Calling All Amateur Bible Readers

by Nicole Austin
Attending a church like Cornerstone, we are privileged to sit under the teaching of pastors who are deeply knowledgeable about Scripture. When we listen to them preach, we glean new insights about both familiar Bible stories and more obscure passages. We sit back and appreciate the ways God has gifted each of them in wisdom and grace in shepherding our church well. But while many of us spend a lot of time improving ourselves in all sorts of ways, earning advanced degrees in our chosen careers, pouring ourselves into our various roles as workers, friends, parents, citizens, and volunteers, and pursuing hobbies and other interests (sourdough bread, anyone?), we often find ourselves intimidated by the idea of studying the Bible, either on our own or with others.

To be fair, our trepidation is not entirely unreasonable. Hebrews 4:12 tells us that “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” This is serious stuff with which we are dealing. The last thing we want to do is to treat it lightly. But if our fear of misunderstanding or misapplying Scripture causes us to hold it at arm’s length — preferring to take it in only through the filter of a pastor’s sermon, a Christian book, or a worship song — then we are making a grave mistake.

God has given us the Bible as a gift, a love letter from Him to us, to help us navigate the messiness that is our life on earth. More than that, it is through His Word that He reveals Himself to us, telling us exactly who He is and what He has done for us. Because the Bible is “living and active,” it also means that reading a verse, passage, or book one day and re-reading it another day can yield two entirely different responses. God lovingly uses the very same Scriptures to lean on our hearts in different ways in different seasons. He also uses others to help us see things that we might otherwise miss. In Tim Keller’s book on prayer, he writes, “By praying with friends, you will be able to hear and see facets of Jesus that you have not yet perceived.” I would argue that the same can be said of reading and studying the Bible with friends as well.

Now all of that sounds great, but when you get down to it, what does studying the Bible actually look like? I think this would be a good moment for me to humbly confess that regular Bible study has been one of the most challenging aspects of my Christian walk to date. Much like good, nourishing food, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that a steady diet of opening my Bible regularly is the best choice for my well-being. And yet, I am always quick with an excuse, a reason why something else should take priority in a given moment. Given this, one of the best ways I have found encouragement in helping me not just to read but to truly take in the Bible is through accountability with other believers.

Over my more than 20 years as a believer, I have studied the Bible with others in various configurations, ranging from a weekly study group to a virtual YouVersion Bible plan with a friend. Most recently, I facilitated a women’s Bible study at Cornerstone, using a study guide to provide our group with questions as we worked through the text together (a method I highly recommend, especially for those unsure about how to get started). There are many benefits to this kind of structure. There is accountability, as each person commits to meeting together (or regularly participating virtually). There is fellowship, as we get to know one another on a deeper level as we wrestle through the Scriptures together. More than anything, there is the true delight of navigating the Bible together and allowing it to speak into our lives both as individuals and as a group. When we read and study the Bible together, whether it’s as part of a community group, a formal Bible study, or just a few friends meeting over coffee (or virtually via Zoom or an online app), we participate in a tradition going back to the earliest believers, who met together regularly to listen to Scripture being read aloud and to discuss what they had heard.

If you can read this blog post, you can read your Bible. Yes, there might be passages or even books that you find confusing and challenging. But often studying the Bible with others means gaining insight from one another as you go. There are also plenty of trustworthy resources available. As a start, The Bible Project is a great place to find a video overview of any book of the Bible. The Good Book Company’s Bible studies are perfect for anyone interested in starting a small group Bible study. A study Bible like this one can be an invaluable resource as well. And if you have theological questions you can’t answer, you can always contact any of the pastors at Cornerstone for guidance. More than anything, if you find yourself struggling as you read, you can reach out to God, just like the psalmist in Psalm 119:169: “Let my cry come before you, O Lord; give me understanding according to your word!”

Just as you don’t need to be perfect to come to God in the first place, you don’t need to be a perfect Biblical scholar to come to the Bible. No one needs a formal invitation or program to study the Bible with others. All you need is a willing heart ready to hear from God through His Word. So find a like-minded friend or two (or an entire community group), choose a book of the Bible (or a thematic study if you prefer), and set a time and place. Because the only truly wrong way to read or study your Bible is not to do it at all.
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