Have you ever wondered what Jesus meant when He told us (John 15) that we must “abide” in Him and that without Him we can do nothing? Maybe you’ve heard Paul’s joyful “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”, but haven’t really felt that you could say that about your life? How do we move from where we are to where we’d like to be? I’d like to invite you to a group that can show you how to do the one thing that will help you get started on the path to greater wisdom, guidance, confidence in prayer, and a deeper love relationship with our Lord and Savior.
1. We meet [Right now, we are meeting on Facebook, but we hope your family or small group can have a physical meeting.] for about 30-45 minutes.
2. The first 5 minutes or so of physical meetings are spent in unstructured group fellowship, a welcome time, and any necessary group announcements (next meeting, new developments ...)
3. The next 5 minutes will be a brief review of the meeting format, including sample (1 minute) readings of verses by a pair of experienced members.
4. For another 20 minutes, groups of 2-4 members read (aloud) the verses they have individually selected (underlined or otherwise noted) since their last meeting. New attendees may read from their own previous reading, or may want to team up with an experienced member.
5. Members should just read from their selection of verses (aloud), not explain selections, give interpretations or seek to apply them. Naturally, the selections may reveal a particular theme or lesson.
6. Members should take turns reading until their time runs out (10 min. each for groups of 2, 6.5 min. for groups of 3 ...), then stop to pass the turn to the next reader for his/her chosen passages.
7. Members are encouraged to set their own pace to read through the whole Bible in book order. Different start times and paces will mean that group members will not cover the same verses. New members may wish to start with a smaller goal (like the New Testament, or just the gospels).
8. Members are encouraged to inform their partners of the translation they are using, and listeners may wish to follow along in their own Bibles, but care should be taken to avoid any translation or reading criticisms.
9. Members are encouraged to spend the final 5 or 10 minutes sharing requests and praying with one another.
● Why just read? We understand that true transformation - living out legitimate applications that come from legitimate interpretations of God’s Word - is the goal, but our limited focus in these meetings is to encourage one another to regularly take in the raw material that God’s Holy Spirit will use to transform our lives (see the back). We desire to meet with brothers and sisters of various backgrounds around the common ground of God’s Word.
● How much should I read? Read for this group in the same way you would read any good book, not as an assignment or check-list. Read to see God’s story unfold and get to know and love the One who gave it to us. The Bible is a collection of 66 love letters from the the Lord. Read it from start to finish with a desire to know the author. Beginners may wish to skip through some of the tedious parts or even start with the New Testament on their first trips through. We’ll assume that you’ll be reading for years to come. Many people set goals to work through the Bible in a year, but simply reading the Bible may go faster or slower than that.
True study does require slowing down, cross-references, etc., and you should also do that kind of reading, but spiritual growth, wisdom from a working knowledge of God’s entire Word, and power and confidence in prayer all come from allowing His Word to “abide in you”.
● What if I don’t read / read well? The Bible was originally delivered to people orally. You may use an audio version or share your reading with someone who can read it aloud to you. If you are able, you might even find that you learn to read better.
● What if I am afraid to / can’t read aloud? If you’ve marked your verses ahead of time, feel free to enlist a reader for them. If your issue is not physical, you may eventually feel comfortable reading aloud.
● Who should come to these meetings? Anyone, from a child old enough to read and pray, to an unbelieving seeker, to the eldest Christian, can benefit both from regularly reading God’s Word and from the encouragement of accountability. Why not just bring your friends and let them decide for themselves?
Why should we read the Bible, and why would we want to be a part of a group that gets together to do little else? If you’ll allow me, I’d like to answer that last part of the question first. The Bible teaches us (Hebrews 10:24-25) that we are not to forsake or neglect the assembling of ourselves together to encourage each other in the Lord to love and good works. We understand that this is speaking to corporate worship, but it is one of many passages that speak to the power of making ourselves accountable to one another. As Solomon wrote,
“Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their efforts. For if either falls, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to lift him up. Also, if two lie down together, they can keep warm; but how can one person alone keep warm? And if someone overpowers one person, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not easily broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)
I won’t belabor the point, but that Hebrews 10:23 passage begins by telling us that we need this time of mutual encouragement in order to have the faithful endurance to “hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering ...” We need each other.
Now, about the practice of reading the Scriptures, we’ve already noted that we are talking about a collection of love letters from the God who loved us enough to send His Son to die for us. That should be motivation enough, but there is much more.
Jesus told His disciples, “I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without me. ...” (Jn 15:5)
As was mentioned on the cover, you may have wondered what this “abiding” is all about. Certainly, we would admit that we must have His Holy Spirit in us and we must be willing to repent of our sins and follow Christ, but in the context of that passage, Jesus tells us both what He means by “abide” and what is at stake. Let’s just read the next verses.
“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you want and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this: that you produce much fruit and prove to be my disciples. ”
Jesus is telling us that if we want to glorify the Father, bear fruit, be disciples, and have God answer our prayers, we need to remain in His words.
Okay, you say, but what’s the connection to Bible reading? Let’s answer this question by first pointing out a few passages found in the context of John’s gospel:
● Jn 1:1 began by telling us that Jesus is the Word [Logos] (of God) and had been with the Father God and the Holy Spirit since the beginning (before creation).
● In His high-priestly prayer, Jesus prays, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” (Jn 17:17)
● In Jn 14:6, He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
In other words, John (and Jesus) are telling us that God’s Word, Scriptures, which we know as our Bible, is the written essence of Jesus, the eternal Son of God, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. They are everything that God the Father wants us to know about (per 2 Peter 1:3) “life and godliness.”
