 66 individual books that tell one story from a wide variety of vantage points and styles: narrative history, poetry, prophecy—and much to my initial dismay, the bulk of it is not promises or action points. Most of it tells me a story about God and his unshakeable love for his people.
Reading the story in chronological order and paying attention to the context helped me make sense of verses that appear to contradict each other. I also learned how to sift through complex passages in the Old Testament and get to know God’s character.
Mistake #3: Drawing Early Conclusions
Mistakes #1 and #2 worked together to create my biggest mistake: drawing conclusions about God before I’d read the whole Bible. Since I had primarily been reading Scripture for selfish reasons, I was impatient and didn’t take time to read it all. That’s a dangerous approach because I didn’t have all the information.
The Bible is the story of God pursuing humanity despite our sin. Bit by bit, we see God giving people more information about who he is and who he is making them into. But it isn’t all revealed at once because they can’t handle it all at once. God is patient with them, giving them baby steps. For instance, it’s easy to read through parts of the Old Testament and conclude that God is angry and wants to kill anyone who disobeys him. But when you zoom out and read the whole story, you’ll see a through-line of grace and mercy and rescue.
As you're reading, aim to hold your questions and conclusions with an open hand and continue to ask God to guide you in wisdom, knowledge, and understanding as you read Scripture each day.
Your mistakes in reading Scripture may be different than mine. Regardless of what your mistakes are, I hope you’re able to learn from mine as well. Approaching Scripture with an aim to behold God, learn the context of his story, and patiently read the whole thing, has changed my life and my relationship with God and his Word forever. I spent years trying to live my life around a book I hadn’t read, about a God I didn’t really know. I wanted God to point me toward what I needed to do to access joy and happiness. But now that I’ve read it, and now that I know him, I know that he’s where the joy is!
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