How to Make Your Bible Reading Fruitful
“BLESSED are the poor in spirit.” Such are the opening words of Jesus’ celebrated Sermon on the Mount, according to several English-language Bibles. (Matthew 5:3, Revised Standard Version, Protestant and Catholic editions) Can you understand what Jesus really meant by “poor in spirit”? Was he referring to those who are discouraged? Or could he have meant the feeble-minded? The latter may seem unlikely, but surely it is important to know.
Jehovah’s Witnesses, who are recognized even by their critics as excellent Bible students, have found that the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures admirably meets the requirements of clarity and accuracy. It renders that passage from the Sermon on the Mount: “Happy are those conscious of their spiritual need.”
Some Bible commentaries admit that this is what “poor in spirit” means. Why, then, do many current versions, such as the Catholic Jerusalem Bible and the New International Version, persist in using the expression “poor in spirit”?
This example shows that in order to make one’s Bible reading fruitful, it is necessary to choose a translation that is faithful, clear, and understandable.
Fruitful Bible reading also requires a proper attitude on the part of the reader. Those same words of the Sermon on the Mount nicely sum up what our attitude should be, namely: “Happy are those conscious of their spiritual need.” Is your life lacking a true spiritual dimension? Are you aware of the fact that you need to feed your mind and heart with spiritual food? The Bible can help you fill that need.
However, you will not find food for mind and heart in the Bible if you read it as you would any other piece of literature. You must approach it, “not as the word of men, but, just as it truthfully is, as the word of God.” (1 Thessalonians 2:13) You will be reading, not human philosophy or nationalistic history, but God’s thoughts and the history of his dealings with his servants on earth. It also contains amazing prophecies, some of these having already been fulfilled, while others are being fulfilled before our eyes or are yet due to come to pass for mankind’s greatest good.
Since the Bible is the Word of God, to read it fruitfully a person should seek His help. Prayer to God is, therefore, an appropriate prelude to Bible reading. In simple words, expressed from your heart, ask him to help you to understand what you read and how to apply it in your personal life. Sometimes we lack the ability to use the knowledge we have acquired, which ability is wisdom. The Bible itself counsels: “If any one of you is lacking in wisdom, let him keep on asking God, for he gives generously to all and without reproaching; and it will be given him. But let him keep on asking in faith, not doubting at all.”—James 1:5, 6.
Reading With Faith
You may say: ‘How can I pray in faith and read with faith if I lack faith?’ Well, if you approach Bible reading ‘conscious of your spiritual need,’ your faith will increase as you gain knowledge of Jehovah God and his marvelous purposes centered upon Christ. True faith is not to be confused with blind credulity. The Bible itself defines faith as “the assured expectation of things hoped for, the evident demonstration of realities though not beheld.”—Hebrews 11:1.
True faith requires an underlying basis of knowledge, and such knowledge makes the things promised by God become as real as though they were beheld. Faith is, therefore, something that can be acquired. It follows the reading and hearing of things pertaining to God and his wonderful purposes for mankind. As the apostle Paul puts it, “Faith follows the thing heard. In turn the thing heard is through the word about Christ.”—Romans 10:17.a
As your faith increases, your Bible reading will become more fruitful. Why? Because your “expectation of things hoped for” will become more “assured.” This might be illustrated by a new friendship between you and another person. As time passes and you get to know the person better, your confidence in that one grows. Finally, after living through many situations in which your friend has never let you down, you come to put implicit trust in that person. If he or she writes to you, you know how to get the spirit of what is meant. Even if a sentence is not too clear, you know the person so well that you have no difficulty in grasping the thought. You read that friend’s letter in a trusting way, not with suspicion.
Similarly, the more you get to know the Bible and its Author, Jehovah God, the more trust you will have in both God and his Word. Even some episodes in Bible history that may seem difficult to understand will not shake that trust. For instance, even if the reason for drastic action by God against some person or nation is not immediately apparent, you will have confidence that it was necessary. It is much the way you might say of a trusted friend: ‘Well, if he did that, there must have been a good reason.’
Of course, your faith in God will be strengthened if you can find the reason why he acted in such a way or why he sometimes appears to delay in acting against the wicked. But you may need help. That brings us to another important aspect of fruitful Bible reading.
The Need for Help
It is an excellent thing to read the entire Bible. At the rate of one chapter a day, it would take you over three years to get through both the Hebrew and the Greek Scriptures. If you read three or four chapters a day, it will take you about a year. However, to get a general idea of what the Bible contains, you might start with Psalms and Proverbs. Then go back to Genesis, Exodus, and First Samuel before moving on to the Christian era, with Matthew, Acts, and a few of the letters written to the early Christians, such as Philippians, James, and First or Second Peter.
While doing this, you will come to realize that in order to get practical and spiritual benefit from the Bible, it is good to find out what it says on a given subject. Passages bearing on one subject may be widely separated. You will likely feel the need for Bible study aids that will help you to learn what the Scriptures say, topic by topic. Also, since the books of the Bible are not arranged in strictly chronological order, such aids can help you to grasp the time sequence. Geographic and historical background material can also be very useful in understanding the Scriptures.
Where can such Bible study help be found? In recent years Catholic authors have published many books ostensibly meant to help Catholics in their Bible reading. But such authors find themselves on the horns of a dilemma. If such authors truly help Catholics to understand the Bible, the latter quickly discover that much Catholic dogma cannot be found in it. On the other hand, if the authors justify Catholic doctrine, they undermine the readers’ confidence in the Bible because they subordinate Scripture to church tradition.—Compare Mark 7:13.
More and more sincere Catholics are accepting help from Jehovah’s Witnesses. In many lands, thousands of Catholic people are struggling to read the Bible with understanding but are receiving little or no help from their local priests. They resemble the Ethiopian official who was reading the book of Isaiah. When the evangelizer Philip asked if he really understood what he was reading, the Ethiopian humbly replied: “How can I, unless some one guides me?” (Acts 8:31, RS, Catholic edition) Philip helped him, and a little later this sincere man became a baptized Christian. Similarly, as they go from door to door Jehovah’s Witnesses meet Catholics, and when these say that they have a Bible in their home, the Witnesses ask if they would like help to make their Bible reading really fruitful.
Reading That Produces Fruitage
In their Bible educational work, Jehovah’s Witnesses use a wide range of Bible study aids, such as My Book of Bible Stories (116 Bible accounts presented in simple language and in chronological order), Is the Bible Really the Word of God? (for scientific and historical evidence of the Bible’s authenticity), “All Scripture Is Inspired of God and Beneficial” (a book-by-book summary of the Bible’s contents, with geographic and historical background information), and You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth (which gathers scriptures on 30 vital topics, including the wonderful hope God’s Word sets before sincere Bible readers today).
These Bible study aids, together with the personal help that Jehovah’s Witnesses will be happy to offer you free of charge, will make your Bible reading pleasurable and fruitful. You will find guidance for everyday living and a wonderful hope for life in God’s promised New Order, where, at long last, the will of God will “be done, on earth as in heaven.”—Matthew 6:10, JB.
a See footnote, Reference Edition of the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, 1984.
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The Ethiopian recognized what is needed to understand the Bible