As you develop your devotional life, you will need to come to an understanding of the difference between studying the Bible and Reading it. They are both important, and one is not better than the other. In this post, I will help you understand the nuances of both, and how to effectively have a healthy devotional life reading and studying the Word of God.
Reading the Scriptures
To read the Scriptures is to simply to open the Bible and start reading. Though you may stop to define a word, reading the Bible is usually done without any study helps or time to "research" or "study" deeper truths within the text.
Most people read the Bible from cover to cover, or canonically (meaning, in the order the books are ordered in the Bible - starting in Genesis and ending in Revelation). If you have never read your Bible though completely, or if it has been some time since you have, I would like to encourage you to read it from cover to cover. There are some wonderful reading plans that take you through the Bible in one year, six months, or ninety days.
You may choose to read the Bible differently, and that is okay. You may read some from the New and Old Testament everyday, read the Bible chronologically (puts the Scriptures in time order of events, its a very interesting read if you have never done it before)(Reese Chronological Bible is excellent for this, listed below).
There are many different ways to read the Bible, but I encourage you to read your Bible every day. Growing up there was a little kids song we used to sing: "Read your Bible, pray everyday, pray everyday, pray everyday, read your Bible, pray everyday and you'll grow, grow, grow". Spiritual growth begins with a healthy diet of reading the Scriptures every day. Just like our bodies need food, our spirit needs food.
Personally, I have found that reading for long periods of time uninterrupted produce the greatest results in comprehension and retention. Recently, I have been reading for about an hour every day, and this allows me to finish the entire Bible in roughly 90 days. I encourage you to block off some large chunks of time to read the Bible, it will be very rewarding and beneficial.
Studying the Bible
Studying the Scriptures is something similar but different than simply reading the Bible. Although study requires reading, its ultimate goal is not casual comprehension but deep understanding. Study is when we ask hard questions, and seek meaningful answers of the Bible. Study ask the questions, "who is that?", "what does that mean?", and "how can I apply that to my life?"
As a pastor, I have the great honor of studying for four sermons/teaching times a week. My average preparation time for each sermon is between four to eight hours! I mention this because you can read whole books of the Bible in the time it may take you to study a handful of verses. The deeper you dig in study, the more rewarding the truths you unearth!
A good way to study the Bible is to pick a particular book or passage of Scripture you are going to research, and then block off some time to dig into it. Start by reading the text you are dealing with as well those verses and chapters surrounding it (what happened directly before/after?). Take special note of any words you need to define, jotting them down as you go. Also, make a list of characters, places, and events... really anything with a proper name. Take some time using a good Bible software, concordance, or Bible Dictionary (read this blog post for advice "Tools to Succeed in Your Devotions") to figure out what each of these words, names, and places are.
Make sure you don't come to the Bible with any preconceived ideas or notions. We run the risk of making the Scriptures say what we want them to, instead of allowing God's Word to speak plainly to us. It is harder than you think to come to the Bible with a clear mind and heart, ready to say "yes" to whatever He shows you.
At this point, I would make a basic and simple statement about what you believe the text is saying. You should be able to write this in a sentence or two. After you have done this, it is then wise to look at some commentaries as well as some other study helps (Bible handbooks, google search, etc.). This ensures you are not pursuing a wrong path. If everyone else says it means something different than what you have come up with, maybe you need to reevaluate. Likewise, if everyone is heading in the same direction you are probably on the right track. Commentaries are subjective and are not without error, so be cautious.
You know you understand the Scripture you are studying when you can clearly explain it to someone else and they can understand it based on your explanation. I have learned that the greatest student is the teacher.
Both study and reading the Bible are essential to your Spiritual Growth. Take time every day to read the Bible, and make special time every week to study on a particular topic or text that interest you.