Table of Contents

Psalm 119 is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible that’s about the Bible.

It’s essentially a love letter to God, with the psalmist expressing how grateful he is to get access to God’s heart.

I thank you for speaking straight from your heart; I learn the pattern of your righteous ways. I’m going to do what you tell me to do; don’t ever walk off and leave me.

Psalm 119:7-8 MSG

I have seen that all [human] perfection has its limits [no matter how grand and perfect and noble]; Your commandment is exceedingly broad and extends without limits [into eternity].

Psalm 119:96 AMP

God’s Word is one of the greatest gifts he gives us; anywhere we go, we are able to hear what he thinks and is capable of doing in our lives. 

But when we want to sit down and read the Bible ourselves, sometimes it’s intimidating to figure out where to begin.

The Bible is more of a library than a book; it is a collection of 66 smaller books, some of which are historical accounts while others are letters, poems, or prophecies. Deciding which part of the Bible to read on a given day can be daunting even for those of us who have been reading it for a long time. This can lead us to rely on other sources, like devotional books, apps, or podcasts to digest biblical wisdom for us and give it to us in a way that feels accessible and applicable to our daily lives. 

While there is nothing wrong with these resources (we create many of them ourselves at Deep Spirituality), we believe that it’s very important for each of us to look directly to the Scriptures to hear what God wants to say to us. When we do, our relationship with him becomes personal; it’s not dependent on anyone else’s human wisdom. Our faith in God becomes stronger this way, as we feel confident that we have just as much access to God’s Word as any other person. 

Our hope is that this guide will help us anytime we want to read the Bible, but aren’t sure where to start. First, we’ll focus our hearts on why we should read the Bible and then move on to some practical ways to find Bible passages that help us grow spiritually.

What is the “Word of God”? 

Growing up, I’d write stories, poems, songs, and even the occasional rap (don’t ask) as much as I could. Writing was the way I felt like I could best express my deepest thoughts and feelings. Though I mostly cringe reading my old poems now, I can’t help looking back on them with a little bit of fondness. Each poem is like a piece of me—a perfect snapshot of where my heart was at nine or ten years old. 

This perspective helps me when I read the Bible. It’s easy to see the Bible as a textbook, guidebook, or rulebook, but in reality it’s more like the poetry books I wrote; it’s an intimate, personal, authentic representation of God’s heart. The Bible is a story that is meant to lead us to Jesus, who is literally the Word of God in a human body:

[1] In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. [2] He existed in the beginning with God. [3] God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. [4] The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. [5] The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. 

[14] So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. [18] No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us.

John 1:1-5,14,18 NLT

If you’re like me, you might find this concept confusing. I’ve had to read that passage more than once just to process it. The first chapter of John very poetically describes Jesus as the Word of God. Like I said earlier, our words are extensions of ourselves. What would your words look like if they became a living and breathing real person? That’s what Jesus was to God (The Bible Project has a really great video that helps us understand this further).

Why is all this important? Before jumping into a devotional or a chapter of the Bible, it helps to know why God put the things in it that he did: to show us his heart for us through Jesus, and to bring us closer to him.

“You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!”

John 5:39 NLT

When we’re focused on getting to know God through Jesus when we read the Bible, we can get something valuable out of any part of God’s Word. Some things may be more difficult for us to understand as modern readers, like genealogies and instructions about sacrifices (which is why it’s helpful to start by reading books about Jesus’s life, like Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, instead of jumping into a book like Leviticus). No matter what we read in the Bible, keeping Jesus as our focus helps us see God’s heart even without extensive knowledge of Hebrew Scripture and ancient middle eastern culture. 

Every part of the Bible points to God’s long-term plan to send Jesus to die for our sins and give us eternal life. If we are looking for that, we will find it. 

Why am I reading the Bible?

Now that we have our minds focused on why God gave us the Bible, we should also understand that our motives for reading it matter too. Our motives for reading the Bible will affect how much we get out of it and how much closer we grow to God as we read it.  It’s very easy to view Bible reading as a self-help ritual or a religious duty instead of a time to humbly listen to God and submit ourselves to the way he wants us to live.

