|Dr. Phil Collins
You might ask, Why employ a Scripture engagement process? Simply reading the Bible doesn’t automatically result in a person’s loving God and others. Reflecting on a Bible passage after reading it is imperative for spiritual growth. Similarly, reading a math book doesn’t mean you understand the math or are able to use it. You must engage and try the calculations. Therefore Scripture engagement serves to make passages more personally meaningful to you so they can result in godly living.
Here are some steps to help you prepare to engage with God’s Word.
Ready Your Heart
Your heart is the center of your being. God will not force His presence upon you. He will call to you and wait for you to open your heart to Him (see Rev. 3:20).
As you shape your attitude, much of the rest of the process will naturally follow. For example, the way you choose to approach someone influences the outcome of your meeting. Your attitude as you go in for a job interview, meet potential in-laws, interact with a teacher, or even talk with a friend makes a difference in your experience. The same is true for your experience with the Bible. Expect engagement; expect good things to result from your encounter with God. Ready your heart for dialogue and interaction.
Prepare to Meet with the Lord
Here you prepare to meet Someone specific—God Himself. The foundational premise of Scripture engagement is that when you engage the Bible, you engage God. Spiritual reading of the Bible is a relational process; we primarily read to meet and know God.
If you had the chance to be in the physical, visible presence of Jesus, would you go? It would probably be terrifying; think of all the times in the Bible where “fear not” was needed to calm the hearts of people who had a direct experience with God. But if you went, what should your attitude be? How would you prepare to meet God?
This meeting might cause your sinfulness to surface. Perhaps your reaction would be to confess your sins and ask forgiveness before your meeting. You also might come into Jesus’ presence with gratitude and joy at the chance to meet with your Lord and Savior. Surely your focus would be on Him alone. You would probably be quick to listen to whatever He would say, ready to pay attention to every detail and nuance. Psalm 123:1–2 gives us a good image of how we can prepare ourselves to meet with God: we look to God with the attentiveness of a servant and wait expectantly for instructions from our Master, not wanting to miss a single direction or signal.
We have access to God through Jesus by the Holy Spirit—what an amazing biblical truth (see Eph. 2:18; 3:12). The more we prepare our hearts and minds for meeting God in His Word, just as if we were coming into the physical presence of Jesus, the more life-changing and powerful our experiences with Scripture will be.
Please understand that you won’t necessarily have an emotional experience every time you engage the Bible. The disciples don’t appear to have been overwhelmed by Jesus’ presence every moment they were with Him. But each time can be significant (see Is. 55:11). To prepare to engage with Scripture, do the following:
- Pick a time. Set aside a specific amount of time in your weekly calendar to engage the Bible so that it becomes a rhythm in your life. Make it a habit just like brushing your teeth or eating three meals a day.
- Pick the best time. Use your prime time of the day to engage with the Bible. Don’t save it for when you’re the most exhausted or distracted. Are you a morning person or a night person? Plan your time accordingly.
- Pick a place. Go wherever you naturally go when you want to focus on something important. Using the same place repeatedly trains your brain to set itself to the proper mode when you go there.
- Briefly ask God’s Spirit to teach you, meet you, and bless your time in His Word (see 1 Cor. 2:16). Commit to obey what you discover about His will.
- Start small. It is better to start with modest goals and continue the practice than to start with huge goals, get disappointed, and stop.
- Find a method that works for you. There is no single engagement tool that every person should use.
Deal with Distractions
Distraction is a lively topic for most of us. We have a difficult time slowing down and spending time with the Bible. Distractions seem to pop out of nowhere: external chaos, internal stress, weariness, or an undisciplined mind. With diligent effort, you will grow in your ability to give attention to the Bible. Try these tips:
Get rid of things that usually distract you. Or choose a place for engagement that offers the fewest objects that distract.
- Journal before you enter the Word. Take a minute to write out your troubles, disappointments, frustrations, joys. Start a conversation with God and then turn to Scripture for what to do.
- Keep paper handy so you can jot down things that come to mind. Do this throughout your reading. This gets thoughts out of your head as quickly as possible so you can refocus.
- Change up your routine to a new Scripture engagement practice.
- Read the passage aloud if you get distracted when silently reading the Bible.
- Stop feeling guilty about distraction. It’s okay. It happens to all of us. Feeling guilty just adds another distraction. Ask God to redirect your thoughts to the Word.
- Don’t give up. Scripture engagement, like all spiritual disciplines, gets easier with time. Disciplining the mind is work, but the chance to interact with God through His Word is definitely worth the focused effort.
Choose How Much to Read
Is reading larger quantities of the Bible (perhaps whole books at a time or the Bible in a year) better because you can see the big picture? Or is it better to read one book of the Bible over and over? Or should you take in small portions of the Bible (just a few verses or a paragraph) because you can go into more depth?
The answer is yes! You’ll want to take different approaches at different times. Perhaps begin with smaller portions and work up to larger ones. Experiment to find what is most effective for you.
No matter how much you read, remember the purpose of engaging Scripture: to meet, know, and obey God. Over time God will use His Word to transform you into His image if you let it soak into your life. If you don’t see an immediate change or the practice feels a bit dry, don’t give up engaging the Bible. Let God work in your life as He wants to work. Following these steps will help you get the most from each encounter you have with God in His Word.
Do you yearn for life-giving, intimate communion with God? The Abide Bible is designed to help you experience the peace, hope, and growth that come from encountering the voice and presence of God in Scripture. Every feature in Abide is designed to teach and develop Scripture-engagement habits that help you know the power and spiritual nourishment of abiding in Christ.