If we want to know God and learn how to be strong and wise, the Bible and prayer are the foundations. I’m going to share some things that I’ve learned personally over the years that help me stay on track. None of us ever stay on track all the time, so I’ll also share how to regroup when you get lazy or mess things up.
I saw a friend start a new Bible reading program today and it was so shiny and appealing!
Called a Shred, it mapped out reading the entire Bible in 30 days - 40 - 50 chapters per day. Purpose would be to get an overview - like flying an airplane up at 20,000 feet. Neat idea - easier to do if you can use an audio version.
Good spiritual policy though is that you don’t just do what other people do, you don’t just do what catches your fancy, you seek to do things exactly when and how God wants you to do them.
When I prayed and asked the Father if I should do my Bible reading this way for a while, in my heart, I perceived Him telling me “No, we have a lot to talk about.” This was so sweet! I am friends with God and we do talk a lot. When I read the Bible and pray, I always have questions and want to get to know Him and how He does things.
This got me thinking about some of my kids and what I would tell them about how I have learned to know God throughout the Bible, praying, nature and learning from other Christians.
My Personal Journey
As A Child
When I was 5, I had a powerful conversion experience. My parents encouraged me to follow God and to love Jesus all my life. Not being able to read for myself, I was highly engaged in the Bible stories in Sunday School.
My heroes and favorites were people who loved God and always tried to do the right thing. I remember hearing about Samuel who served God even as a little boy and Solomon who asked God to make him wise.
My deep desire was to teach the Bible like our pastor did and to serve the congregation like the ushers. Even at 5 though, I was a little miffed because women and girls were not allowed to do any of that. Why would God put that in my heart when it wasn’t allowed? A story for another time.
One of the first verses I memorized was “Thy Word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against Thee.” KJV
At this point in my spiritual journey, I was tender to God and did not want to do the wrong thing and make Him angry or disappointed.
“How can a young man keep his way pure?
By keeping watch [on himself] according to Your word [conforming his life to Your precepts].
With all my heart I have sought You, [inquiring of You and longing for You];
Do not let me wander from Your commandments [neither through ignorance nor by willful disobedience].
Your word I have treasured and stored in my heart,
That I may not sin against You.
Blessed and reverently praised are You, O Lord;
Teach me Your statutes.”
You should never lose this fear - it’s the only kind that is allowable.
Reverence and deep appreciation for God’s purity and power is better language than fear. If you stay on this layer, you will be very limited in your faith and experience with God. He will only be an authoritative parent.
There is more.
As A Student
From when I learned to read until my teen years, I did a lot of Bible memorization and in depth study. I read the whole Bible, but did not like Job or Ecclesiastes and skipped over them. I remember wishing I could be like the Apostle Paul and have everything I shared be clear and really powerful.
The Bible was a very serious document to me, aside from the part where Paul says he will come visit and correct with a stick, it was intense and demanding. Lots of things to do and not do, lots of motivation to always be really hard on myself and others. If you stay on this layer, you will be pretty joyless and a big time judger.
It is important to see the whole context of the Bible - New and Old Testament, but if you do it limited to what you can overcome with willpower and rules, it will be hard. Your perception of God will be one of structure, laws, harshness and pushing.
There is more!
Enlightened and Empowered
In my late teens, while I was going to college, I saw my roommate and friends get what some people call being filled with the Holy Spirit. This was something that I understood on a limited level as a Christian. They had a Second Chapter of Acts experience and it took their joy and energy for following Christ to a new level. Jesus instructed the disciples to wait until this infilling and overflowing happened. It’s purpose was to empower them with Spiritual gifts and to increase direction and revelation in their ministries and daily lives.
“I have told you these things while I am still with you. But the Helper (Comforter, Advocate, Intercessor—Counselor, Strengthener, Standby), the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name [in My place, to represent Me and act on My behalf], He will teach you all things. And He will help you remember everything that I have told you.”
Before this empowerment, I loved the Bible and God a lot, but afterward it was much easier to resist sin, get specific leading and directions and understand how Jesus ministered and what the role of the supernatural power of God is currently in the Earth.