God wants us to know him, know ourselves better so we can be close to him, and to grow into the person he destined us to be. 

Am I reading the Bible to know God?

“But you are my witnesses, O Israel!” says the LORD. “You are my servant. You have been chosen to know me, believe in me, and understand that I alone am God. There is no other God— there never has been, and there never will be.”

Isaiah 43:10 NLT

We have been chosen to know God, believe in God, and understand who God is. When we believe God’s Word is an extension of himself, we will approach reading the Bible as building a relationship. We won’t just use Scripture to feel better and then go about our day doing whatever we want. Scripture does make us feel better in many ways—it gives us hope, strength, faith, and vision, among many other things. But using it to only temporarily improve our lives is the equivalent of grabbing money out of our parents’ wallets so that we can do what we want without spending time with them or appreciating them. 

We can get to know God as we read the Bible by asking ourselves questions about God as we read, and then writing down or praying about our answers:

  • What does this verse tell me about God’s heart?
  • Do I believe God when he says this? Why or why not?

When we read the Bible to know God, Scriptures take on completely new meaning. They show us more and more of God’s heart.

“So let us know and become personally acquainted with Him; let us press on to know and understand fully the [greatness of the] LORD [to honor, heed, and deeply cherish Him]. His appearing is prepared and is as certain as the dawn, And He will come to us [in salvation] like the [heavy] rain, Like the spring rain watering the earth.”

Hosea 6:3 AMP

It’s easy to make assumptions about who God is, but we will never truly know God until we read his Word. If we want to have an authentic relationship with him where we discover who he is for ourselves, we need to read the Bible daily:

And this is how we know [daily, by experience] that we have come to know Him [to understand Him and be more deeply acquainted with Him]: if we habitually keep [focused on His precepts and obey] His commandments (teachings). [4] Whoever says, “I have come to know Him,” but does not habitually keep [focused on His precepts and obey] His commandments (teachings), is a liar, and the truth [of the divine word] is not in him.

1 John 2:3-4 AMP

One thing I take from this passage is that we can lie to ourselves about how well we know God. We might say we know him, but we should examine how much of the Bible we are actually reading to get an accurate view of our relationship with God. We may be relying on religious assumptions or feelings about God instead of what the Bible says about him. 

Am I reading the Bible just to know myself better?

“The heart is hopelessly dark and deceitful, a puzzle that no one can figure out. But I, GOD, search the heart and examine the mind. I get to the heart of the human. I get to the root of things. I treat them as they really are, not as they pretend to be.”

Jeremiah 17:9-10 MSG

Have you ever tried to be friends with someone who was not self-aware of their own emotions or weaknesses? It’s hard. When we’re not self-aware, we can’t share vulnerable parts of our hearts with others and people tend to feel detached from us. We also tend to become ungrateful for people around us; unaware of our own shortcomings, we’re also unaware of how much grace and undeserved kindness others are giving us on a regular basis.

Close relationships require self-awareness, and our relationship with God is no different. God wants to be close to us, and that means knowing our hearts—the good, the bad, and the ugly. We get closer to him when we open our hearts up to him. The only trouble is that Jeremiah 17 says our hearts tend to lie to us, especially about the things that are uncomfortable to feel.

We will never fully understand the human heart (even our own), but God can. Have you ever snapped at someone and didn’t know why, or stayed stuck in the same pattern or relationship you knew wasn’t good for you but you just couldn’t break out? We all have things about ourselves that we can’t understand, no matter how smart we may be. We need someone wiser than ourselves to help us understand our thoughts, motives, and feelings without getting swept up in them. God is that someone.

God’s Word can help us sort ourselves out so that we can build a real relationship with him.

