Bible Reading vs. Bible Study

"Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him." (Proverbs 30:5, ESV)

How has your time with the Lord been lately?  Have you been able to keep up a daily time in the word and prayer?  We trust the prayer lists have been helpful and that you're already seeing encouraging answers to your specific requests!

Remember that the goal of our Quiet Time is to fellowship with God: To know Him better that we might worship Him in spirit and truth, and that we might learn to live among our fellow men in ways that draw them to give glory to God (Matthew 5:16).  Experience (both my own and those I've trained) shows that it doesn't take long before we get bogged down and perhaps even discouraged in reading God's Word.  Both the long-time church-goer and the brand new Christian quickly discover that there are many things they don't understand as they read.

When my wife taught English in China, she had two main courses to teach:  Intensive Reading and Extensive Reading.  Intensive Reading meant picking through every single word of a passage to understand its meaning.  It could take weeks to get through a single article.  Extensive Reading on the other hand was meant to expose the students to as many different styles of writing as possible.  They could blow through a whole book in a few days.  Our interaction with God through His Word should include both styles:  Intensive and Extensive Reading—Bible Study and Bible Reading, respectively.  To put it in terms of a familiar saying, to know God well, we need to see both the forest and the trees.  Our daily Bible reading is like the Extensive Reading that gives us a broad view of the whole "forest."  That broad view gives us the canvas upon which we can hang our detailed study of individual "trees," the fruit of the kind of Intensive Reading that Bible study is.  There is much more to truly grasping the Word of God, but we'll save that for another day.

Contrary to natural instincts, the goal of our Quiet Time is not to understand every word we read (as in Intensive Reading), but rather to get a good handle on one new truth (or a reminder of something we need to keep working on) for that day.  We can safely skip over the things we don't understand for two reasons:  1) As we keep reading, all things the Lord wants us to understand will come up again, even only if it's our next time through the Bible; and 2) God's Word is a progressive revelation in several senses, but the most important for us in this discussion is in the sense that deeper truths depend on shallower truths.

As we are faithful in little things, the Lord entrusts us with bigger things.  If we do not obey the things that are simple to understand, God is under no obligation to reveal the deeper things more difficult to understand (Luke 8:18; Luke 19:15-26).  So our goal from our Quiet Time should be to put into practice those things we can understand, and to watch in expectation for Him to reveal to us an understanding of the "more difficult" things.  You'll be surprised that as you keep working your way through the Word of God—the more of it that washes through your mind—the more those puzzling pieces will begin to make sense.

Our daily Bible reading should not become so complicated and difficult that we become overwhelmed by all we "need" to learn and give up altogether.  Daily Bible reading fulfills a different and equally vital need distinct from Bible study; we need to be careful neither to confuse the two nor to slight one in favor of the other.