In this first session we are going to identify some things that are common barriers to understanding the Bible and give you some tools and strategies to overcome those barriers. It is kind of long, but stick with it. Do what you can when you can and before you know it, you will be reading and understanding the Bible and God in a whole new way.
The first barrier for some people is not having a Bible. In many areas of the world, people who want a Bible can get one although it may take some creativity and investigation. In the US, we have Christian book stores all over that sell Bibles for $1.00, ministries that give them away for free regularly and a lot of options. If you don’t have a Bible and can’t afford one, check out these great websites that provide free Bibles:
Additionally, if you have a computer and an internet connection, you have any translation of the Bible that you could want any time you want. There are many free websites that provide multiple translations. Some of my favorite web sites are:
Both of these sites and others not only provide any translation you would want but they have great study tools that help you to understand the original words used, the places that are being talked about and see other people’s thoughts on what each verse means.
Barrier #2-The thees and thous:
Finding the translation of the Bible that makes sense to you is really important. My favorites are the Message translation and the New Living Translation because they are very readable and put the Bible in language that I understand and speak every day.
I know people, good, smart, wonderfully, Godly people who love the King James version with the “thees and thous” and if that is the translation that helps you understand and experience the word of God, that is fantastic!
There is no “right” or “wrong” translation. As long as it stays true to the original words and it makes sense to you, that is the right translation for you.
Let’s take a look at a verse in a couple different translations to see how the same verse can mean the same things but be put in different ways:
Proverbs 6:1-4 My son, if thou be surety for thy friend, [if] thou hast stricken thy hand with a stranger, Thou art snared with the words of thy mouth, thou art taken with the words of thy mouth. Do this now, my son, and deliver thyself, when thou art come into the hand of thy friend; go, humble thyself, and make sure thy friend. Give not sleep to thine eyes, nor slumber to thine eyelids.
New Living Translation:
Proverbs 6:1-4 My child, if you co-sign a loan for a friend or guarantee the debt of someone you hardly know-- if you have trapped yourself by your agreement and are caught by what you said-- quick, get out of it if you possibly can! You have placed yourself at your friend's mercy. Now swallow your pride; go and beg to have your name erased. Don't put it off. Do it now! Don't rest until you do.
Dear friend, if you've gone into hock with your neighbor or locked yourself into a deal with a stranger, If you've impulsively promised the shirt off your back and now find yourself shivering out in the cold, Friend, don't waste a minute, get yourself out of that mess. You're in that man's clutches! Go, put on a long face; act desperate. Don't procrastinate— there's no time to lose. Run like a deer from the hunter, fly like a bird from the trapper.
It is the same message, but for me, the NLT and the Message versions make it easier for me to see how it applies to my life. So, spend some time on one of the free online Bible websites and experiment. Find the translation that allows you to see how the word of God applies to your life. You might find that you like more than one translation. For me, I have a “study” Bible that is in one translation, has a lot of study notes and gives a lot of the original Hebrew and Greek word meanings. I like this Bible for times that I am really trying to study and understand the origin of a particular verse or book. But, the Bible I read each night to get to know God better is my Message translation Bible.
Exercise for you to discover which translation works for you:
Look up the following verses in at least three different translations using one of the free online Bible websites (e.g. http://www.blueletterbible.org/ Or http://www.biblegateway.com/ ).
We are all busy. In this world of microwave dinners, autobahns, and high speed internet, we are doing more and doing it all faster. Finding time to add something to that schedule, especially every day, can be a big challenge. If you are like most Christians, you have great intentions to read and study the Bible everyday, but you just don’t seem to get around to it. You mean to do it, but there is always something else that seems to get in the way.
Identify a time during each day that you can consistently read the Bible. Commit to doing it for 7 days. At the end of 7 days, see how you did and evaluate any benefits you have experienced. Make changes if you need to. For example, if you tried doing it first thing in the morning but you typically forgot to do it, try a different time during the day like your lunch break.
- You are not allowed to beat yourself up or feel guilty if you miss a day.
- You are allowed to change the time of day if the first thing you chose is not working.
- You are allowed and encouraged to renew you commitment each day.
Barrier #4-The Bible just doesn’t make sense to me:
For some people, even when they get a translation that they understand, they still can’t understand the relevance of the Bible. One reason is that the Bible uses a lot of symbolism and parables (stories) to explain things. Depending on how your brain works, you will either really like this way of learning or you will just not get it.
Learning through the use of parables usually works really well for the right-brain artistic people but it can be more difficult for the left- brain logical, mathematical people like me. I found when I was first trying to get to know God and read the Bible, I would read a passage and I understood the words but couldn’t see how that was relevant to me. Then, a few days later I would be in church and Bishop would preach on the same passage and suddenly I could see how it applied to my life.
This happened time and again and it started to irritate me that I couldn’t apply the word of God for myself. It started to feel like a challenge. I am one of those people that if someone challenges me to do something or even worse, they tell me I can’t do something, I will move mountains to make sure I get it done. This started a several year quest for me.
What I did was I started asking and writing down the answers to the 6 “reporter” questions to each passage of the Bible that I read--Who, What, Where, When, Why and How. Sometimes I would do it with a whole chapter, sometimes with just a couple of sentences depending on my time and where the natural break in the story was. I cannot tell you how this began to open my eyes to the word of God. As I started to really study each section and learn more about everything that went into it, the Bible came alive and I was able to start seeing the relevance to my life myself.
Exercises to help you understand the relevance of the Bible:
Exercise #1:Look up Exodus Chapter 16 verses 1-8. Read the versus and then answer the following questions:
- Who was involved?
- What happened?
- Where did it happen?
- When did it happen?
- How did it happen?
- Why did it happen?
Exercise #2: The next very straight forward approach is to ask yourself at the end of each passage, verse, chapter, “How does this apply to me?” In the words of Pastor Joe Wood, “So what, who cares, how does this apply to me?” God intended the Bible to be a help to us. He wants us to find the relevance in our own lives.
Try this: Look up John 11:45-57 and answer the following questions:
- Who do you identify with in the passage?
- Can you think of a similar situation in your life?
- What can you learn from the situation and outcome in the passage?
- What can you do differently in response to what you now know?
I bet there are other challenges that you will run into, but this will help take care of some of the big ones and hopefully help you find answers to any other barriers you run into. Remember, we are doing this to be closer to God, to hear from God and live the life that he wants for us. He has such an amazing future for each one of us.