If you have not gotten the overflow of the Holy Spirit for service, I’d encourage you to look into it further.
Oh yes, still more!
As A Friend
The last 30 years, because I have a strong foundation of knowing the teachings of the Bible, memorization of important verses and continuing study, I am still growing in faith. My practice isn’t just to sit down and read the verses or to do a study where I look up more verses that topically go together, it has a conversational element.
Just like Jesus described in John 14, I ask questions, meditate on passages, look up specific terms in the Greek or Hebrew and pray in the Holy Spirit to tune into personal applications and correction. When I’m troubled or hurting, or am helping others, the promises of the Bible are the base point of confidence in prayer and action.
I’m still surprised by the layers and layers of affirmations, prophecies and interactions that get revealed. The Bible is not just an ordinary book, it is timeless and shimmers with destiny and truth and most of all love!
Sometimes I don’t like what I read in the Bible due to it being something difficult or even barbaric. (Especially in the Old Testament) It helps to be friends with God for so long. I know how He does things, I trust Him and I can ask for help understanding.
As An Intercessor
The Bible is a Covenant or Promise book, not a history book. It does have historical accounts of events, genealogies and technical specifications for buildings, boat, equipment, even wardrobe. These show purpose, intentions and that it can be cross-validated with other historical accounts and archeology.
Using the Bible as a prayer partner is something I’ll get into more later. A pattern I have observed with great spiritual leaders though is their increased time layering Bible reading and prayer. Smith Wigglesworth, for example, when he was in his 80’s and not traveling to minister very much, had this practice. He would read the Bible for an hour, pray for an hour, read for an hour, pray for an hour and then have lunch.
This would be hard for most people, but you could start with 5 or 10 minutes of each.
Some Ways to Read and Study the Bible
Start At the Beginning - Genesis
It is important to read the whole Bible and understand what you can. If you are a new Christian or someone who is just curious though, I don’t recommend that. My observation over the years is that if people are more mature in faith, reading a lot in the Old Testament is fine. For baby Christians or if you are struggling, don’t do this.
First reason why not to do this is that we are living and operating under the New Testament. A LOT of the Old Testament doesn’t apply day to day and some of it is just plain ugly and scary. Secondly, there is PLENTY in the New Testament that is important for day to day victory and successful faith. Mastery of those things should be your priority.
Focus On Knowing God First
There is a lot to learn in the Bible, but some parts of it are going to help you understand what God is doing and how to know Him better personally. The goal is to know God, not to know facts about God.
What I recommend is starting with the book of Ephesians. You can pray the example prayers in Chapters 1 and 3 over yourself and others. These prayers ask for understanding of how much God loves us and how to live in faith. You will be super strong if you understand these things and keep them in high priority.
Faith Hack: If you read the verses in Ephesians and add your name, it becomes a wonderful prayer. You can also use this saying someone else's name. I recommend people do this every day. You will feel stronger and loved and it also will help you love other people. Ephesians 1:17-23, Ephesians 3: 14-21
Next I would read the Gospels: John, Mark, Luke, Matthew. These are the accounts of what Jesus said and did. You are a “little Christ” as a Christian, so knowing these things are important. We are supposed to do what He taught and live like He did. Following the faith of other Christians is okay too, but Jesus is the one we look to first.
Reading and studying the other New Testament letters to the churches is next. They have practical advice and in the case of the Acts, historical examples of the early church.
Learning the Old Testament and How Everything Fits Together
Once you’ve gotten a decent understanding of the New Testament, then go back into the Old Testament as the Holy Spirit directs you or with a plan of study.
Advanced Tip: When looking for insights on World events, prophecies, Jesus is coming back, “end times” stuff, keep your groups straight and your timeline straight.
Groups - The Bible is written for the Jews, Christians and the Nations who are not Jews. There are instructions and prophecies that ONLY pertain to them individually, things that are not for everyone.
Timelines - We are living in the New Testament, the rules of the Old Testament were fulfilled. Always apply New Testament practices first. For example, we are instructed to pray for those in charge of our Nation and other nations so we can live in peace and share the good news of Jesus freely.
