How to read

Published 12:50 pm Saturday, February 20, 2016

Beginning when we are a few years old, most of us start to sing the ABC’s and recognize letters. From there, we move on to learning the sounds which those letters make and combine those sounds to be able to read words. Once we start learning words, someone usually says, “She can read!”

As we study, we learn new words, we begin to recognize words more quickly and before long we are able to sit down and read entire books. The more we read, the more quickly we are able to make out the sounds and meanings of the words on the pages that face us. Once we are “fluent” readers, most people consider the task of learning how to read to have been accomplished. We check that box early in the elementary years and move on to math, science, social studies and more.

Once we have learned to put sounds and meanings to the shapes on a page, it is rare for someone to ask the question, “Do I really know how to read?” because we often think that reading is no more than knowing the meanings of the words in front of us, but the reality is that knowing how to read is much deeper than simply understanding the meaning of the words in front of us.

Reading is not just about grasping meanings, because we need to take the abstract words on a page and making sense of what those words are saying in a way that engages our lives. This is true of reading anything from the newspaper to a novel, but is nowhere more obvious than it is when we read the Bible. We can read the words on the pages of the Bible and understand the meaning of each word individually, and even understand what the sentence “says,” but if we are unable to grasp the meaning of that sentence in a way that engages our lives, we cannot say that we are “reading” in any meaningful way!

The difference between reading a newspaper or a novel and the Bible is that when we read the first two, we are getting information that we can use in any way we want. The newspaper might tell us something that will help us decide who to vote for or inform us of a local accident that will change how we drive or where we travel. We can choose how that information is going to impact our lives. A novel is very different from a newspaper, but we too can choose what to do with those stories. They can become stories that we retell to others, stories which we envision in our minds, or even stories that become the stuff around which we shape our hopes and dreams for the future. On the other hand, we may set them aside as uninteresting and unimportant and move on to find a better story. There is not a right or wrong way to read a newspaper or a novel.

Scripture is different because the words of the Bible were given to us to shape and form us as the people of God, so to truly read Scripture we need to be willing to come to Scripture with a willingness for God to change us and make us more fully into God’s own people. The conversation that leads to Jesus telling the story we have come to know as “the parable of the Good Samaritan” in Luke 10 gives a good picture of someone who is not reading Scripture to be formed by it. The religious leader who confronts Jesus in Luke 10:25-29 sees Scripture as a tool to further his own ends. He starts by using Scripture as his personal test for Jesus and then moves on to using Scripture to justify his actions rather than shape him (I am going to dive into this conversation in worship at 11 a.m. this Sunday in Courtland United Methodist Church if you want to look more closely) — he is not reading Scripture, he is making it a weapon.

We can easily fall into the trap that this religious leader fell into: we read Scripture looking for how it can give us a tool to prove ourselves right and other people wrong. It is easy for us to open the Bible with the assumption that we know all about God. As a result, we only see those places in Scripture which confirm that we are right (and someone else is wrong, evil, sinful or mean).

The reality is this: God is bigger than any one of us can imagine and God always has more for us. God is in the business of changing us to look more like Jesus, but God usually only does that work in people who are willing to be changed — people who come to Scripture and to God with a willingness for God to prove us wrong in our hearts, minds and lives.

Throughout Lent, we are including a plan for reading through the Gospel of John with this column. I truly believe that God can do incredible things in your life through the words of Scripture, but we need to re-learn how to read. Simply understanding the words is not enough. Instead we need to let the words shape us and form us. Read with an openness for God to say unexpected things and challenge you in unexpected ways. I hope you will be shaped as you learn to read afresh!

 Reading Plan for the Book of John

• Saturday, Feb. 20 – John 5:1-30
• Sunday, Feb. 21 – John 5:31-47
• Monday, Feb. 22 – John 6:1-25
• Tuesday, Feb. 23 – John 6:26-71
• Wednesday, Feb. 24 – John 7:1-24
• Thursday, Feb. 25 – John 7:25-52
• Friday, Feb. 26 – John 8:1-30
• Saturday, Feb. 27 – John 8:31-59
• Sunday, Feb. 28 – John 9
• Monday, Feb. 29 – John 10
• Tuesday, March 1 – John 11:1-37
• Wednesday, March 2 – John 11:38-57
• Thursday, March 3 – John 12
• Friday, March 4 – John 13
• Saturday, March 5 – John 14
• Sunday, March 6 – John 15
• Sunday, March 7 – John 16
• Tuesday, March 8 – John 17
• Wednesday, March 9 – John 18
• Thursday, March 10 – John 19
• Friday, March 11 – John 20
• Saturday, March 12 – John 21
• Sunday, March 13 – Luke 19
• Monday, March 14 – Luke 20
• Tuesday, March 15 – Luke 21
• Wednesday, March 16 – Luke 22:1-6
• Thursday, March 17 – Luke 22:7-71
• Friday, March 18 – Luke 23
• Saturday, March 19 – No reading. Be still.

Eat this Book!
Tips for reading:
• Before you read, set aside any “goals” you have for reading and open yourself to what God might want to say to you. Offer this simple prayer: “Lord, here I am to listen. Speak to me your words of life!”
• Plan time in your day to read. The readings are not long, so 10-15 minutes is sufficient, but 20 minutes will give you more time to reflect and chew on the words you read.
• As you read, do not rush. It is better to sit with a single verse of scripture for five minutes (if that is all the time you have!) than to rush to “finish” the reading.
• Handle the scripture gently. Don’t force it to mean something you want it to say. Instead, simply listen.
• As you read the passage, make a note of any verses that stand out to you. Come back and re-read these verses a few times. “Chew on” these passages by meditating on what they mean and savor what they are saying!
• Pray the text. Read it to God and lift to God in prayer those people and situations that come to mind as you read.
• Live the text. As you meditate on scripture, ask “how does this shape my life?” Consider what actions God is inviting you to take in response to these words.
May God fill you and change you as you eat this book!

ANDREW BOOK is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. You may contact him at