Read (Being Informed by God’s Word)
And it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God and be careful to observe all the words of this law and these statutes, that his heart may not be lifted above his brethren, that he may not turn aside from the commandment to the right hand or to the left, and that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children in the midst of Israel.
We hear from God by reading His word. His word is found in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. Just as we need to eat daily in order to stay physically healthy, we also need a daily intake of God’s word to keep us spiritually healthy. As Deuteronomy 8:3 states, “Man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.” This habit ensures that we grow in understanding about the will, ways and works of God. Without this we will be more susceptible to deception, temptation and idolatry.
We need to organize our lives around the intake of God’s word just as we organize our days around meal times. The best time to read God’s word is in the morning while our minds are still fresh. Of course if we are not a morning person our first challenge will be to find a way to wake ourselves up so that we can give God the first part of the day. This might mean we need to do some exercise to get our blood flowing, eat breakfast or take a shower before we open the Bible, but we need to start our days with the word of God.
If you have not read the New Testament you should do that first since that is the testament that most immediately applies to Christians. After you have read the New Testament all the way through once then you can begin reading the Old Testament which will teach you many things about God and His ways as well as giving you the background for the Gospel message that is found in the New Testament.
It is a good practice to read the entire Bible through once every year. Since the Bible is made up of various kinds of writings it is a helpful to read various parts of the Bible every day. If you read two chapters of the Old Testament, one chapter in the wisdom literature (i.e. the book of Job through the Song of Songs) and one chapter in the New Testament every day (note: reading four chapters takes about 15-20 minutes) this will get you through the entire Bible in one year, even if we happen to miss a few days. And this method will provide enough variety every day that you don’t get bored while doing so.
Interpret (Understanding the Meaning of God’s Word)
2 Timothy 2:15
Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
God communicates to us as intelligent creatures. If we read His word but don’t understand it we will not benefit from it. For this reason it is not enough that we read God’s word, we also need to interpret it.
In some ways rightly interpreting the Bible is a lifelong pursuit; some verses or passages can be difficult to understand. But the majority of the Bible is simple if we understand and practice the basic principle of reading the Bible in its proper context.
The Bible is not actually one book, but a collection of writings gathered into one book. These writings were written by various authors, at various times and in various styles. When we read the Bible we need to get into the habit of asking several questions that will help us interpret what is being communicated.
- Is this passage in the Old Testament or the New Testament?
In Jesus Christ we are not under the same laws that were given to the Israelites in the Old Testament. We must interpret the Old Testament through the teaching of the New Testament. We need to be clear as to whether the commands that were given to Israelites under the Old Covenant still apply to those who have been born again in Jesus Christ. For example, since the Church is made up of people from all nations there is no longer a need to keep God’s people separate from other nations by restricting their marriage to a certain ethnic group as God did for the Jews in Deuteronomy 7:3.
- What kind of writing is it?
We read historical writings, poetic writings and legal writings in different ways. Poetic writings use more metaphors and analogies, so the way we interpret certain poetic verses will be different than if we were just reading a statement of fact from historical writings. When we read of a beast rising up from out of the sea with seven heads in Revelation 13:1 we must keep in mind that the book of Revelation is a book of symbols and visions, so we shouldn’t interpret that verse literally.
- Who is writing this passage of the Bible, and who are they writing it to?
When reading a passage we need to understand what the author is intending to communicate. One way to help find this out is by asking who is writing it and to whom are they writing. King David wrote many poetic prayers to God, naturally we should interpret these differently than the letter Paul wrote to the church in Rome. When Paul addresses the Roman church he is seeking to instruct them in the Christian faith, but when David penned his Psalms he was not seeking to teach God, but was communicating with Him from his heart.
Of course we can learn many things about God and His truth from the Psalms of David, but we must take into account that they were not written primarily as doctrinal instruction, but as a guide for prayer and praise. For example in Psalm 63:1 David tells God that he seeks Him because David feels like a dry ground without water. This is a personal pray from David to God, but we can learn from it that as human beings we need God in our lives to bear holy spiritual fruit just as the earth needs rain to bear a natural crop. David’s thirst for God can illustrate to us that we also need God.
- What comes before and after the verse in question?
Besides the general context of testament, style of writing and original author and recipient, we also must pay attention to the immediate (i.e. specific) context. When looking at a particular verse we must consider the verses before and after it to determine what the author is intending to communicate. For example if we read in Luke 6:38, “Give, and it will be given to you,” we need to ask ourselves what it is it that is being given and received. We can know with certainty that what is under consideration in this verse is the giving and receiving of forgiveness, condemnation and judgment. We know this because of the verse before it states, “Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”
Interpreting Scripture might seem intimidating and complicated at first, but in time it actually becomes second nature. Eventually you will be aware of the general and immediate context without consciously asking any of the questions we have noted above. Just as a person needs to concentrate carefully and listen to detailed instructions when learning to ride a bike or drive a car, but later can ride or drive without paying much attention to how they are doing it, so it is with interpreting Scripture. The important thing is that we build good habits from the beginning so that as we read the Bible throughout the years we understand accurately what God intends to communicate to us.
