I have previously written that we often do not expect anything out of our Bible reading, hence skimming the text. Sometimes we do it because we know we are supposed to read the Bible as good Christian people. But some days, it can be hard to feel it, right? You went to bed early with the best of intentions, and then sleep escaped you. You awoke early with your Bible and notebook and pen already at the table to study, but your 4-year-old also woke at the same time for no apparent reason. You usually work well in the evening or at night, but you just realized just how late it is. All of these things happen. God created us to live in space and time, and real things happen to real people.
When did you last train for something? Perhaps you ran a race or played a sport and you recall conditioning and pushing yourself harder. If you played an organized sport, you certainly remember your coach and teammates pushing you. You might recall technical training, and the observation and repetition of various actions to build or repair something like a building system or an automobile. Many who read this will recall their college education and the rehearsing of information to prepare for exams.
A common thread runs through all these types of training. No one expects expertise on the first day. Those who do have two options: gain some humility or find something else to do.
So it goes with our Bible reading and study.
We should expect it to benefit us in some way. We cannot expect expertise immediately.
If you are just getting started in the realm of serious reading for comprehension or study, do not begin with an expectation of knowing everything about whatever biblical book, theme, or doctrine you seek to understand. Instead, begin with an eye to acquaintance with the subject. Too often, we wind up thinking this time, I’m really going to do it. I’m really going to know everything about this book. Usually “this book” winds up being something like the John or Romans. To be clear, knowing everything about those books represents a holy endeavor. To be clear in another way, you might be setting yourself up for discouragement. Those are big, big books by incredible writers, and knowing everything is a big and undefined goal.
Ask yourself this, and be real. No trite answers masquerading as piety. What are you attempting to learn?
Your answer might be “I don’t know.” If that represents your honesty, it is a good and appropriate answer. I’d add a “yet” onto the end of that answer. You might discover something piquing your interest along the way as you read the text and see what it specifically talks about. If your answer is, “I’m trying to get a grasp on Reformed theology, and Reformed guys seem to really like Romans, so I guess I’m trying to understand that.” Again, honest answers are good answers here. Read Romans with an eye on that.
My personal recommendation (and that is all this is) would be to pick a shorter book than Romans or John if you have struggled with skimming or felt generally unprofitable in your Bible reading and study. After all, your high school English teacher probably didn’t pass out War and Peace on the first day of your freshman year. When one starts and finishes a study of a biblical book, no matter the length, the sense of accomplishment encourages one to repeat the effort on another book. Give Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, 1 Peter, or 1 John a try. All five of these letters have a good brevity to them while also a good, challenging depth of thought. Don’t try to learn everything, try to get the gist of the book. The Bible talks about a lot of things, but it doesn’t say everything there is to say about everything there is to say something about in every place! If you are just getting started, you might ask how whatever book you choose talks about God and how it talks about Man. If you learn one or two things as you read 1 Peter, great! You learned from the book God wrote and preserved for you. It’s not a contest to see who can learn the most the fastest. Instead, your reading and study of the Bible primarily exists as an activity to use the means God gave you to understand him better that you would love him more as you grow as a Christian believer.
Make the attempt. Know what you expect from your time with Scripture.