17 April 2012

One to One Bible Reading

You may have gathered that I am rather enthusiastic about Bible reading.  I talk about it quite a bit on this blog and as it happens, I talk about it quite a lot in real life too.  And then I get to hear lots of reasons why people don't read the Bible.

I don't have the time.
It's not interesting.
It's too hard.
I'm not a reader.  I don't read anything much.
I've read bits of it but...
It's for Christians.

Hold that thought.

I meet with three small groups of women during the week and together we study the Bible.  Until this year, two groups did Bible studies and the third was a Bible reading group.  I made the third one a Bible reading group because most of its members had small children who tagged along and with  small children rattling around the place, I thought it would be too difficult to attempt a Bible study.  Besides, most of the group didn't have a background in regular Bible reading.  And the phrase "Bible study" sounded too scary.

So the Bible reading group meets for lunch - everyone brings their own - and then after food and chatting we settle down for about an hour of Bible reading.  We pray and then read a chapter of the current book we are working through.  At the end of the chapter I ask the same two questions - 

Did anything stand out?
What didn't you get?

Most are usually happy to talk about something that stood out.  Sometimes we tackle something we didn't get.  Lots of the time we just leave the things we didn't get - and that's OK.  It's not that I want to promote a form of laziness in Bible reading.  Trying to nut out the hard stuff is important.  But read on...I'll get back to this.  If there is time, energy and the children are playing well, we do another chapter.  Sometimes we get through three chapters.  Mostly it's one or two.  The discussion eventually finds its way to some points of personal application and then I close with a short prayer.

Last week I picked up One to One Bible Reading by David Helm.  WHAT A GREAT BOOK.  It's all about how to read the Bible with someone else on a regular basis for a mutually fixed amount of time, just as my Bible reading group has been doing for a while. 

In the book he covers:
why reading the Bible with someone else is a good thing,
who you could read the Bible with,
how to get started,
what a typical time together would look like, and
the question of whether or not to prepare before meeting together.

Helm then provides two different frameworks for reading - a simple approach called The Swedish Method which runs a bit along the lines of my two question technique (it adds the third question of personal application up front, whereas I tend to let the application gradually drift out in discussion or through my wrapping up prayer) and a slightly more detailed approach (the COMA method - Context, Observation, Meaning, Application). 

The final part of the book is a resource section with an excellent overview of the different types of books in the Bible and some ways to get into the different genres, including some photocopiable sheets of COMA questions for each of the genres.

One of the things I really love about this book is that it is short and concise.  I read it in an hour.  Now I am thorougly convinced of the benefits of one-to-one Bible reading so what I was reading was all very familiar, but if this idea is new to you and you need some pondering time as you read, I imagine you could still knock it over in a couple of hours.  It gets straight to the point, it's eminently practical and it demonstrates the benefits and joys of tackling some one to one Bible reading.  It is the perfect handbook on this subject.

Feeling worried even so?  Don't think you know your Bible well enough to take this on?

Any committed Christian is capable of initiating a good conversation on a biblical text.  In reality, your fears in this area of personal work betray two Screwtape-like lies that every Christian must resist.  First, that gospel growth depends on us and on our abilities.  This is simply not the case.  Our proficiency in the Bible is not the final arbiter in seeing spiritual growth occur.  The Holy Spirit can and does use timid people just like us.  The second lie we fight against is disbelief - disbelief in the potency of God's Word.  We need to be reminded that God does his work in his way and it is his word that accomplishes whatever he desires in the world.  (Page 24)

Still worried about having a go?  Then go and find someone further along in their Bible reading than you and ask to read with them.  You don't actually have to head the charge here.  The point is to read the Bible with someone.  (By the way, there is a good section addressed to the person "heading the charge" as it were - about resisting the temptation to give a lecture about the passage being read.  Nothing kills one to one Bible reading than one person  dominating the discussion.  I may or may not be guilty of this.)

One of the things I really love about one to one Bible reading is that yes, the Bible is hard in parts - but we need not be scared of it. 

As I said earlier, we often don't tackle the bits we didn't understand with my little lunchtime group .  A recent, glorious example of this was when we read through Joel a few weeks ago.  Three chapters.  I departed from my usual method of one chapter at a time and we read all three chapters at a run.  Then I asked my two usual questions and for once everyone was happy to answer the second question - "What didn't you get?" - and everyone pretty much said they didn't get any of it! 

