• Casual reading. This is my term and I recognize that some may be offended by it. Let me implore you not to be. I am not in any way implying that we regard Scripture with anything but the respect that God’s Word deserves. I am simply recognizing that sometimes, perhaps most of the time, we pick up God’s Word and simply read it on a very surface level. We read it in a way similar to how we would read any material. This is how I do most of my reading as I read through the Bible each year.
    • The value of casual reading: Casual reading usually involves reading larger portions of Scripture and allows the reader to get a sense of the “big picture.” It is how we learn the stories of the Bible and the timeline of the Bible. 
            That is not to say that God can’t speak to us through casual reading. At times He will speak to us through the message of the whole story. For example, there is an awesome message to be learned from the whole of Jewish history – that God’s faithfulness has been proven over and over and over again. We don’t learn that from just one story, we learn it from reading through major portions of the Old Testament.
            At other times, God may speak to us as we read Scripture casually by causing a verse to jump off the page and explode in our minds. That verse speaks to us by itself in the midst of many others. This is how most of my blogs originate. I am reading and along comes a verse that says “look at me!” Perhaps I do more study on that verse, perhaps not. It depends on the message of the verse and what God is speaking to me. But it comes out of my casual reading of a passage.
    • The drawbacks of casual reading: In casual reading, the reader typically will not catch the exciting nuances of Scriptures, the relationships between words or passages, and perhaps even the underlying theme of a passage. Without knowing the background of the book, its author and intended audience, we can sometimes take verses out of context and misuse them. Without taking time to learn what the words meant in their original language we lose the richness of the meanings. Without diligent study we lose the joy of discovery.
  • Meditative reading: While there are many different approaches to reading Scripture meditatively (we’ll look at some of them in future blogs), the approach generally means to linger over the text in a meditative manner. It involves centering ones’ self and quietly entering into God’s presence while reading His Word.
    • The value of meditative reading: Reading God’s Word meditatively puts us in a position to be more “present” with God. It allows God to touch us in a different way than casual reading or in-depth study. It brings a stillness, a peace, a quiet assurance, into our world as we meditate on God’s Word in God’s presence.
    • The drawbacks of meditative reading: Meditative reading is wonderful, but it is not a substitute for casual reading and in-depth study. One cannot read large passages of Scripture meditatively in one sitting – the two concepts are antithetical. Similarly, reading meditatively does not usually uncover the gems that can be mined from in-depth study.
  • In-depth study: In-depth study enables the reader to find treasures hidden in God’s Word that might otherwise go unnoticed. As with meditative reading, there are many different ways to study Scripture in depth, but all include asking questions of the text – who, what, when, where, why and how. It involves looking up the original meaning or derivation of key words using Bible dictionaries. It takes the reader on a journey to similar passages using a concordance to find those passages those that carry the same theme or include the same key words. It often includes reading what others have written about the passage using Bible commentaries.
    • The value of in-depth study: In-depth study uncovers gems that you’ll never discover from casual or meditative reading. It is the kind of reading of Scripture that ensures orthodoxy, that is “correct thinking” or “correct belief.” In other words, it keeps us from error. It is sometimes like taking a journey into the mind of Christ. Additionally, I find that the lessons I’ve learned from studying passages in-depth stay with me the longest. Those discoveries are “my discoveries” and they have become more deeply planted in my spirit than the lessons I’ve learned through the other two approaches to reading Scripture.
    • The drawbacks of in-depth study: In-depth study, by its nature is slow and plodding. The reader makes slow progress through the Bible as he or she studies single verses or paragraphs. The “big picture” is outside our field of vision as we search the depths of a single verse. I also find that I have a more limited capacity for in-depth study than for the other two methods. It’s not an issue of discipline, it’s an issue of giftings and callings. I truly enjoy in-depth study, but at least at this time in my life, in-depth study isn’t something that is a part of my every day life. In-depth study is often my Saturday morning time with God – a day during the week when I can devote more time to finding God’s hidden morsels.

As I write this blog, I am spending a couple of days at a friend’s retreat cabin. What a blessing to be in such a serene place, nestled in the middle of a forest of trees! As I look out, I see the beauty of the forest of green leaves and brown tree trunks. They sway and rustle in the light breeze. There are various shades of green and brown against a blue sky that’s scattered with white puffy pillow-clouds. It’s beautiful and quiet and peaceful. I can sit here and breathe deeply and listen to God’s voice. I can also stand at the edge of the porch, though, and see that some of the leaves have jaggy edges and some have smooth edges with sharp points. Some are large and broad; other are small and slim. Some have obvious veins in them, others are more subtle. Some of the tree trunks aren’t really brown but a shade of gray. And I wonder at the creativity of the God who created it all. Such is the nature of the casual observation, the meditative observation. Were I to do an in-depth study, I would learn about how nutrients are carried from the roots of the plants to the very tips of the leaves and how various species have different characteristics and I imagine that God would teach me more about His nature and character through such a study. So it is with our reading of Scripture. Each method is valid and valuable and we benefit from incorporating them into our time with God.

No how matter how we read Scripture, it’s important to ask the all important question “Lord, how does this apply to my life? What would you have me to do or become?” Reading Scripture without making personal application is like the person who looks in the mirror, sees that their hair needs to be combed, then walks away without doing so. The blessing is in the obedience to God’s Word (James 1:22-25).

May you come to know the Living God who inspired every word that appears on the pages of your Bible as you read it casually, meditatively, and studiously.

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