Listening, Scripture Reading and Meditation Additional Resources from Zach Zienka
Any student could tell you that they enjoy the books they choose to read more than the ones they are forced to read. As a grad student I can certainly testify to this. Don’t get me wrong, I often find good nuggets and glimpses of delight in my assigned reading. I think it’s the speed at which we are forced to read as students that makes reading a task to get done rather than a wealth of knowledge to slowly ingest and enjoy.
When I have my breaks in school, I open up my Amazon wishlist and buy the books I desire to read. One book on my list that I read this break was To Kill a Mockingbird. I imagine that you have read it at some point in your life. It was not my first time reading this book. In fact, the reason I wanted to read it again was because I knew I never fully appreciated it before. I read it when I was a freshman in high school. And if you know anything about freshmen boys, it’s that we don’t know much. I certainly did not grasp the powerful themes of equality and empathy. I never realized that Atticus should have been my role model; a character that I should have looked up to in awe. All I wanted then as a freshman boy was the movie version.
Thankfully our Scripture does not necessitate a developed brain or a compelling movie to complement it. Unlike other pieces of literature, the Bible is able to transcend age, culture, education-level, and any other barrier we put up as humans. We can teach our children the way of Jesus through the Gospels. Our teens can learn wisdom through the Proverbs. Our adults can wrestle with theological questions through the dense letters of Paul. The Bible speaks to all because God desires to speak to all.
We also recognize that God has chosen an ancient work of literature as His means for communication. That means we can study it, examine it, and get nerdy with it. It also means it can confuse us or feel so removed from our reality. This can cause our studying and reading to get stuck. We can lose the vigor for growing in the discipline of reading and meditating. Below I have laid out a few suggestions and resources that might help us in having a reinvigorated time in God’s Word:
- Try out a different translation. Sometimes the familiarity with a translation’s style can cause us to zone out. Reading with a different translation can be a refreshing change of pace. It can also be helpful to switch up the type of translation you read. Most translations can be placed on a sliding scale from dynamic (translating with readability as the main goal) to formal (translating with word-for-word equivalence as the main goal). No Bible translation is perfectly dynamic nor perfectly word-for-word. Trust me, you would not want a word-for-word translation. If you often read a more dynamic translation (NLT, CEB, the Message) then maybe switch to a more formal translation (ESV, NRSV, NASB) and vice versa. There is also a great free, online resource called the Step Bible where you can compare and contrast translations as well as see the original language with definitions.
- Read large chunks of Scripture at a time. The common practice of reading a chapter/passage/verse at a time is helpful but sometimes reading more at once can cause us to see the bigger picture. Staying so zoomed in can mean missing the forest for the trees. I suggest first taking one of the Epistles (like Galatians or James) and reading the entire thing in one sitting. You can expand this to bigger books or take larger books and read a larger section at a time (maybe try reading Genesis chapters 1-11). There is also an excellent Bible called the ESV Reader’s Bible in which they remove verse numbers and minimize the chapter numbers. It’s a crisp, clean Bible for easy readability.
- Read the books of the Bible you often ignore. We all have go-to books of the Bible. We also, if we are truthful with ourselves, have books we’re not big fans of reading. I’ll be the first to admit that I have a hard time reading Paul but love reading the Prophets of the Old Testament. Sitting down and reading those books we’re scared of or not sure how to understand (looking at you Numbers!) can be a necessary change of pace. I recommend checking out BibleProject for resources that can help you see the bigger picture of each book. Simply click on the book you are reading and they have videos to help guide you through the book.
- Get nerdy with the books you love. It is absolutely acceptable to have a favorite book of the Bible. We all have styles of writing and genres we love more than others. One way to jump-start your Bible reading is to take a book you love and really dive into it. Get a commentary, read through the book multiple times with different translations, and listen to sermons/podcasts that connect to the book. If you’re looking for good commentaries, I first suggest getting a commentary that is specific to the book. Big overview commentaries have their place, but if you are reading through Ecclesiastes, you will want to get a commentary just on Ecclesiastes. Finding a good commentary can be overwhelming so I also suggest going to BibleProject and selecting the book you are reading. On the page for each book, they have a section below labeled “Books” which will give an academic and popular level commentary recommendation. I have never once been disappointed by their recommendations.
- Become a Bible scribe. During this pandemic, I have made it my goal to write out the entire book of Isaiah. I probably started with too big of a goal, but this practice of writing out Scripture has been a new way to engage with God’s Word. I suggest starting with a smaller book (like Philemon or Titus), getting a good-sized notebook, and a nice pen/pencil. Have your Bible open and slowly start to transcribe in your notebook what you read. This is a very slow and certainly time-consuming practice. You will take precious time with each word. This is a great practice for slowing down and really meditating on what you are reading.
Developed by one of our own church members, the Spectrum Bible app is an excellent resource for in-depth study.
Another resource developed by one of our church members is the Contemplate the Bible Magazine which puts books of the Bible into a magazine format with images helping to guide reflection.
Alabaster Co. works to put books of the Bible into readable formats for a visual learning experience.
Some other books our staff recommends:
- Grasping God’s Word
- The Listening Life
- How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth
- Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes
- The Epic of Eden
I have recommended their work twice above but specifically the “How to Read the Bible” Series from BibleProject is an excellent resource for Bible reading in general.