Meditate (Considering the Truth of God’s Word)
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor stands in the path of sinners, Nor sits in the seat of the scornful; But his delight is in the law of the Lord, And in His law he meditates day and night.
We need to daily read the Bible and be careful to accurately interpret what we are reading. If we do this faithfully we will grow in an intellectual understanding of God’s word. But we must be aware that an intellectual understanding does not automatically cause spiritual growth. We need to do more than get God’s word into our minds, we need to get God’s word into our hearts and lives. For this we also need to meditate on God’s word.
In our daily reading we generally read through 4 chapters of the Bible. This amount is good for growing in knowledge, but it is too much for really digesting the truths of God’s word into our hearts. So after our daily reading we need to choose one verse (or truth, or topic, etc.) that sticks out to us in our reading and take time to meditate on it. We need to really consider the particular truth and its implications.
Meditating on a verse simply means that we take time to ask various questions about the meaning and implications of a verse and try to think about it in light of what the rest of the Bible says about the same topic. When we interpret the verse we are only concerned in understanding what the verse means in its particular context, but when we meditate on a verse we are seeking to understand how the truth of the verse compares with the rest of the Bible and how it relates to God, life, salvation and other such issues. Below are several questions to help you get started, but we must keep in mind that meditating on Scripture is not really something we can learn by formula, it is really something we learn by practice.
- Why did the author make this statement, what point is he trying to make?
- What does this verse teach me about God, His character and His ways?
- What does this verse teach me about mankind, sin and salvation?
- What does this verse teach me about God’s will and the way people should live?
- What other Bible passages talk about the truth in this verse and what insights do those passages bring to this verse?
As we are doing our daily reading we should take note of any verses that draw our attention. Maybe we feel drawn to them because the topic of the verse interests us; or maybe because the verse seems to speak directly a situation we are facing in our life at the time. For whatever reason we are drawn to the verse, we should take note of it and come back to that verse when we finish reading the 4 chapters in our daily reading. Then we should spend time thinking the verse over from different angles, asking questions and comparing the verse with other Bible verses, passages or stories that come to mind. As we grow in our biblical knowledge through daily reading and meditating, the time of meditation will become easier and more fulfilling.
We should meditate on the verse as long as it takes to feel we have really gained a new appreciation of the topic or truth it expresses. Thomas Watson taught that the question, “How long should we meditate on the passage,” is similar to the question, “How long should someone who is cold sit in front of a fire.” The answer to both is, “As long as it takes.” Meditate on the verse as long as it takes to feel your heart has been warmed by the truth it contains.
Apply (Judging My Life by God’s Word)
For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two- edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
When we meditate on a verse of Scripture we are taking time to let the truth contained in the verse really sink into our hearts. After we do this we need to apply the truth of the verse to our lives. Meditation is not really complete until we take this step.
The Bible is not merely a collection of truths that we are meant to think about, it is collection of truths that we are meant to hear (through reading), understand (through interpretation), think about (through meditation), and take as guidance for our hearts and lives (through application). The Bible was given to us by God to teach us, challenge us, correct us and train us in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). It is like a map that shows us where we are and where we need to go.
When we meditate on God’s word we are taking time to focus on what it is really saying about God and life. After we consider what it is saying, we need to consider what it is saying to us. We need to let the truth we have been pondering judge our lives. How does our life and experience line up with the truth of God’s word? Are we really living according to the truth it contains? What flaws in our lives are revealed by the mirror of God’s word? These are the types of questions that we seek to answer in our time of application.
Here are a few questions you can ask yourself after you meditate on a certain passage of Scripture to help you apply it to your life:
- What commands does this passage contain that I need to obey?
- What promises does this passage contain that I need to trust?
- What does this passage teach me about myself?
Pray (Responding to God’s Word)
Then all the people answered together and said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” So Moses brought back the words of the people to the Lord.
After meditating on Scripture we need to take time to let it judge our lives and hearts through application. We should continue to ask ourselves how our life lines up with the truth of Scripture until prayer naturally begins to flow out of our heart.
God Speaks to us by His word, and we speak to Him through prayer. As we meditate on His word and apply it to our hearts we will naturally turn to Him in prayer. When we hear Him speak through His written word to our life and situation our heart will desire to respond to Him in prayer.
