My almost-seven-year-old wants to be perfect. She dissolves into tears any time she doesn’t nail a math concept immediately or the shape of her letters is squished. If something isn’t right the first time, it not only doesn’t count, but it means she’s a failure—at least in her head.
Hard things take time. And they take practice. My daughter hates the concept of practice because it implies failure. It means falling off her bike and having to get back on it. It means tripping through the Nutcracker and having to drill the steps again. It means facing her abilities and admitting they’re not where she wants them to be.
But I’m not going to let her give up or throw in the towel on something just because she didn’t get the notes exactly perfect on her piano piece. Mostly because my parents didn’t let me either and I share my daughter’s penchant for perfectionism. But also because I know the reward of doing something hard over and over until it not only becomes easy but it also becomes fun.
When it comes to finding insightful meaning, surprising connections, or new depth in Scripture the best advice is simple: Read.
The problem is the Bible’s not an easy book to read. It’s millennia old, translated from dead languages, and steeped in ancient cultures that leave us scratching our heads. At best, the Bible’s daunting—clocking in at thousands of pages.
So reading the Bible can often feel like Shakespeare assignments in high school literature class. You know what you’re reading is important and valuable. Making sense of it or actually enjoying it seems reserved for a select few people. But you do it anyway because it’s required of you.
Most of us, however, stop practicing hard reading when the demands of school disappear with thrown graduation caps. The Bible, though, asks us to return to the world of hard reading. Of slow practice and growth. It’s the hard work my daughter finds so distasteful so often.
We want to open the Bible to any page and instantly find inspiration or life-changing messages for our day. But that’s not how the Bible was created to be read. The Bible’s one story from beginning to end strung across dozens of books, hundreds of years, and half a dozen different genres.
So how do you start reading the Bible well?
None of us would pick up a novel and read a page or two before putting it down and expect to know what on earth was going on. None of us would pick up a newspaper and start reading the last paragraphs of an article expecting to understand the message.
The Bible’s the same way. It was created to tell a cohesive story from creation to re-creation. It builds on itself in the same way that any good novel does. It expects its readers to recognize when a writer’s alluding to a previous book or passage. But you don’t get that without reading.
I always suggest reading the Bible in order and to read long. Start in Genesis and read the entire book. Then move to Exodus. Move through the text in large chunks the way it was meant to be read. Try not to dwell on the details too much and just let the story hit you.
Try getting a reader’s Bible (one without verse breaks or even chapters) and to read the entire thing in three months. You’ll miss a lot. Many details will slip by under your nose. But you’ll have the whole story in your mind. You’ll have done it fast enough not to forget what happened in Genesis by the time you’re turning the last pages of Revelation.
Then, once you’ve made it through the Bible in three months, do it again. And again.
Instead of jumping around from passage to passage, book to book, verse to verse, let the Bible do the work it was intended to do. Let it tell you the story of God-who-created-everything and how he’s working to fix what humanity broke. Let the repetition of words start sticking in your brain. Let the similarities between the flora and fauna decorating the tabernacle remind you of Eden.
But most of all, watch God work. Watch what brings him joy and what breaks his heart. Watch as he passionately defends his promise to a people dead-set on abandoning him. Watch him rejoice with the faithful and weep when they suffer. Watch him weave his will into the fabric of history, springing to light in the advent of his son. Watch as the victory of the Messiah turns the tables of time and begins to reverse the curse.
Join God in his story by reading it the way he intended it to be read. Cover-to-cover, chapter-by-chapter. You’ll find that the hard work pays off.