Last week I finished the second draft of my new book: 10 Tips for Liking the Bible (Because Believing It’s True Isn’t Enough). I am in the process of layout, cover design, etc. right now. Later this month, I will be giving you an opportunity to get the whole book for free!
I couldn’t wait to get at least a piece of it in your hands, so I thought about the chapter that would be most helpful for you as you start the new year. I know lots of people make “Bible reading” one of their New Year’s Resolutions. If you have read my last post – or the one before Christmas – you know that I am currently doing a 4-Month Bible Read Thru as one of my New Year’s Resolutions.
So…here you go. It’s the whole chapter, so it’s longer than my typical posts. (But it’s good stuff. I promise.)
After giving it a read, please leave a comment letting me know what you think, if I’ve missed anything, or if you find any typos. (There’s still time.)
Tip 5: Watch The Whole Movie
I love movies. And I am not really picky. Action movies. Of course. Comedies. Who doesn’t like them? Intense thrillers? The more twists the better. Cheesy romantic comedies. Guilty.
Now, picture this scene. Kari and I have invited you and a few other friends over to watch a movie. You find a cozy spot on the couch. Your feet land on the ottoman only moments before your hand lands in the popcorn bowl. You grin as you realize your fingertips are now coated with that heavenly blend of butter and salt. I push “Play” and a couple minutes later the opening credits dissolve into Scene One. As the scene comes to a close, I push “Pause” and say, Let’s discuss this before watching Scene Two. You politely participate in the awkward conversation and a few minutes later, I push “Play.” At the end of Scene Two, I do it again. And again after Scene Three. Watch…Pause…Discuss. Watch…Pause…Discuss.
How much would you enjoy that evening? Actually, since we are pausing to discuss every scene, watching the movie will need to be spread out over the next eight Friday nights. Two months will pass before the final credits roll.
This might sound completely absurd, but don’t we do the very same thing to the Bible all the time? We decide we are going to study a book of the Bible and so we break it down into small pieces. We look at one piece, discuss it, and then do the same with the next piece. We never sit down and just read it.
If you want to like the Bible, you have to read more of it.
Stop for a second and think of your favorite novelist. This author has just come out with a new book. You pick up a copy and immediately dive in. But wait a second. What if I said you could only read one page a day? How much would you like that book? Take this one step further. What if you could only read a couple paragraphs each day? Would it even be possible to get through it? Not likely.
We wouldn’t even think about reading a novel that way. And yet, when I ask people how they read the Bible, by far the most common answers I get are:
- “I read a chapter a day.”
- “I read whatever is in my devotional.”
Do you realize that the average chapter of the Bible takes less than four minutes to read? The average section of Scripture in a devotional book takes about 30 seconds! Can you think of anything that you can read for 30 seconds to four minutes a day and truly enjoy? (Ok…maybe the comics, but I can’t think of anything else.)
Not only that, but it simply doesn’t make sense to only read a little at a time. Let’s use Philippians to show you what I mean. It is probably not a huge revelation if I told you that Philippians is a 4-chapter letter, written by the Apostle Paul, to the Church in Philippi. Now, imagine that you went out to your mailbox and tucked in the middle of the pizza coupons, bills, and credit card offers was an envelope with your name hand-written on the outside. In the corner was the name of someone you love whom you haven’t seen in a few years. Inside you find a 4-page, handwritten letter. The letter starts out,
Dear Elizabeth, I thank my God every time I remember you. Every time I pray for you, I pray with joy.
Would you read Page One and say, That is enough for today. I better save Page Two for tomorrow. Four days from now, I’ll finish this up.
Not a chance. You would read it, realize you are still standing by your mailbox, go inside, and read it again! So why don’t we do that with Philippians? That’s how Philippians starts. It is a letter. A letter from someone who loves and misses his friends. A letter about joy in the midst of struggle. A letter written with a deep sense of gratitude and partnership. How often we miss it because we are too busy “studying” it.
Please, please don’t hear what I am not saying! I am not saying you should never study a chapter, paragraph, or even meditate on a single word or phrase. What I am saying is that detailed study is not the place to start. Talking about a single scene, character, or plot twist in a movie is valuable and enjoyable. But only after you have seen the movie. (We will explore this in a bit more detail in Tip 9.)
Next time you pick up your Bible, sit down and read a whole book. More than half of the 66 books in the Bible can be read in less than 30 minutes. Pick one of those. Try Philippians, II Timothy, James, or I Peter. Reading at an average, the-way-you-would-talk pace, you will finish in less than twenty minutes. And you will reap some fantastic benefits.
You will easily enter the story.
