Psalm 119: How to Read the Bible

The Bible is…a lot. It is literally and metaphorically heavy. Some passages are difficult to understand and accept. Some parts are more exciting than others. For a long time, reading the Bible just felt like another thing to check off my to-do list.

I could give you 5 tips for studying the Bible or a laundry list of resources. There are a thousand ways to read and connect with God’s Word- apps, videos, devotionals, journals, studies, blogs, and sermons, which can be very beneficial. But I think the best place for us to start is to look at how the Bible says we ought to engage with God’s Word.

We would probably consider The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:5-13) the go-to passage on how to pray. I invite you to consider Psalm 119 as the go-to passage on how to read God’s Word.

I think it is so fitting that a psalm about loving God’s commands, laws, decrees, words, instructions, promises, and regulations be the longest chapter in the Bible. This would be a months-long series if I were to go line by line with this passage of Scripture, so I am just doing an overview. There is so much insight and inspiration in Psalm 119. I encourage you to read it in its entirety.

As I read, I observed 3 things that are essential to engaging with God’s Word well.

Knowing God’s Word requires consistent intention and effort.

The psalmist states many times his commitment to knowing God and His ways:

“Joyful are those who obey His laws and search for Him with all their hearts.” (Psalm 119:2)

“I will study your commandments.” (Psalm 119:15)

“I have devoted myself to your commandments.” (Psalm 119:45b)

“I pant with expectation, longing for your commands.” (Psalm 119:131)

There is nothing passive or lazy about the psalmist’s attitude toward following the Lord. He is dedicated to careful study of God’s commands. He is intimately familiar with God’s words and passionate about seeking out the truth.

Now, I’m going to say something that may ruffle a few feathers, but here it is: Your engagement with God’s Word needs to be more than a sermon, a devotional, or a “verse of the day”.

I commend anyone who sets aside time in the day to read the Bible in some form. But can I challenge you a little?

You will only have a shallow knowledge of God’s Word (and consequently, God Himself) when you read random passages and verses without the context of the chapter its in, the book, or even the whole narrative of Scripture. When we make the effort to see the big picture of the Bible, we can better understand individual passages. The resources available to us should be supplemental - a launch pad of sorts. No word written or spoken by another person will compare to God’s Word revealed to you personally. We must cultivate our own love of God’s Word and walk with Him. We must learn how to interpret His Word so we can apply it to our life.

There are immense benefits when we approach the Bible holistically. We will see recurring themes and imagery throughout God’s Word. We will learn the character of God. We will see that He does not change. When someone interprets a portion of Scripture, we will know if it’s being used appropriately or being used to deceive (intentionally or not). When we come across a difficult passage of Scripture, we will persevere through the discomfort because we know the One who has given us this Word. When we are surrounded by opinions, we will be able to judge rightly which we should endorse.

Studying the Bible is both the unpacking of one small verse- making room to sit and meditate on one nugget of truth until it is written on your heart; and also the discovery of a larger narrative- the story of God and His people.

Think of it like this: We could not properly understand a novel by skimming selected chapters out of order. We may get a vague sense of the characters and setting, and we may even know a few key events, but we may also misunderstand a character’s motives or a major plot twist. We certainly would not be able to fully understand the author’s message or intention. In the same way, we shouldn’t settle for only fragments of God’s Word.

Psalm 119 reminds us that we ought to yearn to know the things of God. We should desire a rich, deep knowledge of His Word. This kind of knowledge is only possible with careful study of the whole counsel of God.

Approach the Bible with humility.

Psalm 119 tells us that it is God that illuminates the truth:

Open my eyes to see the wonderful truths in your instructions.”

Keep me from lying to myself; give me the privilege of knowing your instructions.” (Psalm 119:29)

I pondered the direction of my life, and I turned to follow your laws.” (Psalm 119:59)

“You made me; you created me. Now give me the sense to follow your commands.” (Psalm 119:73)

“Your laws are always right. Help me to understand them so that I may live.” (Psalm 119:144)

“O Lord, listen to my cry; give me a discerning mind as you promised.” (Psalm 119:169)

The psalmist not only desires knowledge, but he desires right understanding. Why? Because there is no right living without right understanding.