One brave soul then ventured to say that there were a couple of verses that stood out, that made her heart sing, in the midst of a whole lot of incomprehensible text.  It was a couple of verses about hope.  So we looked at those verses and had a good discussion about hope in Joel and then in ever widening Biblical contexts. 

I wrapped up our discussion by saying that we should all make a mental note of those two verses because in fact they help in part to inform the rest of this book.  The next time we all read Joel (on our own or together) we can do so with those two verses in mind and Joel will be a little more clearer.  And then even clearer the time after...

Because that is what Bible reading is like.  We don't get it all on the first sweep.  And we do get to read it over and over, time and time again.  And each time we will get it a little more than before, as what we understand starts to inform what we don't understand in ever widening circles.

Come back to my lunchtime group.  In the time since we started reading together, all thanks to God, some have put their faith firmly in Jesus and others have started tackling reading the Bible on their own.  They don't understand all of what they are reading, but they are no longer scared to have a go.  They are making it a part of their daily routine and have launched into the lifelong, wondrous pursuit of  Bible reading.  Nutting out the hard stuff (that would be "Bible study") will come later, as a natural progression.

I have seen all the reasons so often given for not reading the Bible dissolve away with this group, all because we have sat down once a week during school term time over two or three years and simply read the Bible together.  And for this reason I made some changes this year.  I now have two Bible reading groups and one study group.

Click here to order a copy of One to One Bible Reading (or here for the eBook version).  It is easy to read and it may just encourage you to get yourself caught up in that beautiful, chaotic web of personal relationships, Bible reading and prayer.  Go for it.  Be encouraged.  It is a rich blessing. 

For the word of God is living and active...
Hebrews 4:12a


Karen said...

Well, that is certainly a better review than the two minute version I left in the comments section on your last post!!

Love your work, Meredith, your blog and book reviews are such a blessing and encouragement for me. We are off for a few days of holidays later this week so I'm hoping to nut out the top five books for you then. But there's only one of your giveaway prizes that I don't already own! (I bought Feminine THreads after you recommended it last year!).

Meredith said...

Thanks Karen. I'm struck by the irony that my book review is almost longer than the book itself!

And thank you for your encouragement. I look forward to reading your list. I have three in already. The whole collection is certainly going to make for some interesting reading. In the meantime, have a great holiday.

Jean said...

So very very good! Thank you. I'm wondering how to read the Bible with people one to one right now so this is very timely. Must get that book.

mattnbec said...

Thanks for this review, Meredith. I had noticed the book and that it used the COMA method, which stood out to me because of The Bible Overview, but that was all I'd done other than thought I must read it some time. Good to hear a bit more about it. Sounds great!

But also, thanks for talking about your Bible reading group. I've been planning to start a group very similar to the one you mention at our church with some of our young mums. For exactly the same reasons. So it's encouraging to hear how well yours has been going! Hopefully we'll get ours up and running over this next term.


Meredith said...

Hi Jean and Bec. Thanks for your comments. And yes, you both have to read this book...you will swallow it up in no time and feel very encouraged.

Hope the group goes well Bec. In the early days, when the children were smaller, there were plenty of days when we didn't get anything read, because it was just that kind of day. But the kids are bigger now (or at school!) and it is now much easier. Let me know how it goes.

Anonymous said...

Loved reading this, Meredith. Many years ago, I was invited to a kyb (know your bible) group by a friend. I went with much trepidation, hiding my bible incase I was spotted by someone! That group has long since folded. And with my working full time, I couldn't find something along the same lines. So I started one myself. Very scary! I am not a scholar, and there is much I do ot know, but God is working His way. WE started with just two and some nights we have seven. And it is back to the traditional Kyb. It is the discussions we have and the many many discoveries we make - thank you , you have encouraged me.

Meredith said...

Hello dear anon! Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a comment. I am so glad that you have been encouraged. This post is from a while ago...it was good for me to go back and read it again too. I am thanking God now for you - that you are setting aside time each week to read the Bible with others. Reading the Bible with others form some of the best hours of my week. Keep reading.