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The Bible is the most widely printed book in history. It is also foundational text of Western civilization and the divinely inspired word of God.
Yet according to new statistics, our society has a Bible reading problem.
Recent studies have shown that only 18 percent of adult Americans read the Bible. Of practicing Christians, the portion is only 37 percent who claim to read the Bible.
As many as 62 percent of Americans say they would like to read the Bible more, but don't. The Millennial generation, those born between 1982 and 2002, are the least engaged with the Bible at a scant 12 percent who identify themselves as Bible readers.
The effects of not reading the Bible are both myriad and serious for Christians today. As both congregations and individuals distance themselves from scriptures they risk both a loss of their Christian identity and their relationship with God.
Relegating our devotion to the holy scripture to the Sunday sermon deprives us of a deeper knowledge of Christianity and ourselves.
Perhaps just as troubling as the lack of reading, experts say, is the way we have come to read our Bibles. We so often now select scattered verses taken out of context and this has robbed the sacred word of its true meaning.
'A verse of the day' habit or a sermon that takes a pair of verses to present a message of earthly wisdom risks losing the sacred wisdom, majesty and historical richness of the text.
A bit here, a bit there and a comment from someone who claims to be an expert is unfortunately how millions have come to know the Bible.
So, what can done for churches and Christians who have fallen out of the habit of reading the Word of God or have reduced it to superficial sound bites?
The answer is not a new app or a flashy new translation or charismatic preacher. Instead, we need to apply some principles familiar to anyone who has studied literature to put the Bible back into its context, build a full understanding and benefit from its God-given wisdom.
First, we need to discard the idea of a learning the Bible through a "verse a day" and move away from ministers who build sermons around little more than a verse or two of Bible reading.
The Bible is a collection of books composed of chapters that are meant to be read as a coherent whole. We would never consider reading Shakespeare or the latest best seller by selecting a sentence per day because any semblance of a coherent story would be lost. So it is with the Bible.
Approach the Bible as a whole text, not a collection of isolated verses. Set yourself a routine at a time when you know you can avoid interruptions, at least 15 minutes, and devote several minutes to contemplating and praying on what you have just read as well.
In our fast-paced age of social media and instant gratification, we often forget to slow down and think deeply, but this moment of calm is exactly what the Bible calls us to do.
Second, reading groups can both bring to life and keep us focused on a regular devotion to understanding the Word. You may meet at church or at home, but together with a few other men and women a reading group can become a time for both communion and increased understanding.
Just as a university literature class might conduct a discussion on a poem, short story or novel, a Bible reading group is focused on both reading and sharing their understanding of a common text.
Known as social constructivism in education theory, the act of discussing our readings builds knowledge through our social interactions.
This is not a sermon with a learned expert at the pulpit, but a shared reading that prioritizes the text itself as both the object of study and the glue that binds us to one another and tightly to God.
Third, return the Bible to its original context. The problem with pulling verses piecemeal out of context is that we lose their original historical meaning.
We may interpret a divine command for a specific people in a specific time to apply to us today, whereas, taken in its context, it clearly does not. Search out historical information, cultural notes and commentary and consider the unique historical situations.
Instead, bring them back into both the flow of the text and the cultural and historical context God intended.
He also points out that the moral laws of the Old Testament are ignored today because of God's covenant that changed the ritualistic law, but by plucking these verses out of context, we lose all sense of this. The same can hold true for blessing or commandments.
Fourth, pray for understanding. This is not meant in an abstract way nor does it relieve the reader of their obligation to dedicate time to a careful reading of the Bible.
But, both before and after reading and discussing the Bible, take time, without distractions and without pressure, to beseech God to come into your heart and open your understanding to the words on the page.
Think back to what you read and include in your prayer the parts you questioned or remembered particularly well, verses that stood out or that called to you.
Prayer for understanding the Bible is one of the few instances in life when you can talk to the Author of a book and hope for a response.
Most often, if it isn't as direct as words from Heaven, your quiet act of prayer will open you to new understanding as the wisdom on the page will sink more deeply into your heart.
The Bible is a Story
As Dr. Jeff Hagan writes, the Bible is ultimately a narrative, a Godly truth that calls to us to be read not as a puzzle but as a gentle whisper of the divine. God used a wide variety of genres, proverbs, history, themes, perspectives, metaphors to speak to us across millennia.
Christians today should not be afraid to make Bible reading a regular part of their day, but in a way that brings them closer to God in the process, rather than just popping a new verse each day as if swallowing vitamins.
It may be difficult in such a fast-paced, web addicted culture, but we need to start immersing ourselves in a spiritual and prolonged reading of the Bible to strengthen and deepen our relationship with the God.