We all accumulate some baggage in this life. Our family, our church, our education, our trauma, or even our lack of these things has shaped how we view God and His Word. It will inform what we believe is true and how we approach our Father. If our minds are to be renewed and our lives transformed by God’s Word, we need to be open to changing our mind. If we read Scripture with a posture of pride, oblivious to the deceitfulness of our own hearts, it is possible to get it wrong. This has happened time and time again. God’s Word has been used by deceitful people to justify sin. It has been used to keep believers in bondage to legalism. It has been used unwittingly by some to confuse and distort the truth.

Studying God’s Word is not an intellectual exercise or even a “pick me up”, it is warfare. To read the Bible in the fear of the Lord is an affront to the enemy’s schemes. Satan would love nothing more than for us to be discouraged, ineffective, misinformed, and apathetic. God’s Word is our weapon in defense of the truth and the key to our personal spiritual growth:

“For the word of God is living and active and full of power [making it operative, energizing, and effective]. It is sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating as far as the division of the soul and spirit [the completeness of a person], and of both joints and marrow [the deepest parts of our nature], exposing and judging the very thoughts and intentions of the heart. And not a creature exists that is concealed from His sight, but all things are open and exposed, and revealed to the eyes of Him with whom we have to give account.” (Hebrews 4:12-13, AMP)

The next time you pick up your Bible or even read a verse of Scripture on social media, I encourage you to pray for wisdom in understanding it properly so that it can be rightly applied to your life. It is the Spirit of God who leads us into right thinking and right living. God invites us to reflect on His Word and as we surrender our understanding to His sovereign wisdom and grace, He will reveal truth to us.

Develop a love for God’s Word

Psalm 119 tells us that God’s Word is something to be treasured, cherished, and esteemed above all else.

“I will delight in your decrees and not forget your word.” (Psalm 119:16)

“I honor and love your commands. I meditate on your decrees. (Psalm 119:48)

“Your laws are my treasure; they are my heart’s delight.” (Psalm 119:111)

“You are my refuge and my shield; your word is my source of hope.” (Psalm 119:114)

“Your laws are perfect and completely trustworthy.” (Psalm 119:138)

I rejoice in your word like one who discovers a great treasure.” (Psalm 119:162)

The Word of the Lord gives the psalmist great joy. God’s words capture his heart and ignite passion in him. We must develop a love for God’s Word that eclipses our love for all else.

I say develop because it is indeed something that must be developed – a lifelong process of discerning the worlds’ lies and tossing them out in favor of the truth in God’s Word.

Our restless hearts are calling out – and the world is ready with many answers. Ideologies and opinions abound, insidious and compelling. The best lies have an element of truth in them; oftentimes we don’t even realize we’ve believed a lie until we feel imprisoned by it.

So how do we develop a love for God’s Word? Well, the answer is in the first 2 points. We read it, we meet God there, and we apply it.

God’s Word stands ready to defend itself. It cannot deceive. It delivers on its promises. The more we drink it in, the sweeter it gets. As we fall in love with God, we fall in love with His Word because it becomes more and more apparent that He is who He says is. We welcome His counsel and crave His wisdom because we know He is trustworthy.

Little by little, His Word becomes our treasure, more beautiful than anything the world could offer us.

I encourage you (and me) to consider, is God’s Word first? Does it have absolute authority over your life? Whose words give you energy and purpose? Whose words define you? Whose words do you trust most?

May we be captivated by our God – so mindful of us that He gave us His Word. May we be ever on our knees, seeking truth and enjoying the freedom it brings. May we echo the words of the psalmist, “Turn my eyes from worthless things, and give me life through Your word.” (Psalm 119:37)

© 2020 by Bethney Stanberry-Jacob