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How Do I Know If I’m Reading the Bible Correctly?

Written By Tyler Edwards, USA

Tyler Edwards is a pastor, author, and husband. He has served in full-time ministry since 2006. He currently works as the Discipleship Pastor of Carolina Forest Community Church in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. He is passionate about introducing people to and helping them grow in the Gospel. He is also the author of Zombie Church: Breathing Life Back Into the Body of Christ.

When I was applying to colleges years ago, I remember waiting to get my acceptance letter. One day, I sorted through stacks of junk mail to find an envelope with a college logo at the top. I tore open the letter and read it carefully. Unlike the other mail, this wasn’t some marketing ad to sell me more stuff I didn’t want. No, this letter was important—it would determine my future.

Isn’t that the way things go? We are barraged with messages through every sort of medium imaginable, but some messages are just more important than others.

The Bible is the most important thing we will ever read. What makes it so important? It’s like a long-distance love letter where God shares His love, His heart and desires with us. Reading it allows us to grow closer to Him and to understand how to love Him until the day that we can be with Him. So, with great anticipation, Christians should be not just looking over the words, but really trying to study and understand what God is saying to us through them.

Even so, reading the Bible can still feel like a daunting task. How do I know I’m reading it correctly? What if I twist God’s words to mean something He isn’t saying? It’s no surprise that many Christians don’t read their Bible regularly because they don’t have the right tools to help them make sense of it. But reading the Bible doesn’t have to be scary.

Here are a few simple tools that can help us fairly and accurately understand what God is saying.

 

Two Rules for Reading the Bible

Rule number one: What is the author’s intended meaning?

Have you ever said something that got taken the wrong way? Like telling a girl, “You look nice today.” But she responds, “Today? Like I don’t look nice most of the time?”

All communication requires interpretation. The listener needs to understand what the speaker is trying to say. This applies to all communication. Don’t just look at it—think about what the author is trying to communicate and why!

Rule number two: Context is king

If we do not consider the information’s context, we are prone to misunderstand it. When we read a passage, the first step is to look at what comes before it, and what comes after it. This can give us a better idea of what God is saying.

Let’s be careful not to take biblical passages out of their historical context. After all, the Bible wasn’t written to us—it was preserved for us. Every book of the Bible had an original audience, real people who lived long before our great-grandparents were even born. To understand what the Bible is saying, to apply God’s truths properly in our modern-day lives, we should first understand what the author was saying to his original audience.

The other day I was sitting next to my wife when she got a call. I didn’t see who it was, but I was curious. I listened. My wife’s tone said it was her mother, and she started talking about baby stuff. Hearing just one half of the conversation, I was able to piece together the context. The only thing I didn’t know was what her mother said. Even that, I could figure out partially based on my wife’s responses.

That’s what we do with Scripture. We fill in the gaps responsibly. There are some great tools that help with that: study Bibles, commentaries, biblical dictionaries. These tools give us a better understanding of the other side of the conversation.

 

Applying the Rules to Philippians 4:13

Let’s look at an example:

I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13, ESV).

This verse makes for a great motivational poster. I used to quote this to try and pass tests I didn’t want to study for. But it doesn’t really mean what I thought it means. After all, if I went to the gym and loaded 500lbs onto the bench, then quoted this verse, would I suddenly be able to lift 500lbs? No! That weight is going to come crashing down on me, hard. But why? Shouldn’t lifting 500lbs fall under the umbrella of “all things”?

Did I not have enough faith? Did Jesus fail me? . . . or perhaps, did I misunderstand the text?

If we apply our two rules and go back to read the verses leading up to Philippians 4:13, the picture gets a little clearer.

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:10-13, ESV).

In context, Paul is talking about plenty, hunger, abundance and need—the modern day equivalent to finances (Philippians 4:12, ESV). The earlier verses tell us that Paul has learned to be content in all things. Whether rich and comfortable or poor and hungry, he can endure the hardships and challenges of this life for the sake of the gospel because Jesus gives him the strength to be content regardless of his circumstances. Paul is showing us how to do something incredible. Philippians 4:13 isn’t about turning us into superman. It’s about contentment.