God’s word is alive and working. It is sharper than the sharpest sword and cuts all the way into us. It cuts deep to the place where the soul and the spirit are joined. God’s word cuts to the center of our joints and our bones. It judges the thoughts and feelings in our hearts. Nothing in all the world can be hidden from God. He can clearly see all things. Everything is open before him. And to him we must explain the way we have lived.

Hebrews 4:12-13 ERV

Though it’s scary that nothing about me is hidden to God, it’s also relieving. God is able to see and understand everything about me, and yet he still wants to be close to me! That helps me want to draw closer to him, too.

We can get to know ourselves better as we read the Bible by asking ourselves these questions:

  • What’s something new I’m learning about myself?
  • What might this passage of the Bible have to do with me and my heart?
  • How does what I’m learning about myself affect my relationships with God and others?

Am I reading the Bible to grow?

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 NLT

2 Timothy 3 tells us that the Bible is useful for teaching, correcting, and equipping us. This doesn’t mean that the Bible just tells us all the things we are doing wrong; it means God has a purpose for our lives and is always guiding us to become the person he destined us to be. Growing is part of that. God uses his Word to help us change any sins or unhealthy patterns that might be leading us down the wrong path. He uses his Word to equip us to do good works that we might feel too inadequate to do. 

I often get stuck in complacency, thinking I’m fine as I am and don’t really have to take on any big change. This is a dangerous place to be – not only does this make me stuck and stagnant, it affects the relationships around me. I end up viewing myself as better than other people, thinking maybe they need to change, but I’m good as I am. This isn’t even always a conscious thought, but it’s how I act and come across. I need to read the Bible everyday to prevent me from becoming proud and complacent.

“When he sits on the throne as king, he must copy for himself this body of instruction on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests. He must always keep that copy with him and read it daily as long as he lives. That way he will learn to fear the LORD his God by obeying all the terms of these instructions and decrees. This regular reading will prevent him from becoming proud and acting as if he is above his fellow citizens. It will also prevent him from turning away from these commands in the smallest way. And it will ensure that he and his descendants will reign for many generations in Israel.”

Deuteronomy 17:18-20 NLT

This passage is talking about kings, but can be applied to all of us, and is especially important for those of us who are in a position of spiritual leadership. We can use the Bible to help others, but only if we first read and apply it to ourselves.

But God removed Saul and replaced him with David, a man about whom God said, ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart. He will do everything I want him to do.’

Acts 13:22 NLT

The goal in growing and changing isn’t self-improvement (though I think the Bible does improve us a lot). Reading the Bible to grow means learning to be people after God’s own heart. This means learning to think the way God thinks, do what God wants us to do, and care about what he cares about (Romans 12:2). The more we spend time with God, the more we will become like him, and will want to change to love what he loves.

We can read the Bible to grow by asking ourselves these questions:

  • How can I obey this scripture today?
  • What would it look like to think the way God thinks about my family, friendships, job, finances, marriage, dating, etc? What do I need to change about myself in order to think that way?

How do I figure out what to read in the Bible?

Now that we know what we should be focused on when we read God’s Word, let’s look at some ways we can figure out what to read.

Start with your heart

Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life.

Proverbs 4:23 NASB

“Watching over your heart” means being emotionally aware. Everything we do flows from our hearts, including how we view and interact with God. When we’re trying to figure out what to read in the Bible, it helps to take a few minutes to become aware of our heart condition. Jesus’s parable of the sower can help us identify our heart condition:

“Now listen to the explanation of the parable about the farmer planting seeds: The seed that fell on the footpath represents those who hear the message about the Kingdom and don’t understand it. Then the evil one comes and snatches away the seed that was planted in their hearts. The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word. The seed that fell among the thorns represents those who hear God’s word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life and the lure of wealth, so no fruit is produced. The seed that fell on good soil represents those who truly hear and understand God’s word and produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted!”

Matthew 13:18-23 NLT

This story gives us four heart conditions we may have. 

