Sometimes when I am struggling with something, I will say a prayer asking God to show me what I need to hear, and then I will open the Bible and see what it says on the pages I opened up to. Sometimes it seems to fit the situation and be encouraging, sometimes it doesn't seem to fit, and sometimes it is discouraging. Is it okay to do this? And am I just missing God's point when I don't see how it fits my situation?
Sometimes people do not know where to start reading in the Bible, so they do what you describe. They say, “Lord, show me where you want me to read” and randomly open their Bible and start reading wherever the Bible happens to open. This has long been known as the “lucky dip” method. The Lord could give blessing in this way, but we have no promise (or Bible example) that he will. In general it is not the best way to read his Word.
To show some of the dangers in the “lucky dip” method, consider the following illustration that has been around for generations: The story is told of a man who used this method. The first verse he happened to turn to was Matthew 27:5 which says Judas “went away and hanged himself.” Since he was not sure how this verse applied to himself, he flipped to another passage and the Bible fell open to Luke 10:37: “Jesus told him, Go, and do likewise.” The man was quite upset and he did not know how he could ever obey that, so he decided to turn to one more place. Again he opened the Bible at random and to his horror his finger fell upon John 13:27: “What you are about to do, do quickly.” Each of the verses are taken out of their context and end up giving messages that are not helpful or suitable.
Here are a few encouragements that have been around a long time. They point to a better and richer way to use the Bible.
- Read systematically. When we read a book, a story, a letter or an essay, we generally start at the beginning and read through until we get to the end. This is how the writer wrote it, and this is the best way to read it. The same should be true with the books of the Bible. The best way to read is to start at the beginning of a book and continue until you get to the end. When Paul wrote the book of Romans, he did not write chapter 13 first and then chapter 8. He began with chapter 1 and then wrote chapter 2, etc. Shouldn’t we read it this way to enjoy his message?
- Read carefully. Pay close attention to each word. Be careful not to let your mind start to daydream. (To check this you can always ask yourself: What did I just read?)
- Read inquisitively. As you read the Bible, be asking questions such as these: Who is the author or speaker? To whom is the passage written or who is the speaker addressing? What are the main ideas? Other key questions that will help to bring out the meaning of the passage as are follows: Is there any command to obey? Is there any promise to believe? Is there a good example to follow? Is there any sin to avoid? Do I learn anything about God? Do I learn anything about humans—me? Is there anything I can thank God for?
- Read lovingly. Think of a young woman in love with her fiancé who is separated from her by many miles. How do you suppose she would read his love letters? As soon as the letter arrives in the mail she would open it and read it all the way through with great interest. Then she would likely read it again, this time slowly. She would think about every word. She would lovingly meditate upon every phrase and think to herself, “I wonder why he said this?” Even after she finishes reading the letter she would remember much of what was contained in the letter and she would continue thinking about it throughout the day. Read the Bible in that way! The Bible is God’s love letter to us.
- Read prayerfully. Trust the Holy Spirit to teach you. Make it a habit to pray before you read. Psalm 119:18 is a good example of such a prayer. It is the Lord that gives understanding (2 Timothy 2:7). In this way the reading of God’s Word may serve as a constant source of joy and wisdom to your heart!