 

Getting to Know God Better

When we don’t read the Word of God in context, we can easily (and sometimes unconsciously) make promises for God that God didn’t make. When those promises don’t come true, we’re tempted to doubt God instead of really seeing who He is. Jesus says that eternal life is knowing God (John 17:3). All that we live for, hope for, desire, and pursue in the Christian life should be built on the foundation of our relationship with God.

I’ve learned that when I’m faithful in searching for context and intent, reading the Bible actually helps me know God better because I’m not just hearing His Word, I’m continually learning to understand it. The amazing thing is, the more we know God, the more we recognize His love for us and appreciate the grace He has given us.

So, as challenging as it can be to read the Bible, the best thing we can do is to open that love letter from God, and just start reading what He says to us!

Why I Abandoned My Bullet Journal

Photo by Lynn Tran

Written By Sam Ly, Singapore

In recent years, bullet journaling has taken the world (or at least my friends and me) by storm. The concept is simple. You use just one book for everything—scheduling appointments, recording tasks, journaling, drawing, you name it. There is a basic standard template to help you get started, but you’re basically free to customize it according to your own lifestyle.

If you’re wondering how the name came about, it’s because it involves writing down everyday plans and events in the form of bulleted lists.

As someone who has a weekly scheduler along with seven other journals for other things (expenses, dreams I remember, thoughts from quiet time with God, etc.), the concept of bullet journaling was enticing. Finally, I could combine everything into one!

That’s when I realized it wasn’t so simple in practice. Because bullet journaling involves starting with an empty notebook, one needs to create everything from scratch. Search “plan with me” on YouTube and you will see the sheer amount of effort it takes to create each month’s calendar and weekly spaces, which includes writing neatly and drawing amazing illustrations.

As it turned out, I ended up spending a lot of time researching and watching videos on how to create my bullet journal and spending money on materials I “needed” for it. Instead of spending time to do the things I wrote down, I was spending time decorating my bullet journal and fussing over my messy lines and ugly attempts at hand-lettering.

That’s when it dawned on me: this was happening in my Christian life too—I was letting the “good to haves” drown out what I really needed.

There are a lot of things a “good Christian” is supposed to have, which are present in my life. Perhaps you have them all too—cell group, youth ministry, church on Sundays, prayer group in school, volunteering at a para-church organization that reaches out to youth etc. While these are all good things to help me grow in the knowledge of God and relationship with other brothers and sisters-in-Christ, it reached a point where I started to miss the big picture: God himself.

I knew something was wrong when I would tell myself I had no time to sit down to read His word and pray because I was too busy preparing for the next Bible study I had to teach, too busy trying to coordinate and plan for my portion in ministry, too busy with “Christian things”. How was it that I was too busy for the very God I told others to trust and obey?

I realized the answer to this was simple: I had said “yes” to too many things without realizing that I had limited time and energy. Instead of guarding my time with God, I packed my schedule to the brim thinking it would work out in the end because I was doing all these in His name. As I struggled to fulfil all my commitments as well as my responsibilities as a student, I began to drown in all the work I had to do.

I know that the Lord can use difficult and trying times to reveal to me that His grace is sufficient for me, for His power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). I also know that the testing of our faith through trials produces steadfastness (James 1:2-3). But I also learned that I need to be discerning and wise in the way I manage my time and energy.

God does not need us to embellish and pack our lives to the brim to prove that we are His faithful servants. Friends, God loves us as His children—our identities are secure in Christ alone, and we are much more than ministry machines. When we abide in Him and He in us, we will naturally bear fruit and so prove that we are His disciples (John 15:4-11).

I am still learning to be a wise steward of my time and energy. While I remember to discharge the duties of my ministry (2 Timothy 4:5), I must also remember to watch my life closely (1 Timothy 4:16). Instead of embellishing my schedule with many good things that call for my attention, I have peace in my heart to say no to some of these, if they come at the expense of my own relationship with God.

4 Ways to Keep a Regular Quiet Time

Written By Noni Elina Kristiani, Indonesia, originally in Bahasa Indonesia

It was at a Christian retreat where I first learned about quiet time.

An older Christian gave me a devotional book, which taught me how to spend time every day building my relationship with God. Since then, I have tried to have quiet time every day.

I do not always succeed. When I was writing for my school magazine, for example, I did not get enough sleep. I had a hard time waking up early in the morning and would forget my quiet time then. Though I told myself I would do it later that night, I would end up falling asleep without reading my bible. However, God always reminded me of my commitment.

