Tattered and curling on the bedside table. Fading in the rear window of a car. Pristine and crisp in a hotel drawer. The Bible shows up in all kinds of places. And its words are threaded through literature, etched into public walls, and even tattooed on people’s bodies. We talk about the Bible as a manual for life, a love letter from God, the story of our redemption. All of these things are true. What’s less common is talking about the Bible as a feast. But that’s exactly what it is—an endless and resplendent meal, a table richly laid with knowledge, wisdom, and delight.
Illustrations by Stephanie Wunderlich
But appreciating the Bible as a feast isn’t always easy. Modern life—as well as our own past wounds and hangups—can create barriers to being nourished by God’s Word. We created this guide to help you move beyond whatever is standing in your way.
Barriers to Bible Reading
According to the American Bible Society’s most recent research, only 39% of Americans opened a copy three or more times in 2022. And yet, encouragingly, a surprising number of people say they want to read the Bible more.
Generally, the barriers we feel fall into three main categories:
We lack time.
We lack education.
We lack enthusiasm.
Each of those responses is understandable. Life today often seems at odds with spiritual practices and disciplines that require a slower, more intentional approach. But with some reframing of how we see the Bible along with some strategies for how to engage with it, it’s possible to make significant gains in a short span of time.
Discovering the Feast in Scripture
If we aren’t excited by the Bible, perhaps it’s because we’ve misunderstood it. Maybe it was taught to us poorly—in a dry, rote way that sapped it (and us) of vitality. Or maybe someone used it as a weapon rather than the beautiful collection of writings it is. Whatever the reason, our mind begins to change when we recognize that the Bible is far more than a manual of rules, ancient history, prophecies, and inspiring stories. It’s the Word of God—the God of the universe speaking to us—as our godly ancestors understood.
When the apostle Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life” (John 6:68), he provided the perfect definition of the gospel. The words of eternal life. And the Bible offers us that good news in a trustworthy form, given to us when “men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Pet. 1:21).
If we understand the Bible as our King’s words and see them as essential—as necessary to our spirit as food is to our body—then we can approach its pages a little differently. Try approaching your time in the Word like this:
Begin with thanksgiving. Thank God for His Word, just as you would thank a host for a lovely meal laid out on the table before you. Remember, these words are our spiritual food (Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:4).
Consider your “meal.” Since the Bible isn’t spiritual gruel but a rich and varied feast, choose to savor every word.
Clarify your expectations. As you’ll see below, we read the Scriptures to be transformed, but God uses them in a variety of ways. Some days, your reading might move you emotionally, which is wonderful. But that doesn’t mean other days, when our emotions aren’t engaged, are any less valuable.
Consider the story of Mephibosheth in 2 Samuel 9:1-13. As Jonathan’s son, he had a claim to the throne. A new king meant his life was in danger, so Mephibosheth fled. But the outcome he expected was nothing like the one he experienced. When King David found him, he brought Mephobosheth to his house, restored his property, and welcomed him to meals at the royal table. This was such a big deal that the text mentions it four times in seven verses (2 Sam. 9:7, 10, 11, 13).
Likewise, the Scriptures offer us a regular seat at the heavenly King’s table, where we enjoy a lavish spread of the good news in the form of stories, songs, proverbs, and promises. After all, God’s Word is not just a source of bland calories. The Word is the best spiritual food possible, the kind that not only strengthens you for the long and arduous journey of faith but also delights you, body and soul.
Why We Read
Although just picking a book and chapter is the obvious way to begin, it might surprise you that the way we read is shaped by why we’re reading. In Apprenticeship with Jesus, author Gary Moon tells the story of Hal, who dutifully read the Scriptures from cover to cover more than 144 times. But Hal missed the point, Moon says, because “he was known for being one of the meanest, angriest, and most hateful people you could ever meet.” Hal read merely to be informed about the Bible, and his reading never changed him.
As Christians, we hope to be transformed—to see Christ formed in us (Gal. 4:19). Just as food provides the nutrients our body needs, the Scriptures provide what is required to be “transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2). The truth of God’s Word, applied by the Holy Spirit, helps to bring about this change.
Knowing why you’re reading can help you adjust your expectations. Even if you’re using a reading plan to create a structure and keep yourself accountable, remind yourself that you are reading first out of love for the Author. Here are some example answers to “Why am I reading?”
“I want to see a fuller picture of God’s love and forgiveness.” Set aside more time for the reading itself, and choose some longer passages that tell a person’s story. Read Genesis 1-3 or John 19-21 or a short book like Ruth, Jonah, or Philemon.
“I want to know God’s comfort in my sorrow.” Plan to read psalms that remind of God’s presence even in darkness, pain, or fear. Psalm 23 is familiar but worth regular meditation. Savor every phrase, and leave extra time for reflection and prayer after reading.
“I want to understand better how the Holy Spirit acts in a believer’s life.” Start with Jesus’ promises about the Spirit’s presence and work in John 14 and 16. Use the notes in a good study Bible or commentary to help you understand what the Scriptures say about the Holy Spirit, as well as how the church has understood those passages.
If you’re not sure where to start, you can find some topical plans at intouch.org/reading-plans.