The apostle Paul (2 Tim 3:16-17) wrote that the Scriptures are God-breathed (inspired), able to lead us to salvation and profit us in the areas of doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness. He went on to say that the purpose of the Scriptures is not just to inform us, but to mature and perfect us. As Romans 12:2 says, we’re to be “transformed by the renewing of [our] mind.”
The only remaining aspect is that we must have the Holy Spirit working in us to cause His Word (the Bible) to yield these life-giving, transforming effects in us.
“… When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth....” (Jn 16:13)
Paul tells us, “But the person without the Spirit does not receive what comes from God’s Spirit, ... he is not able to understand it since it is evaluated spiritually.” (1 Corinthians 2:14)
Peter (1 Pet 1:24-25, quoting Isaiah 40:6-8) reminds us that our earthly existence is temporary, like flowers and grass, but “the Word of the Lord endures forever.” These are all powerful reasons to abide (remain) in the Word of God, but there are many others. In “How to Study the Bible” (CSB Study Bible, 2017), George Guthrie notes that, among other motivations, … we read the Bible …
• to experience consistent joy (Ps 119:111)
• to sort out our thoughts and motivations (Heb 4:12)
• to guard ourselves from sin and error (Eph 6:11–17; 1Pt 2:1–2)
• to know God in a personal relationship (1Co 1:21; Gal 4:8–9; 1Tim 4:16)
• to know truth and think clearly about what God says is valuable (2Pt 1:21)
• to be built up as a community with other believers (Ac 20:32; Eph 4:14–16)
• to reject conformity to the world as we renew our minds (Rm 12:1–2; 1Pt 2:1–2)
• to experience God’s freedom, grace, peace, and hope (Jn 8:32; Rm 15:4; 2Pt 1:2)
• to live well for God, expressing our love for him (Jn 14:23–24; Rm 12:2; 1Th 4:1–8)
• to minister to Christ-followers and to those who have yet to respond to the gospel, experiencing
God’s approval for work well done (Jos 1:8; 2Tim 2:15; 3:16–17)
“What you have heard from the beginning is to remain in you. If what you have heard from the beginning remains in you, then you will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is the promise that he himself made to us: eternal life.” --- 1 John 2:24-25
Won’t you join us? We’d love to read with you.
The inspiration for this group was an article by Ron Frost. For the testimony of his introduction and experience with reading through the Bible, look for https://spreadinggoodness.org/make-this-the-year/, first published as “Make this the year!” in Moody Monthly magazine, January 1988; also included in R. N. Frost, Discover the Power of the Bible (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2000) 201-206]
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 2017 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Christian Standard Bible® and CSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.
After hearing some feedback, it occurs to me that some are confused about what a selection of verses might look like. I'd like to illustrate with just a few verses that I marked from a quick read through the book of Genesis. To give you some background, I'm going to do something that we don't want to do during our meetings; I want to make a few comments about what was going on in my mind as I marked these verses.
1. I was reading through the New Living Translation. Just so you know, every translation has to pick a philosophy - translate individual words as closely as possible to the original language (selecting words from a limited to more advanced reading level), or translate thoughts as best we can communicate them in our language (also selecting a reading level). There is a wide spectrum of translation options from one end of our choices to the other, but (in keeping with the Living Bible's paraphrase concept) the NLT chooses to make a more readable translation by using thoughts. This enhances the readability of the translation, but it also means traveling a little farther down the direction of pre-interpreting a particular meaning for some of the more challenging verses. With that in mind, and meaning no disrespect, some of my selections were made purely because I'm aware that some passages are more commonly fought over.
2. The other thought rolling around in my mind was because I had just read an article that had made a number of disparaging remarks about Paul's letter to the Romans. The author was particularly critical of Paul's assertion that the Old Testament assumed that God would someday grant repentance and salvation to the Gentiles without asking them to become keepers of the Jewish Law. Naturally, Genesis is the prime example of what God has to say prior to giving Moses the Law.
Now on to my selections. Here's the whole list:
- Gen. 1:24-31
- Gen. 4:6-7
- Gen. 6:1-8
- Gen. 9:8-17
- Gen. 10:24--25
- Gen. 11:1-9
- Gen. 12:1-3
- Gen. 17:1-14
- Gen. 18:16-21
- Gen. 22:15-18
- Gen. 26:1-5
- Gen. 28:1-4, 10-15
- Gen. 28:20-22
- Gen. 31:1-13
- Gen. 35:9-13
- Gen. 40:16-23
- Gen. 46:3, 26-27
- Gen. 49:8-10
As it turns out, this was just two days of reading, and I confess that I was somewhat aggressive in some of my marking (especially in the length of some of the selections), but it illustrates the kind of results we might end up with. In 10 minutes of reading aloud from this group, I only made it down the first column (Gen. 18). Then it was time to let someone else have a turn with their own verses.
But what about all those verses I didn't get to present at the meeting? As illustrated by my background statements, these selections were for my benefit and I found them edifying. On another occasion, I might select interesting verses that I never noticed before or that stood out in a new or different way because of the particular translation or the way they spoke to a question, difficulty, or situation that I was dealing with, etc.
It is true that, without preaching or teaching or giving the background for my selections, you might reconstruct some or all of my background thoughts from the choices I brought to the table, but that isn't the point of the meeting. The meeting was just so that we could give each other some encouragement and some accountability. Your choices may be old hat to the person across the table from you, or they may completely revolutionize his thinking. Marking the verses (literal underlining, jotting the references, or highlighting on an electronic copy) is helpful in that it gives us incentive to concentrate. We all know that there is a difference between reading and simply allowing the words to pass in front of our eyes. But they also illustrate the fact that God will use different passages to speak to us on each successive trip through His Word. Likewise, each trip through the Bible will better equip us to interpret and apply the whole of the Scriptures in a more accurate way.