When someone says that you need to go to the Bible for help when the world comes crashing in, you may ask, “Where, exactly, do I go for help with this specific problem?” Some people use Bible verses in much the same way as they use prescription medicines: if a specific problem arises, they meditate and pray a specific verse from the Bible. This is a legitimate use of the Bible if you are familiar with the whole Bible, but picking and choosing among verses without consideration of their context is a mistake.
Many years ago, a movie portrayed what can happen when a statement without its context is used as exclusive guidance. The name of the movie was The Conversation, and in the movie, two people heard an isolated statement and acted on it. At the end, they discovered that they had utterly and fatally misinterpreted the statement, and in so doing, they put themselves and other people in great danger.
When you pick some isolated statement out of the Bible and make it a mantra, you risk doing the same thing.
Before you get too excited about any single statement in the Bible, you need to get familiar with the Bible as a whole. Why? Because the Bible is truth.
In our confusing and scary world, we need truth. The Bible is the place to find it. The Bible is God’s revelation of himself to humankind, and the only way to get that revelation is to read the Bible. The only way to get the whole revelation is to read the whole Bible.
When you read the Bible, you are reading words that have survived for centuries, because generation after generation has come to know God by means of those words. People who know God love the Bible, because in the words of the Bible, God draws near. The Bible is so precious that some people have actually given their lives to protect it. There are governments even today that forbid possession of the Bible, or they place so many restrictions on the translation, the publisher and the place where it is read that it is very difficult for people to access it. People still need to be vigilant to protect the Bible from those who wish to destroy it.
People like Jerome, Luther and Wycliffe followed God’s leading to translate the Bible into languages more useful for Christians than the ancient Greek and Hebrew languages, because they thought it was important for individual Christians to be able to read and understand the Bible. The imperative to provide education in many countries was originally driven by a desire for people to be able to read the Bible. Through the centuries, faithful men and women taken huge risks in order to protect and preserve copies of Scripture. Even today after a church in Ethiopia was burned by terrorists, the congregation felt blessed to recover many pages of the altar Bible afterwards. In China, where many people are unable to obtain Bibles, a congregation spent an hour each Sunday after worship memorizing a passage from Scripture. Even after most of the congregation finally did obtain Bibles, they continued memorizing long passages, because it was such a blessing to have so much Scripture in their heads and hearts.
God uses the words of the Bible to melt hard hearts, heal broken individuals, and mend divided families. These things happen, because the Bible is truth. You can count on it. You cannot count on a single word or a phrase unless you count on it as it fits into the whole Bible.
If you only read a little bit of the Bible, you risk not having the perspective of context that will give you real understanding and guidance. You might read the story of the ascension of Jesus and read the words, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” If you read nothing else in the Bible and cling to this statement, you have a difficult life ahead of you. You will suffer all sorts of trials and tribulations. You may fail to get the job of your dreams, or the person you love with all your heart may reject you. It could feel to you as if Jesus lied when he said he would be with you. How could he be with you with all his power and let such things happen to you? A piece of the Bible is not the whole truth of the Bible. You need to read all of it.
That could take a while. It could take a long while. But it is worth every minute of the time it takes, and when you finish it the first time, you will turn right around and read it again. I have seen it happen many times. You can read the whole Bible in 30 days, or 90 days, or a year, or two years. The amount of time it takes is not the point. Your faithful persistence in reading every day is the point. How much of the Bible should you read? All of it. When should you start? Now. Just do it.