Bible Reading for New Believers: Five Steps for Getting Started

The ministry I work for focuses on evangelism and discipleship. Most of the students in our ministry either came to Christ through our ministry or were very young in their faith when they first got involved. One of the first things we always emphasize with a new Christian is the importance of personal Bible reading — every Christian should meditate on God’s word daily (Joshua 1:8Psalm 1:1–2).

But I’ve found that many of these new believers face several challenges in their Bible reading. First, they don’t know exactly where to start or what to do. Second, they feel tension between going super deep and reading broadly to cover lots of territory.

The acronym CRAWL gives new believers a plan for daily Bible reading and helps them balance breadth and depth in Bible reading.

Contextualize

It’s best to know the context, or genre, of what you’re reading before you dive in. You don’t need a seminary education to understand and apply God’s word. But we approach paradoxes in Proverbs differently than the speeches of Job. We read Jesus’s parables differently than the book of Revelation.

Your daily Bible reading shouldn’t become so focused on in-depth academic study that you don’t have time to warm your heart with the heat of God’s goodness radiating from Scripture. But a general idea of the text will serve you as you approach it. Matthew Henry’s and Derek Kidner’s commentaries are short and insightful. A good study Bible can be a great help here as well.

For instance, I try to start my day with a Psalm. Before you read Psalm 1, you might open Kidner’s commentaryand find that this psalm acts like a “faithful doorkeeper” to this book of Hebrew poems. The psalmist extends an offer to all who come that is foundational for the whole Psalter: walk in the way of the blessed man who loves God’s law and finds life, or walk in the way of the wicked man who scoffs at God and perishes. I begin to feel my heart perk up with desire as I think, “I want God’s blessing! I want to find true and lasting life!” Before I’ve even begun to read, my appetite for God is already growing.

Read

After a brief bit of context, dive into the word for yourself. Nothing is better than this. I find that it’s best to focus on two or three chapters, depending on which book you are reading and how much time you have. Sometimes one verse or phrase is more than enough to consume your heart and mind. Don’t be afraid of reading slowly.

Psalm 1 is a short psalm, but I could easily spend thirty minutes just focused on the first two verses. I would probably slow down and read them three or four times. I prayerfully want to squeeze the meaning from the words and consider the implications for my life. I would probably be drawn to verse 2 specifically: “But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” If I drill down into the depth of the verse with my mind as I read, I’m not just reading about meditation; I’m actually meditating.

I had this life-changing thought while meditating on verse 2: “Meditating day and night is all-consuming. It seems impossible. Unless I have super strong inclinations toward something that keeps my mind laser-focused on that topic, I don’t think I can do it. But while I’m away on a trip, I find my mind naturally drawn to my wife at home. I don’t even have to try to meditate on her. That must be a key to meditating on God’s word!” Of course there’s a place for discipline and focus. But if I fall passionately in love with God and his word, my mind will often be drawn naturally to meditate on it without even having to try.

Simply taking the time to read the Bible slowly and think about all its clauses and connections can truly change your life.

Ask

As you read, ask questions of the text. Don’t breeze past challenging sentences. Slow down. Pause. Wonder. Ask what it meant to the original audience. Why did the human author choose that word? Why did the Holy Spirit ordain that phrase to be repeated?

Ask the Holy Spirit to draw near to you as you draw near to him through the word (James 4:8). Ask him to convict you and enlighten you. Pray through John Piper’s I.O.U.S. prayers as you go.

From Psalm 1:1, I would ask, “How am I being influenced by sinful men? Holy Spirit, please convict me of any and all ways that I’m influenced by sinful men.”

As I read Psalm 1:2, I might ask, “Is there any specific discipline I need to employ to find my joy more in the Bible and less in TV?”

If I made it to Psalm 1:3, I might ask questions like these: How is my life supposed to be like a tree planted by streams of water? What does it mean that I’ll prosper in all I do? This isn’t teaching prosperity-gospel theology, is it? Lord, give me wisdom to understand your word. I can’t do it alone.

Write

The best way for me to slow down and interact with the text is to write. Jumbled thoughts often become clear through the end of a pen. I may begin to write as I ask the questions above, but now I move even further into meditation. I take each verse and prayerfully meditate on the meaning. When I read something beautiful, I stop and savor it. When I read something convicting, I stop and repent. I write the verse in my own words, turning it into a personal prayer.

If I were reading Psalm 1:1, I might write, “Lord, I want you to bless me. I need your blessings! I am so weak. Left to myself, I will be overcome by the influence of sinful men.”

Somewhere in the writing, I usually begin to sense that I am meditating. David Mathis says we should chew on biblical truth “until we begin to feel some of its magnitude in our hearts” (Habits of Grace, 56). That’s a great goal and measuring stick of our daily time alone with God.

Learn and Listen

As we read slowly, we should be gleaning new knowledge — not mere academic knowledge, but true knowledge of God that may start with academic study. Truth enters our minds as a doorway to our hearts to stir our affections and capture our will for God’s glory.

Often, life-giving insights come on fairly normal days of prayer and Bible study, where the Holy Spirit shows up in a unique way and preaches to me. The Spirit doesn’t give these insights every day, but we should be alert when he does — all the more reason to take our time CRAWLing through the Bible in the hope of meeting God in a fresh way. Pray earnestly that he will draw near daily!