  • The footpath – a hard heart that’s been beaten down.
    • A footpath is hard, packed soil. We get this kind of heart when we don’t want to feel anymore. Even if we try reading the Bible, it’s going to be difficult for anything to get through until we take some time to be honest about what’s on our hearts and minds. 
  • The rocky soil – happy on the surface, but ignoring deeper things.
    • When our heart is like rocky soil, we feel good when we read the Bible, but we don’t let it sink in or change us. This is because there are “rocks” in our hearts – unfinished business or deeper issues that we’ve left undealt with. Choosing to be honest with ourselves and God about the deeper parts of our hearts that no one can see will help us get more out of the Bible when we read it.
  • The thorny soil – a distracted, anxious heart.
    • People with this heart condition get easily swept away by the worries of life. This could be fear of what people think, achieving in the world, or anxiety over circumstances. 
  • The good soil – an open, authentic heart.
    • The “good” soil is a heart that is in no way perfect. These are simply people who are open – both in honesty and in a willingness to be influenced by God’s Word. 

Being aware of which heart condition we might have is not a pass-or-fail test. It is simply something we can do to prepare our hearts to be influenced and changed by God’s Word. 

Before we start reading the Bible, we can take just a few minutes to pray and write down what might be weighing us down and crowding God out so that we can get the most out of reading. Using an emotions wheel can be really helpful before we read the Bible too; looking through the different emotions to identify our own can help us better understand and express our feelings to God. 

Taking note of the strongest or most frequent emotions we feel can help us know what to read in the Bible to address these feelings in our relationship with God. For example, if most of our emotions are in the category of “anger,” we might want to read verses in the Bible that help us understand why we get angry, how God feels about this anger, and what God says to do about it. 

3 practical ways to read the Bible

Remember: the whole point of the Bible is to draw closer to God. That means there’s no one perfect or “right” way to read it. We should read it in the way that best helps us understand and connect with God and grow in our relationship with him. 

“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”

Henry David Thoreau

This is one of my favorite quotes, because it’s so easy to compare ourselves to others and what they’re doing. But we are not exact photocopies of each other. Though we can and definitely should learn from our friends, we should not feel the need to be just like them. Like any relationship, what works for our friendship with God might not work for someone else’s. 

Here are a few practical ideas for building our relationship with God as we read the Bible:

Read a book of the Bible

You can’t see the truth because you don’t know the Scriptures well and because you don’t really believe that God is powerful.

Mark 12:24 Voice

A great way to know the Scriptures better and grow in our understanding of God is by reading through a whole book of the Bible. Reading longer passages of the Bible helps us get a bigger picture of God’s vision. In one of our older (but classic) Deep Spirituality devotionals, we broke down “How to Have a Quiet Time.” One section includes 16 books to master, which can provide a good starting point for anyone not sure what book or chapters to read in the Bible:

Help! How Do I Know What to Read in the Bible? 4

When we’re trying to figure out what to read, we can ask ourselves this question: What’s something new I need or want to learn about God?

We can read these books with a physical or digital Bible, or listen to it with an audio Bible. There are also notes pages like the DIY Book of John Series that we can download and follow along with. 

Study a person in the Bible that we relate to, want to learn from, or hope to become like

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.

Hebrews 12:1-2 NLT

The Bible is full of faithful people that we can learn from. They aren’t perfect; they are flawed, weak, afraid, and human–just like us. They are examples and witnesses of faith, who can teach us how to strip off the weights of sin and insecurity that slow us down on the race God has marked out for us. They can teach us how to walk with God. 

We have some studies about people in the Bible on Deep Spirituality, and these are great devotionals to use to get started. They also point to chapters of the Bible we can read on our own.

Do a Bible word search

And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth. As a result, many Jews believed, as did many of the prominent Greek women and men.

Acts 17:11-12 NLT

Like the Bereans in Acts 17, we gain more faith the more we search the Scriptures and are open-minded to what God might have to tell us. Thankfully with today’s technology and tools, it’s very easy and accessible to do that.

If we’re looking for scriptures about a certain quality about God, something we feel stuck in, or an area we want to grow in, we can use Bible search tools like the Tecarta Bible. All we need to do is type a word into the search bar, and we’ll get a list of every verse in the Bible that mentions that word. 

