When I first was getting into Bible study, I felt as though I was taking on a huge, nearly impossible task. Several times I nearly quit before I even began. "I'm no scholar," I told myself, "This is so totally beyond me I'll never get it!" Just getting started was daunting!

This post is to encourage those of you who feel like I did. There is hope!

It's actually easier to study the Bible today than at any other time in history, because so many who have gone before us have translated it, indexed it, mapped it, and organized its teachings chronologically, theologically, ideologically, politically, historically, grammatically, and in every other way. We have atlases, concordances, gazeteers, lexicons, commentaries, history books, parallels, biographies, and summaries of the Scriptures, and the Creeds and Confessions of our forefathers in the faith, so that we can "walk on their shoulders," so to speak, in understanding the Scriptures.

But how are we supposed to study the Bible? How are us unscholarly "plain vanilla" regular folks to study the Scriptures?

Very importantly, we need "the big picture." The Bible is the story of God redeeming and setting a people apart for Himself out of fallen mankind. To understand the smaller parts of the Bible, we need at least some familiarity with the whole.

I don't recommend starting at Genesis and trying to study the Bible straight through from beginning to end. That sounds like the best idea at first, but it usually ends up falling flat. Most people are fine with Genesis and Exodus, but when they hit Leviticus it's a brick wall. "Oh, man, I knew I couldn't do this!" So I suggest this method, especially for first-timers trying to read the Bible through:

Just read at first. Ordinary reading as with any other book. Just read it to discover what the 66 books are about. After you've had a chance to "just read them" and learn what they're about, then go back later and "dissect" them further to "really study" them.

Genesis and Exodus are narratives. You can read them like story books, and they read easily and interestingly. The next book on a "straight-through" reading of the Bible is Leviticus. Not a narrative (story book) nor a book of poetry, nor a letter. More like a technical manual for ecclesiastical professionals, with intricate details about everything from dietary regulations to measurements of the furniture and utensils used in the Tabernacle. It is a tedious labor to read through and has so much detail with little to tell the reader why any of it matters (to be fair, there are plenty of places that explain why all these things were important to the Levites back then - but little in the book to explain why we should care about those details today). Most people become so discouraged at that point that they just stop reading and give up. "Bible study is too hard for me!" they moan.

So I always recommend that folks read the narratives first, then go back and read the journals and other writings of those who made the history you've just read (including the poetry and songs of the people in the stories). Skip Leviticus on a first read-through of the Bible. When you come back to it, it suddenly makes a whole lot more sense! So I generally tell folks to read Genesis and Exodus, then Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Samuel, Kings, Chronicles (they kinda overlap in lots of places but that's actually helpful in "getting the big picture"), and Ezra through Esther. Those tell the entire Old Testament history of God's dealings with His people. Then read the writings of the characters in the stories! Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Solomon (it's R rated, by the way), and the prophets. Job is a separate story, believed by many to actually be the oldest book in the Bible - excellent reading for a glimpse into the true role of Satan (accuser, tester. Our enemy. But to God, merely a tool for His purpose).

I also recommend reading the New Testament the same way, narratives first (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts) followed by the writings of the people in the stories. And I think it's best, after reading the Old Testament narrative books first, to read from both Testaments a little each day. A few Psalms and a few chapters from the Gospels and Acts; a few Proverbs and a few chapters from Romans, etc.

Read it through a few times first before you start trying to "dissect" it, unless you need to research a particular topic before you've had a chance to read it through. It's extremely helpful and important to get "the big picture" first to help keep the smaller portions in CONTEXT when you "break it down" into "bite sized" pieces.

It's hard to do any kind of study without the big picture and without a frame of reference for what you're reading. Once we have a sense of the Bible's overall story, all the little parts become so rich with meaning that you can never get tired of studying it, nor of becoming ever more amazed at the greatness and goodness of God, nor more thankful for His grace and mercy.

As Charismatics we were used to reading "devotionally" but not exegetically. But since coming out of charismania we now know how desperately we need real understanding of the Bible's message and teachings, because we're reading for our lives, not just reading to make ourselves feel better or to respond to some particular situation.

It really is worth it and it really is possible to study the bible - even for a plain ol' ordinary person. More than that, it really is vital.

In His hands,