How We Read
This is not to say that we don’t need informational reading. As Jonathan Pennington writes in Come and See, “Scripture is more than informational content, certainly, but it is not less than this.”
Informational reading means simply reading through the Bible in larger chunks, looking for an overall sense of what it says. Try reading Ephesians, one of Paul’s medium-length epistles, straight through. After you’ve finished, take 3-5 minutes and think about what you read. How would you explain the content of Ephesians to a friend?
If you only skim the surface though, you’ll miss important details. So how do you go deeper? First, uncover and pay attention to the historical and cultural context of what you’re reading, think about what literary form it is, and then consider how others have read the same passages. Jonathan Pennington calls this reading behind, in, and in front of the text.
With Ephesians, for example, reading behind the text means learning a bit about Ephesus and Paul’s ministry there. A good study Bible can help a good deal with this, and it’s a great first resource in your preferred translation. Reading in the text means noticing you’re reading a letter, but one that has a specific goal: discipling the believers in Ephesus.
A commentary can help you read in front of the text by shedding light on how other Christians have interpreted difficult sections, such as the passages on submission in chapters 5 and 6. How to Read the Bible Book by Book, by Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, is a good general starter resource. There are also a number of whole Bible commentaries available. Among them is the widely used Matthew Henry commentary, now available with updated language that’s more accessible to modern readers.
Reading for study means taking a shorter passage and digging to “unearth the diamonds,” as David Mathis writes in Habits of Grace. Read Ephesians 2:11-22 closely. Reading behind the text requires understanding that the Ephesian church wasn’t composed only of Jews, as some other early churches were.
That means you’ll need to know that the Gentiles stood outside God’s covenant with the Jews. Reading in the text, notice “Therefore” in verse 11, and you’ll see Paul carefully builds his argument on earlier verses that explain what has changed. But when you read in front of the text, you’ll see with other readers that Paul’s argument for unity goes beyond Jew and Gentile divisions to the church rifts of every generation—including those we face today between denominations and people groups.
Reading for memory is another way of “tasting” the Scriptures. The foundation for Scripture memory was laid in the Old Testament, in verses such as Psalm 119:11: “I have treasured Your word in my heart, so that I may not sin against You.” It’s not that memorizing gives you a guarantee against sin, but when you memorize, you’re pressing God’s words into every corner of your life.
It may seem daunting, and if so, start small. Choose some short passages that are dense and rich with the gospel. Staying with Ephesians, you have many options for short memory passages! Consider 1:7-10; 1:17-21; 2:4-10; 2:17-22; 3:20-21; 4:4-7; 4:25-32; or 6:10-18.
One of the most crucial ways we feast on Scripture is to meditate on it. The Psalms begin with a description of someone who’s blessed. “His delight is in the Law of the Lord,” the psalmist says, “and on His Law he meditates day and night” (Ps. 1:2).
The word meditate might slip past you, or you may think of it negatively because of the way it’s used in popular culture. But biblical meditation is key to being transformed by the Scriptures. In this “deep thinking,” you fill your mind and heart with the Word of God rather than emptying them, as some other forms of meditation encourage.
You might also think of the practice as something you need to learn. But believe it or not, you already meditate, even if you don’t use that word. If you’ve ever remembered a compliment (or criticism)—returning to it, replaying it, rehearsing it—you’ve meditated. This unhealthy form of meditation is more aptly called rumination. And you likely know the value (or detriment) that comes from focusing on the thoughts and words that arise when you’re in this state.
Biblical meditation makes God’s words, rather than the words of others, our focus. That’s how you start, by giving your attention to the Scriptures. As David Mathis says, “Christian meditation begins with our eyes in the Book, or ears open to the [Word], or a mind stocked with memorized Scripture.” When you read in the ways we’ve already discussed, you’re like a guest who has sampled all the dishes and identified those you really want to savor. When you meditate, you simply return to places in Scripture that you want to give sustained attention.
One time-tested approach to meditation works like this:
Begin with prayer, asking God to open your eyes and heart to see “wonderful things” in His Word. (See Ps. 119:9-18.)
Read the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:1-12) through at least twice.
Take a moment and choose one verse that particularly struck you. Think about it, turning it over in your mind for several minutes. Does it remind you of other passages you’ve read? Does it make you think of other stories or characters? Most importantly, what does that verse reveal about who God is and how He loves?
Then simply wait, allowing for some silence before offering the word or phrase to God in a prayer of your own.
It's important to note, too, that Christian meditation isn’t just a self-improvement exercise. Ultimately, our purpose for meditating is to encounter a Person. Our lingering over a passage directs us to its Author, to the Architect of the “grace in which we stand” (Rom. 5:2). Matthew Henry said, “As meditation is the best preparation for prayer, so prayer is the best issue of meditation.”
The Bible is an amazing collection of texts—a source of great comfort, joy, and understanding that we can rely on throughout our life. Each time we return to its pages, we’ll find something new to digest—but that’s not because it has changed. We have. Like our taste buds that develop over time and allow us to relish more complicated flavors as we age, our spiritual maturity also changes how we relate to God’s Word. Passages we once deemed boring become rich and fragrant, and words once bitter become like honey on the tongue. So let us come to the table daily—hearts open and hungry for the feast that will never leave us wanting.