I have seen people who don’t like a particular leader dip back into some wrath and judgment passages in the Old Testament to justify speaking bad about them or praying against them. This is ineffective and creates a very bad spiritual dynamic. These people tend to get off-track and removed from influence.
What About the Nasty Parts?
There are parts of the Old Testament that have a lot of killing, some incest, slavery, rules with a death penalty, very bad behavior by priests and Kings. This is why we look at it in the LIGHT of what Jesus did.
After Adam and Eve sinned and everything got cursed, the Godless nations and tribes were full on evil with child sacrifice, abusive sex, really sick stuff. The Jews also turned away from God again and again and took up some of these practices.
Only the forgiveness of Jesus could break that curse and wickedness. We need to follow Him and be empowered by the Holy Spirit to win in life all the way. Everything in the Old Testament that is bad is there to teach us that doing our personal best and living our own selfish way leads to death and heartache.
You can use cross references, these are little notes in some Bibles that will list all the related verses from other places in the Bible. There are also link tools in digital Bibles that really power this up.
Book by Book With A Commentary
You can also learn the Old Testament by doing a specific study book by book. A Bible history reference and solid commentary are helpful. A commentary is where a Bible scholar or expert that had looked at the area covered in-depth. They will talk about how things fit with the rest of the Bible and how the original translation of the words and phrases increase the information being shared.
Here’s an example of how that helps. The Bible verse might say “salvation”, but the root word is “sozo” in the Greek and it means saving from death, healing and abundance. The word “love” could be from the root Greek word agape or phileo or eros. Agape love is the unconditional love of God. Phileo is friendship or neighborly love. If Eros is used, it refers to romantic or sexual love. When agape love is used, it is a more powerful way to love than normal human love.
Study by Theme
You can study by theme and mark up your Bible for later quick reference.
Healing - mark with an H, we have 101 healing verses you can start with.
Faith - do a search on faith - mark these too
In Him/In Christ - you could mark with an In - these will show you how much God loves you and your power and strength and covenant promises because of what Jesus did.
P - Peace, M - money, L - Love
If you mark things up like this, it will make it easier to find the verses when you need them or want to share them. Your friends will think you are a Bible genius if they don't see the little notes!
What Version of the Bible to Use?
Translations and Paraphrases
There are two kinds of Bibles that people generally use, translations and paraphrases.
A translation is taking the Greek or Hebrew original words and putting it in English or another language as close to the literal meaning as possible. A paraphrase is going from the original language and making an interpretation that might be easier to read or allegedly easier to understand.
I’m always going to recommend a translation and a conservative, scholarly translation for daily use and in-depth study. If you want to look at paraphrases as a supplement once you are more experienced, it can be interesting.
Here are two reasons I am fussy about this:
First, some people are meaning well, but adding their own doctrinal ideas or cultural biases into the paraphrase or a translation that is really a paraphrase when academically examined for accuracy.
Here’s an example of this being a problem. There are paraphrases and loose translations that will say “Try not to fear” instead of “Don’t fear” or “Fear not”. Fear is a state of not trusting God and He explicitly says “Fear not” many, many times. An accurately translated Bible will never insert “try not to fear”, it is a command from God and an encouragement.
Secondly, there are some really impossible things that happen with the Hebrew text of the Bible in particular.
For thousands of years, really intelligent people and Hebrew scholars have found specific references to famous people, dates and events in the Old Testament original Hebrew texts. Wars, assassinations, disasters. Isaac Newton, Ben Franklin and others knew about this.
You have to look back on things to get this correct and there are some people more accurate than others. Now there is software that can do it and things like the election of Donald Trump in 2016 United States, Hillary and her email server crossed by the name Comey three times, assassination of JFK, 9/11 World Trade Center all have shown up.
I don’t recommend getting into this at all in-depth until you are mature and you find people who are very accurate that do the decodes.
We are to map our life on the Bible’s teaching and how God leads us by the Holy Spirit, not by messages like these, which are confirmations, they are not preventions or directions.
