No personal spiritual discipline is more important than the regular input of God’s Word. You cannot live a healthy Christian life without the Bible's nourishment. Everything important about God is found in the Bible. There is no substitute for Bible intake.
Bible reading is one component of Bible intake. Bible intake involves six key elements: hearing, reading, studying, memorizing, meditating, and applying.
1. Hear God’s Word
If we do not discipline ourselves for the regular hearing of God’s Word, we will only hear it when it is convenient. We may never hear God’s word or only hear it on accident.
“But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:28)
The primary objective to hearing God’s word is not simply listening to the words. The purpose of Bible intake is to “keep it.” We want to do what God says and cultivate Christlikeness.
“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17)
It’s not that saving faith only comes through the actual hearing of God’s word. Paul is simply stating that there is power in hearing God’s word. When the Bible and the gospel is preached, God can work through the Holy Spirit in regeneration and sanctification.
“Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.” (1 Timothy 4:13)
Practically speaking, most of us hear God’s word by attending a Bible believing church where God’s word is faithfully preached. We can also listen to sermon recordings or an audio Bible during our commute to work or our mundane daily activities.
2. Read God’s Word
Jesus had always assumed that those who claim to follow Him were readers of God’s Word. He commonly asked, “Have you not read…?”
“But he answered, “It is written,“‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4)
For us to live by every word that comes from God, we need to read every word of the Bible. If we believe that the Bible is God’s word, we need to read it.
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16)
“Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.” (Revelation 1:3)
God promises that those who discipline themselves to read and keep God’s word will be blessed. Ideally, we should be reading the Bible everyday.
Find the time.
Try to find the same time every day, and try not to read the Bible right before you go to sleep. You will retain very little of what you read when you are sleepy. You will do very little evil when you sleep.
If you can read the Bible 15 minutes a day, you can read the entire Bible in less than one year. I like to read the Bible in the morning before the start of my day. Sometimes, I will try to read the Bible for 15 minutes during my lunch hour when I work.
We also try to read the Bible as a family. During our family devotional time, because my children are young, we read a few verses and discuss the Bible passage.
Find a Bible reading plan.
There are many different reading plans that you can find on the internet.
Sometimes, when I want to focus on reading one particular book in the Bible, I will read the book in its entirety daily for 30 days. For shorter books like Philippians, I will read all 4 chapters daily for 30 days. For longer books like the gospel of Matthew, I divide the book into four 7-chapter sections. So I’ll read Matthew over a 4 day period, and repeat the process seven times during the month.
Even if you do not read the entire Bible in one year, record what books of the Bible you have read. And continue to record what you have read until you have read the Bible in its entirety.
Meditate on one verse or phrase each day.
As you read the Bible each day, find a verse or phrase and specifically think and ponder the truths of that verse or phrase.
Even with a good reading plan, it can become a mundane chore instead of a discipline of joy. Take at least one thing you’ve read and think deeply about it for a few moments.
3. Study God’s Word
“For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.” (Ezra 7:10)
“Reading gives us breath, but study gives us depth.” (Jerry Bridges, Practice of Godliness)
There are four steps to Ezra’s progression in studying and teaching God’s Word.
- Discipline - “Ezra had set his heart.”
- Study - Ezra did in fact “study the Law of the LORD.”
- Practice - Ezra was a doer of the law.
- Teach - Ezra taught the statutes and rules in Israel.
“Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” (Acts 17:11)
The Jews in Berea were commended that their daily examination of the Scriptures was noble and virtuous.
“When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments.” (2 Timothy 4:13)
While in prison, Paul wrote to Timothy expecting a visit from him. Paul asked for two things: a cloak to keep himself warm, and God’s word (parchments) to study so his heart and soul can be warmed. Even though Paul had already seen heaven (2 Corinthians 12:1-6) and Jesus resurrected (Acts 9:5), he continued to study God’s word until his death.
The biggest obstacle to studying God’s word is laziness, but that is not the only obstacle.
Some Christians feel inadequate and insecure about studying God’s Word. But the basic difference between reading and studying God’s word is being more purposeful in making observations and asking questions.
- Write down observations about the text.
- Write down questions that come to your mind.
- Look up cross references (other Bible verses that relate to the verses you are studying).
- Find a key word and use a concordance to find other Bible verses that use the same word.
- Outline the chapter and the book to gain a stronger grasp of the section of Scripture you are studying.
Additional tip to Bible study
- Invest in a good study Bible.
- Invest in some Bible study tools.
- Develop a personal inductive Bible study process.
4. Memorize God’s Word
The reason people cannot remember what they read in the Bible is not their age, mental ability, or training, but their method.
“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.” (1 Corinthians 1:26)
Hearing and reading the Bible are not sufficient for remembering what we have received. They are invaluable and irreplaceable disciplines, but they are incomplete without other spiritual disciplines of the Word. Consider these five benefits to Scripture memorization.