Give it a try. Reading more will trigger something in your brain. You will start to see the characters, hear their voices, and visualize the events. It won’t take a lot of extra effort. It will just happen.
Here’s the proof. Remember the last time you saw a movie after reading the book on which the movie was based? What was your reaction? If you are anything like me, you probably had to force yourself to keep from yelling at the screen.
Hey! Did the casting director even read the book? She was taller. He had darker hair. They lived in San Francisco, not San Diego!
Now, try to recall the last time you started a novel but got pulled away after only a couple pages. What did you do when you returned to the book? I bet you didn’t start on Page 3. Of course not. You started at the beginning, because the last time you never got into it.
The same can – and will – happen with the Bible. When we read more of it, we easily get into it. When we read little bits, we don’t. It is as simple as that.
You will remember what you read.
Have you ever read the Bible in the morning, gone on with the rest of your day, and then couldn’t remember what you read when someone asked you about it later in the day? You remember sitting down with your Bible and your cup of coffee. You remember what chair you sat in. You remember what time it was when you started and ended. But no matter how hard you tried, you couldn’t remember what you read. Ugh. Talk about frustrating!
When you read a whole book of the Bible – or a large chunk of a longer book – you will be tapping into how your brain naturally and easily learns anything. Yes…anything. Our brains learn from the big to the small. The reverse is also true. Our brains do not learn easily from the small to the big. Looking at details first never leads to long term memory.
Put another way: Our brains learn in the context of story.
Try this. Think of something you know really well. Something you could explain in broad terms or great detail. It might be your favorite sport. Maybe some aspect of your job. Could be music, or plumbing, or oceanography, or painting, or entering dog shows.
Got it? Now, how did you first learn about it? Did someone sit you down and teach you one tiny detail? Or did they sit with you and watch a game, take you to a concert, or visit an aquarium?
One example I frequently use is soccer. While soccer is a growing sport in the United States (where I live), it certainly is nowhere near as popular as football, basketball, or baseball. Typically, when I ask an audience how many people have played a lot of soccer, about 5-10% of hands will go up.
If I sat down with the folks who raised their hands, we could jump into a detailed conversation about the strategy of a flat defense versus and arched defense versus a diamond defense. In competitive soccer, this is an important concept to understand and know when to apply.
That said…there is a 90-95% chance that the words of that last paragraph sounded to you like the adults in a Charlie Brown® cartoon. Mwaah, Mwaah, Mwaah, Mwaah…
It would be much better for me to start with, Eleven guys on one side. Eleven guys on the other. Get the ball in the net on the opposite end of the field. By the way – no hands! After that, we can break it down to offense, midfielders, defense, and goalies. Much, much later we can have detailed conversations about the techniques and strategies of each. Is the detail important? Yes. Is it the starting point? No way.
The same holds true with the Bible. When you start by looking at one paragraph or one chapter, you are trying to force your brain to take in the content in a way that it wasn’t designed to take it in. When you “watch the movie” you will remember it. The story will stick. The context will be set as a foundation. After that foundation has been laid, it will always be present, making the detailed study a deeper discussion of a story you already know.
What about the longer books?
I get this question all the time. As I mentioned earlier, a majority of the 66 books of the Bible can be read in less than 30 minutes. That still leaves 25-30 books that can’t be read in one sitting. Unless you have four hours every day, you are not going to be able to apply this when you study Genesis. In cases like these, here is what I recommend:
Read for an amount of time, not an amount of chapters.
Reading for an amount of time puts you in a very different mindset than reading an amount of chapters. For example, if you decide to read six chapters, your mindset at the end of each chapter will be I have five/four/three more chapters to get through. If you set aside thirty minutes to read (more than enough time for six chapters), your mindset will shift to I still get to read for 15 more minutes. That shift from “get through” to “get to” is huge.
So, decide beforehand how much time you have. When I ask, most people tell me they have 15, 20, or 30 minutes. Let’s take the middle time – 20 minutes – and apply that to reading a long book – the Gospel of John.
Reading at an average pace, the Gospel of John takes just about two hours. Since it has 21 chapters, if I read using the Chapter-A-Day method, it will take me three weeks. (And that’s if I never miss a day!) However, if I simply decide to read for 20 minutes each day, I will read the whole book three-and-a-half times in that same three-week period.
How much more will I remember if I go with the second option? Not only that, but how much more will I like it?
I have said it before, but it is too important not to repeat: Our brains learn naturally and easily in the context of story. The only way we are going to understand the Story, remember the Story, and enjoy the Story is by reading the Story. The whole thing. In one sitting whenever possible.