Another example is the Hebrew text of the book of Esther. Scribes hand wrote copies of the Hebrew text for thousands of years and some words had the Hebrew letters printed at half-size. Very odd and the only place this occurs so openly. Scholars discovered that the numbers associated with those letters and some related texts noted the date and names of some key people executed after the Holocaust.
I want to be true to whatever God leads and commands me personally and I want to be sure his written Word is honored and respected literally and on a high level.
What to do if you get off-track or confused?
Just A Little Messed Up?
Go back to your anchor points of faith.
Read and pray Ephesians 1 and 3 and John 15.
Know that God LOVES you and He is not trying to keep things a secret or be harsh with you.
Ask Him for wisdom, help and trust that He will bring understanding and comfort.
His love for you is spelled out throughout the Bible, it is His love letter to You! The heart of God and His love for you is your best anchor.
What If You Really Blow It or Learn You Were Super Off Track in Sin and Rebellion?
What if you literally never knew the things taught in the Bible and you did your life wrong?
Many people in the world do not know anything about the Bible, Jesus or God. This can lead to them feeling shy about asking questions or they may hear Christians talking in terms that mean nothing to them at all. If they have a sincere desire to learn, there are subjects in the Bible that Christians do not seem to agree on at all.
Everyone has to learn and no one know it all. The more you learn, the more you know God loves you and you still have a lot to learn!
God loves questions! Ask them! When you read about Jesus, He was all the time asking questions. Sometimes to reveal the hidden motives of the rotten religious bullies, often to help people locate their faith and expectations.
That Time That the Israelis Forgot God and Cried, Then Had A Party...
This happened to the people of Israel in the Bible as told in the book of Nehemiah. This passage includes the verse “The joy of the Lord is your strength”, but there is even more encouragement there.
Nehemiah and the priests spent a whole day reading the part of the Old Testament they had, the Torah or first 5 books. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. There are many rules in there like the 10 Commandments, the sacrifices and offerings and directions for what and what not to do with daily life. Many of these have harsh penalties if not observed, many of them have a blessing promised if they are observed.
The people were overwhelmed with how many things they were not doing right and sad that they didn’t know the good things God did for them and the blessings promised. It broke their hearts and they cried.
This might happen to you sometimes, don’t stay in the brokenness - the important thing is reconnecting with God and moving FORWARD in faith and courage and growing in wisdom.
My favorite part about this is that instead of telling the people they were wicked and stupid, they told them to stop crying and they had a party! The people were given food and drinks and told to go home and share them. Instead of keeping them sad and discouraged, the priests and Nehemiah showed them God’s love.
They taught them that what mattered NOW that they knew, was would they change and do better? This is a new beginning, this is a fresh start.
The important thing emphasized was to be happy that now you understand, not sad that you didn’t know and failed.
“So they read from the Book of the Law of God, translating and explaining it so that the people understood the reading.
Then Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people were weeping when they heard the words of the Law.
Then Ezra said to them, “Go [your way], eat the rich festival food, drink the sweet drink, and send portions to him for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be worried, for the joy of the Lord is your strength and your stronghold.”
So the Levites quieted all the people, saying, “Be still, for the day is holy; do not be worried.”
Then all the people went on their way to eat, to drink, to send portions [of food to others] and to celebrate a great festival, because they understood the words which had been communicated to them.”
Wherever you are right now as far as knowing God, I want you to be happy.
The first thing to be glad about is that you care about God and want to learn more.
The next thing to be happy about is knowing that God loves you and He will personally help you.
You have access to the Bible and more good teaching about it than anyone in history. The level of studying you can do on your cell phone in a few minutes would take hours and days and a very expensive library of references to accomplish.
You also have Jesus and freedom from sin and confusion and when you tap into the patient and kind teaching of the Holy Spirit, you will love learning to know God and His ways.
If you are reactivating your faith or setting a goal to be more consistent, you should also remember that no one does this perfectly, no one knows things you can’t learn and there is no discrimination in the Kingdom of God for your age, race, sex, wealth or education.
Everyone is welcome to know God and serve Him and He loves us all very much!