A. Memorizing Scripture supplies spiritual power.
When Scripture is stored in your mind, it is available for the Holy Spirit to bring to your attention when you need it most. Each time the devil tempted him in the wilderness, Jesus responded by quoting the Scripture He had committed to memory. (Matthew 4:1-11)
“I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” (Psalms 119:11)
"The great reason why our prayers are ineffectual, is because we do not meditate before them." (William Bates, "On Divine Meditation"
B. Memorizing Scripture strengthens your faith.
“Incline your ear, and hear the words of the wise, and apply your heart to my knowledge, for it will be pleasant if you keep them within you, if all of them are ready on your lips. That your trust may be in the LORD, I have made them known to you today, even to you.” (Proverbs 22:17–19)
C. Memorizing Scripture helps us witness and counsel.
In his sermon at Pentecost (Acts 2:14-40), Peter quoted frequently from the Old Testament. His memory of Scripture was helpful when suddenly stood to preach the gospel of Jesus to the crowd.
D. Memorizing Scripture is a means of God’s guidance.
“Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors.” (Psalms 119:24)
Scripture memory gives opportunities for the Holy Spirit to provide us timely guidance.
E. Memorizing Scripture stimulates meditation.
When you have memorized a verse of Scripture, you can meditate on it anytime and anywhere.
“Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.” (Psalms 119:97)
Practical Suggestions for Scripture Memory
- The goal is not to see how many verses we can memorize; the goal is godliness. The goal is to memorize the Word of God so that it can transform our minds and our lives.
- Select verses on a particular topic God is working in your life.
- Write out the verses. Drawing visual reminders is helpful.
- Memorize verses perfectly. Don’t settle for getting it close or getting the main idea only.
- Find accountability.
- Review and meditate daily.
5. Meditate on God’s Word
Christian meditation involves filling your mind with God and His truth. Meditation is thinking on the spiritual realities revealed in Scripture or upon life from a scriptural perspective for the purposes of understanding, application, and prayer.
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8)
Meditation goes beyond hearing, reading, studying, and even memorizing as a means of taking in God’s Word. When we meditate on Scripture it colors our thinking about God, about God’s ways and His world, and about ourselves.
The failure to linger is the reason why many fail to remember or find their hearts warmed by the fire of God’s Word.
“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” (Joshua 1:8)
“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” (Psalms 1:1–3)
“Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation.” (Psalm 119:98-99)
How to select a passage to meditate
- Choose the verse, phrase, or word that impresses you most from the passages of Scripture you have read.
- Choose verses that relate to your concerns and personal needs.
In your personal daily intake of Scripture, read and meditate. Read at length — such as a chapter or more — then go back over what you have read and select something specific from that as the focus of your meditation. Read big; meditate small.
Practical tips to Bible meditation
- Set and discover a minimal number of insights about the text.
- Rewrite the Bible text in your own words. Paraphrase with a pen or a keyboard.
- Formulate a principle from the Bible text.
- Think of an illustration of the Bible text.
- Ask how the Bible text points to the gospel and to Jesus.
- Pray through the Bible text.
- Memorize the Bible text.
“I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways.” (Psalm 119:15)
Meditating on the truths and spiritual realities of Scripture is the often-neglected key to putting them into practice. It is by means of meditation that the facts of biblical information transform into practical application.
6. Apply God’s Word
Understanding the Bible is often not our chief problem. Much more often our difficulty lies in knowing how to apply our understanding of God’s Word to everyday living. The goal of looking intently is to be a doer of the Word. Bible intake and meditation should lead to obedience, and obedience invites God’s blessing.
“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” (James 1:22–25)
If we do not apply the truth, regardless of how wonderful the experience of discovering the truth has been, we deceive ourselves if we think we will be blessed for giving attention to the Bible on those occasions.
“If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” (John 13:17)
Anticipate the discovery of a practical response to the truth of God. It makes a big difference to come to the Bible believing that you will find an application for it as opposed to believing that you won’t.
We must understand how a passage applied when it was first given before we can understand how it applies now. The better we understand the Bible, the better equipped we will be to apply it.
Questions that assist with Bible application
- What should I believe about God?
- What should I should praise or thank or trust God for?
- What should I pray about for myself or others?
- What should I have a new attitude about?
- What should I make a decision about?
- What should I do for the sake of Christ?
An encounter with God through His Word should result in at least one specific response. In other words, after you have concluded your time of Bible intake, you should be able to name at least one definite response you have made or will make to what you have encountered.
Final Thoughts on Bible Reading and Bible Intake
As Christians, we should resolve to be "lifelong learners" as we read and intake God's Word. Set aside time and energy to read the Bible. Listen to sermons. Memorize and meditate on portions of Scripture. Commit yourself as God's adopted children to obey his Word. One important means of God's grace is the discipline of Bible reading and Bible intake.