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How to Change Your Devotional Experience Forever

woman reading the Bible in a window sill
Reading the Bible as a whole and in community opened my eyes to the importance of God's big story.

I have always loved stories. When I was 5, I wrote (and illustrated!) my first book. It was called Tulip, and it was written on orange construction paper. It went something like this: “Tulip is a girl. Tulip has a dog. Tulip has a brother.” Aren’t you mesmerized by my writing skills?

My love for story led me to gulp down books as a child. I would read and read and read — Little House on the Prairie, Nancy Drew, Janette Oke books, The Baby-Sitters Club. As I grew older, I loved historical fiction by Bodie Thoene or Francine Rivers. I am mesmerized by stories that continue book after book — The Chronicles of Narnia, the Flavia deLuce mysteries, and yes, I admit, the Harry Potter series.

Story is powerful. Stories help us learn, they help us grow, and they show us timeless truths through the characters and the lessons they learn. This, then, is why it makes sense that God chose to reveal His truth through the Bible — the greatest story ever told.

The Greatest Story Ever Told

This past fall my husband, Andrew, and I began hosting a small group through the church I work at. We decided that we were going to participate in the Community Bible Experience through Biblica. Biblica publishes the New International Version (NIV), and they’ve created The Books of the Bible, which is a Bible in four volumes. The New Testament is its own volume, and it reads like a book — a story. The book is formatted into one column, like a book. The chapter and verse markings are taken out, since they are not original to the Bible. There are no subheadings that tell us we’re reading about the “Feeding of the 5,000” next, and there are no study notes or cross-references. It is simply the words of God’s story for us to read.

This Bible “trend” (which really isn’t a trend, since it just brings us back to the original biblical format) is beginning to catch on. A Kickstarter project to produce the Bible as a four-volume series blew up — tons of people contributed to the goal of making reading the Bible more like reading a novel. Crossway’s ESV Reader’s Bible, the CSB Reader’s Bible and the Immerse Bible are similar — no chapters, no verses, no additions.

Our group began meeting in September. The plan was to read through the New Testament in eight weeks, which meant we read about 50 pages a week. We knew it was a big task, because it was much more Bible reading than the chapter-a-day reading many people are used to. But we started reading, and we all loved it. Something about not having the chapter and verse markings helped us read along with the flow of the story. We were no longer stopping in the middle of sections or disconnecting Jesus’ teaching to the disciples from the miracle He had just done previously. We suddenly saw connections in the text. Instead of nitpicking the meaning of individual words, we saw the concepts of the sections, the books, the entire New Testament. We would get together each week and discuss the five same questions about what we noticed, what questions we had, what we learned about God, etc.

What Was I Missing?

I grew up in a Christian home, and I attended Awana as a little girl. I loved it. I was good at memorizing Bible verses, and I would quote them to anyone who would listen. I think Awana was a great way for me to hide important parts of God’s Word in my heart. But what I realized even more as we went through this study in the Books of the Bible was that I was very used to grabbing verses out of their context. We would be reading the book of Romans and caught up in all Paul was saying about the law and sin and grace, and suddenly a verse from the “Romans Road” would fly by, cocooned in its context, instead of isolated into a neat little salvation recitation. As I read the book of John, I was immersed in Jesus’ nighttime conversation with a curious Pharisee, and suddenly I was reading John 3:16 surrounded by the rest of what Jesus was saying.

What we found in our group was fascinating. It wasn’t that the way we had read the Bible before was bad or ineffective. It was just that we began to see it for the first time in the way it was originally written and as the big, connected story it is. I had argued things like this for a long time — my Old Testament studies have convinced me that the entire story from beginning to end is important. But I had never read the Bible in this chapterless, verseless way along with a community of people who I discussed it with. It opened my eyes to the importance of God’s big story.

The Whole Thing

As Andrew and I read each week, we began to notice how much more we were talking together about the Bible and its principles. This was more than just reading a Proverb together in the morning. We were often reading multiple books in a week, and we began to see themes that fit into our lives and applied to conversations we’d have at work or with friends. Reading God’s story helped us to see how we fit into it. Instead of just finding a verse that made us feel happy for the day, we were exploring whole chunks of Scripture that explained God’s character and helped us rearrange our lives around who God is and what He has done.

None of this is probably earth-shattering information, but as someone who has been a Christian for a long time and who even has a master’s in Old Testament, I had never experienced the Bible so richly and fully until I read it this way.

From Beginning to End

When we look at the Bible — from beginning to end — we see an amazing narrative. It starts with perfection, the way things were supposed to be between God and people in the Garden of Eden. Then the plot shifts when sin enters into the world. We begin to see glimpses of God’s plan begin to form; He chooses a man named Abraham, and He chooses a family called Israel. There may yet be hope! But the family fails; they don’t represent God the way they are supposed to. In fact, they fail miserably and are exiled. We find ourselves more than halfway through the book in a very dejected spot. But then, an unexpected twist: The One who will change it all wins through being defeated. The story continues with the spread of this message, and it goes on today. We are a part of it; it has not yet ended.

It’s an awesome story — plot twists, fascinating characters, a surprise victory. I believe we do the Bible a disservice when we dissect it so much that we’re not able to see the whole story that God is telling and what it teaches us about Him.

Our small group continued our study this spring, reading Genesis through Kings. It’s really changed so much of how we look at the Bible and our lives as a part of this amazing story God is telling. Consider finding a way to read the Bible as a whole and in community — it could change your devotional experience forever.

Copyright 2015 Denise Morris Snyder. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

Denise Morris Snyder

Denise Morris Snyder is a mom, wife and part-time discipleship pastor at CrossRoads Church in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada. She previously worked as an editor for Focus on the Family and a writer for David C Cook. She has her Master’s in Old Testament Biblical Studies from Denver Seminary.

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