Depending on the truth we were meditating on and the circumstances of our lives and hearts we might respond to God with praise and thanksgiving, or confession and repentance, or a petition for wisdom or provision. We might humbly recognize that God’s word has exposed some hidden motive in our heart, or we might joyfully praise Him for revealing to us His love and intention for our lives. There is no way to put into a list all the ways we might respond to God’s word, this is holy ground, this is the secret place of a relationship with God. Receiving God’s word and responding to Him in prayer is the most intimate part of our relationship with God; this is the goal of our daily devotions.
One Day in the Word
Let’s look at how the first day of devotions might look:
Wake Up: First we will force ourselves out of bed and make sure we are alert by taking a shower, eating breakfast or doing some exercise. Next we will get our Bible in front of us, close our eyes for a minute or two to ask the Lord to open up His word to our hearts.
Read: Then we will read our 4 chapters for the day. Since we are imagining this is the first day of our reading program we would read Genesis chapters 1 and 2, Job chapter 1 and Matthew chapter 1.
Interpret: As we read we will note the different kinds of literature we are reading; Genesis will start with the creation story, Job is a long poem illustrating the trials that Job experienced, and Matthew is a brief biography of Christ that focuses on the main aspects of His life and ministry. We will note that Genesis and Job are part of the Old Testament and Matthew is part of the New Testament. All three books were written to a general audience. Genesis was written by Moses, Matthew was written by the apostle Matthew and we do not know who the author of Job was. We will allow these distinctions to inform how we interpret each book and we will also be careful to look at the immediate context when we run into a verse that we have trouble understanding.
Meditate: It is possible that while we are reading Matthew chapter 1 we find it strange that four women are included in the genealogy of Christ (verses 2, 5 and 6). We might ask why these women were included when their husbands were already listed. As we further consider this issue we might recognize that two of the women were not Israelites by birth and that two of them were adulteresses. It might surprise us to find two Gentile women and two adulteresses unnecessarily added to a genealogy for the holy and Jewish Messiah. Why would Matthew include such women in the genealogy if he wants to magnify Christ?
As we consider this issue we might remember that Jesus came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance (Mark 2:17). And we might note that in the New Covenant race is no longer a deciding factor in who belongs to God’s people (Galatians 3:26-28). And maybe the passage from 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 comes to our mind:
For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption— that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.”
This passage might lead us to understand that Matthew was not dishonoring Christ by noting that foreign women and adulteresses were part of Christ’s ancestry, but instead he was helping his readers see more clearly the purpose of Christ’s coming, namely to reconcile sinners from all nations to God. Noting these women in the genealogy of Christ might lead us to meditate on and more fully appreciate the mercy of God in salvation.
Apply: After meditating on these truths we could then turn to consider how they relate to us. We could spend some time thinking about how we were once strangers and enemies of God because of our sins against God before He called us to salvation by His grace in Christ. We might think about where we would be today without Christ and how wonderful it is that God chose to save us.
Pray: As we think upon how wonderfully these truths relate to our lives it will only be a matter of time before our hearts desire to give thanks and praise to God for His grace in our lives. We will even thank Him for inspiring Matthew to write the names of these four women in the genealogy of Christ so that we could be reminded today of the mercy of God that He has shown to us.
From the above example we can begin to see what our daily time in God’s word might be like. As we read our Bibles daily and practice the last four steps represented by the acronym I-M-A-P we will find our way to the secret place of fellowship with God through His word. Of course some days in His word will feel more fruitful than others, and it is possible that we will fail to read His word on some days, but we must make seeking God in His word and prayer a high priority in our lives. Our relationship with God started with hearing and believing the truth of His word in the Gospel message, and it will continue by hearing, understanding, trusting and practicing His word every day from now on.
Brief Introduction to Content of Bible
The Bible is made up of two main sections. The first is called the Old Testament. It focuses on the history of the nation of Israel and God’s covenant with that nation based on their obedience to the Law of Moses. The second section is the New Testament which focuses on God’s covenant with the followers of Jesus Christ based on their trust in Christ as Savior and their submission to him as Lord.
The Old Covenant was given for a certain people and was limited to earthly commands, punishments and promises. Though it no longer directly applies to those under the New Covenant, God sovereignly guided the writing of the Old Testament, along with the history which it relates, for the purpose of teaching His New Covenant people through examples, analogies, prophesies and symbols, as well as giving a basic doctrinal understanding of the nature of God and His moral law.
The New Covenant is not limited to one nation but is open to people from any nation who will place their trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. The New Testament is a collection of the writings of the Apostles (i.e. original disciples of Jesus) and their companions. The New Testament presents the ministry and teachings of Jesus Christ as well as the teaching of the Apostles. It shows not only the way in which Jesus Christ saves people from the guilt and power of sin, but also gives us the standard of what Christians should believe and practice. Through these New Covenant writings we learn how Christ fulfilled the Old Covenant and how Christians should read and understand the Old Testament.