But keeping up my commitment to have regular quiet time is not always easy. Here are a few things I have found helpful in keeping a regular quiet time.

 

1. Remind yourself of what it’s about

Quiet time is a special time where I get to know God more. I worship Him through praising Him, praying to Him, and reading His word. I can tell Him all my burdens and talk to Him like a best friend.

Through quiet time, God rebukes or strengthens me with His words and gives us the wisdom and strength I need for the day. At one point, I realized that how my entire day goes is determined by how I start it together with God.

When I am tempted to sin, the Holy Spirit reminds me through my Bible reading. When my burdens become too much, I believe in God’s deliverance. The Scripture reminds me that God is always with me.

 

2. Set aside your best time and set a reminder

We can come to God anytime, but I think we should give God our best. Instead of a short couple minutes between daily activities, I try to spend my quiet time in the morning, before I start my day. What works best for you might be different from what works best for me, but the important thing is that you find the best time to enjoy your relationship with God.

I set an alarm on my phone to help me wake up early in the morning, so I can have quiet time before I start my day. You can also stick a note on your wall, asking yourself, “Have you had your quiet time today?” or reminding yourself, “Let’s start this day with God.”

 

3. Ask others to support you

One thing that really helps us establish a regular quiet time routine is asking others to remind us and pray for us. When in college, I joined a Christian peer group, and it really helped my spiritual growth. We need a community that helps us grow in God. I would encourage you to become involved in a community of believers, where we can grow together. When one is weak, others are strong.

Are you involved in a community of believers? If not, you can find on at your church, school fellowship, or college.

 

4. Don’t be discouraged when you fail

Have you tried, but failed, to have regular quiet time? When that happens, I feel like I have disappointed God and that really makes me sad. But then I remember that God showed His love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

God does not expect us to be perfect in our love for Him. He will look at our hearts and forgive us when we confess our sins before Him. Our efforts to grow closer to Him make Him happy.

 

If you ever feel like you don’t deserve to meet God, that is the moment God longs to heal you. Come to Him, spend time with Him, and tell Him what’s on your heart. He longs to talk with you. He listens, and He answers your prayers in His own time and His own wonderful way.

Are You Running on an Empty Tank?

Written By Joy-Ann Wood, West Indies

When I was getting ready to leave the house one day, my father said to me, “Better pump gas in the car, or else you might run out on the highway, you know . . .” I laughed at his comment and replied, “Nah, I got this covered. I’m sure there’s enough gas to take me to my destination and back.”

Despite this reassurance, he still insisted that I top up my fuel tank. Later, as I drove down the highway, I pondered his advice. Could I really make it to my destination and back before the fuel gauge indicator hit “empty”? I had heard stories from a few friends about running out of gas while driving. I could never understand how that could happen, since the indicator always warns you ahead of time that the gas is running out.

This experience parallels our Christian journey. Many times, we take this daring step of travelling on “empty.” Despite knowing we are “empty,” and that we need to spend more time with the Lord, we ignore the Holy Spirit’s nudging. We claim that “we’re okay,” and we tend to be “fine” once we are involved in Christian activities. However, if we lack daily time alone with Jesus, we’re like a car travelling on “empty”, in danger of coming to a sudden halt anytime.

Sometimes, it’s our busy schedules that lead us to running on “empty”. We get engrossed in teaching Sunday school or volunteering in Youth ministry, singing in the choir, or being involved in dance or drama ministry at church. We take the source of our strength for granted and busy ourselves with rushing from one event to another. We fall into the trap of spending less time with God while finding other ways to keep ourselves going. But suddenly, everything comes to a standstill when we burn out or lose sight of our purpose.

Jesus is calling us to spend time with Him, so that we may be strengthened through the power of the Holy Spirit to serve and give our ultimate best for Him. When a car is filled up with gas, it tends to go farther without having to stop suddenly for more gas. If we fill up our spiritual tank with time set aside for God, He will equip us with the power to serve humbly,  persevere through trials, and stay focused on Him for the rest of our lives.

Be intentional about spending time with Jesus. Running on “empty” causes us to lose heart easily and prevents us from giving our best for Him.

“You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.” —Psalm 63:1