Sometimes it may help to search different variations of the same word or synonyms of it to get the best result (for example, we can try searching for “honesty” or “truth” and we’ll get different types of verses). We can also choose to narrow our search to only certain parts of the Bible, like just the New Testament or just one or two particular books (ie we can search “prayer” in the book of Psalms to learn how to pray, or search “faith” in the New Testament only to see what Jesus taught about faith). 

Using a digital Bible, it’s easy to search across multiple translations of the Bible too. The Bible has been translated into English many times, and using many translations can deepen our understanding of the heart of the words. 

Finally, digital Bibles make it very easy to keep God’s Word with us all the time so that we don’t just read it and forget about it. We can save the the scriptures we find in a notebook, a notes app in our phone, or a Google doc of some sort so that we can find the Scriptures instantly when we need them. 

We gain more faith the more we search the Scriptures and are open-minded to what God might have to tell us

For example, I have a note in my phone called “Finals Week Toolkit,” which is full of Bible verses that helped me rely on God during my finals in school. I made this toolkit by looking up scriptures about anxiety, stress, fatigue, and even intelligence and knowledge. 

I’ve put together my own Bible studies about topics that come up all the time for me, like understanding God’s love for me, God being a friend, having a learner’s heart, being honest, and so much more. I pull up on my phone and go back to these Bible studies all the time. 

When we’re not sure what words to search for in the Bible, writing down what we’ve been feeling the most or thinking about the most this week helps. We can go back to the emotions chart or wheel we used in an earlier section of this article. 

Another way I get in touch with my heart is picking a song that has made me feel understood lately. I write down the words or emotions that come up in that song, and look up scriptures about that. 

I’ll give an example. A song that resonates with me is “26” by Paramore. Lead singer Hayley Williams vulnerably has a conversation with her younger self, recognizing how much her own negative thoughts have tied her down and kept her from dreaming. I often feel the same self-sabotaging frustration of being in my own way of becoming who I’m meant to be. Here’s the chorus:

Hold on to hope if you got it
Don’t let it go for nobody
They say that dreaming is free
But I wouldn’t care what it cost me

26” by Paramore

Hayley Williams brings up the word “hope” a lot in the song. Before I listened to it, I didn’t realize that hope was what I was missing. All I knew was I didn’t feel good, and that was it. But now I can search scriptures about the word “hope” to see what God has to say.

Why am I so overwrought? Why am I so disturbed? Why can’t I just hope in God? Despite all my emotions, I will believe and praise the One who saves me and is my life.

Psalm 42:5 Voice

My soul languishes and grows faint for Your salvation, but I hope in Your word.

Psalm 119:81 AMP

There are so many verses of the Bible about the feeling of being hopeless but choosing to hope in God anyway. Songs can help us get started to find the hope and comfort we are looking for from God.

Just as a quick tip, if there’s an area we want to change or grow in—like, say, pride—we should try to search both sides of the topic. If we’re trying to change our pride, we should look up scriptures on humility too. If we want to be more loving, we should add to our search scriptures on selfishness that can help us identify it in our life.

Final thoughts

They said to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was talking with us on the road and opening the Scriptures to us?”

Luke 24:32 AMP

Building a relationship with God through reading the Bible is invigorating. Like the people in this scripture experienced, it’s even more exciting when we can talk it over with friends. God is all about relationships, not only with him, but also with each other. Sharing what we’re learning and pushing each other to grow is a vital and fun part of drawing closer to God. Talk to some friends about what you’re learning today!

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Alexis Colvin is a writer and editor for Deep Spirituality, and is passionate about using her creative skills to apply spiritual concepts to music and other forms of pop culture.

Help! How Do I Know What to Read in the Bible? 8

Alexis Colvin is a writer and editor for Deep Spirituality, and is passionate about using her creative skills to apply spiritual concepts to music and other forms of pop culture.

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