The New Testament plainly teaches the things that God has eternally planned for the Church of Jesus Christ. When we read the Old Testament with these eternal truths in mind we come to see that God had covertly revealed New Testament truths in the writings of the Old Testament. In other words, the New Testament is the key that unlocks the hidden truths of the Old Testament, and then the history and teaching of the Old Testament in turn helps to illustrate and confirm the teaching of the New Testament. Both the Old and New Testaments teach about Jesus Christ and the New Covenant which he established, but the Old teaches it covertly and the New teaches it overtly. It has been rightly said, “The Old Testament is the New Testament concealed, and the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed.” Christians are guided in their faith and life by reading both the Old and New Testaments. For this reason the New Testament states, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (1 Timothy 3:16-17).
The Old Testament is organized into 4 sections:
- Genesis – Deuteronomy
These five books are known as the Torah, or the Law of Moses. They lay down the instructions God gave to Israel, along with promises for obedience and warnings of judgment for disobedience.
- Joshua – Esther
These writings are known as the historical writings. They present the history of Israel.
- Job – Song of Songs
These writings are known as the wisdom literature. They include poems, philosophy, prayers and songs of praise.
- Isaiah – Malachi
These are the prophetic writings. They were written by some of the prophets of Israel. They primarily contain warnings for disobedience to the Law and a call to return to obedience.
The New Testament is organized into 3 sections:
- Matthew – Acts
The first four books in this section are known as the four gospels, they cover the ministry and teachings of Jesus. The last book in this section is known as the Acts of the Apostles; it covers the expansion of the gospel message after the resurrection of Christ.
- Romans – Jude
These writings are known as the epistles (i.e. letters). They are letters written by the Apostles, or their companions, to various individuals, churches or groups. They discuss issues of doctrine and practice faced by the churches in the first century A.D.
The book of Revelation was written by the Apostle John. It is a series of visions that God gave to Jesus Christ in order to show John what would take place in the future. It discusses Christ’s lordship over history and his eventual defeat of all evil when his kingdom is fully established on earth.
Discussion: Do you find it difficult to read your Bible every day? If yes, why? Are you a morning person? If not, what are some ways you can wake yourself up in the morning so you can seek God in His word? What are some ways you can build a habit of daily Bible reading?
Lesson Goal: Help the disciple understand the importance of seeking God daily in His word. Also help the disciple understand the different components in the IMAP Bible reading system. Most importantly train the disciple how to interpret, meditate on, apply and pray over God’s word.
Instructor’s Notes: As mentioned in the lesson, if the disciple has never read the Bible before they should start by reading the New Testament first (4 chapters a day). After they complete that, they can begin to read from the Old Testament, wisdom literature and the New Testament according to the IMAP Bible reading system.
The IMAP system of Bible reading is by no means the only way to organize our daily reading, but it is important for the new disciple that he is given a clear reading plan. Though reading 4 chapters a day might be daunting to some people who are not used to reading very often, this gives them a goal to aspire to. In time they should be able to practice this reading plan so they can read through the entire Bible once every year.
If it becomes clear after a while that they cannot presently read 4 chapters a day because they don’t read well, it is fine to tell them to start off by reading 1, 2, or 3 chapters a day depending on their ability. But if the issue is not their reading ability, but their inability to discipline themselves to make time for reading the instructor should challenge them to make it a priority. They should be reminded that the words “disciple” and “discipline” are closely related.
It is important that we help the disciple to understand the difference between the various components that make up the IMAP Bible reading plan. These components have been discussed in the lesson, so here we will only briefly contrast the components with one another.
When one reads the Bible he is just taking in the information, but by paying attention to the context he is able to understand the author’s intended meaning, this is interpretation. Interpretation is focused on what the author meant to communicate when writing any given passage of Scripture, but during meditation we focus on a specific aspect of what the author communicated and try to relate it with other passages in the Bible as well as think about the implications of this truth. Meditation focuses on a particular biblical truth and its implications for life in general, but application compares our life specifically with that truth. During the application phase of IMAP we are thinking about our life in light of the truth we have been meditating on, but during the prayer phase we begin to talk to God about what the truth reveals about our heart and how it affects our life.
The primary goal of this lesson is not to teach the disciple about the various aspects of the IMAP Bible reading system, but to teach them how to practice it. If it were only a matter of learning about the IMAP system one session would be enough, but since the goal is to learn how to practice it, a few sessions are necessary. For this reason the instructor should spend the first session teaching the various components of the system and then walking the disciple through the “One Day in the Word” section, showing them how the system works in practice. The next two sessions should be devoted to reading, interpreting, meditating, applying and praying together over any passage of Scripture the instructor chooses. Train the disciple how to seek God in His word daily.