Understanding the Bible does not come naturally, it comes spiritually. To the flesh the Scriptures sound foolish: “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)
I remember the days before I was born again, and I myself did not take the Bible seriously. I had a hard time understanding what was written in it. I thought it was a dusty and boring not well-written collection of stories, which might contain some wisdom here and there, but not really worth your time. Because, so I reasoned foolishly, who can take a book seriously that blames a talking snake for the downfall of human beings. I did not have the intellectual capacity, nor the wisdom, nor the ability to think beyond the letters I saw. And so I saw it all upside down!
And now look at me. I live, breathe, and eat the Word of God as if my life depends on it because it does!
I was called to help people grow their faith when I was 10 years old, but until I was born again 25 years later, I had no idea that the way to do this was through the Word of God.
Tears of joy
The moment I told Jesus that I would trust Him to be the Son of God, everything changed. As He emptied me from the demonic, He filled me with new things, like clarity, understanding, and knowledge of things unseen. I intensely experienced it as Light eradicating darkness. I noticed that I suddenly had knowledge of Scripture passages that I had never seen before, as I had never read all of the Bible before. On top of that, I started to hear Jesus speaking to me through the world around me, through dreams, and most of all through His Word. I was absolutely astonished by what I discovered: Treasures of endless worth. And finding them sparked tremendous joy. I have often burst out in tears of joy thinking these words from Luke 10:21 (NIV):
“At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.”
For I am not wise, nor learned, I just listen to Jesus with as much attention I can give Him. In that sense, I often feel like Mary in Luke 10, sitting at the feet of Jesus, and Jesus never took that away from me. Even though I sometimes thought I had to be more like Martha, I felt that I was only doing the right thing when doing what Mary did.
Being taught by Jesus
In doing so, the first years of my walk with God felt like I was in school: I would read something in the Bible, and I would have questions. Then Jesus would answer my questions through dreams, experiences during the day, or something another Christian would say, or “simply” by pointing me to other Scripture verses explaining my questions.
And because Jesus had told me that my first assignment would be to write a book I hope to release soon, I felt I was writing my thesis. I grew so quickly in my understanding of Scripture that even the pastor in my home church was completely astonished.
All this had nothing to do with me. Yes, maybe I was the one putting in the effort and discipline to actually study the Bible, but even the longing and energy to do that were gifts God gave me.
A wonderful life of purpose
Before I turned to Jesus and surrendered, I was a broken sinner, tired of suffering abuse, tired of the pain, tired of loneliness, tired of life in general. Now I am being restored, full of life, replenished with energy, and I have a major drive to live the life God planned for me.
I often experience the burning, bubbling feeling of living water inside my heart, wanting to burst out like a fountain spreading life everywhere I go. When before, all I could think about is finding a good way to die.
And now there is nothing in the world I like doing more than eating from the Word of God and sharing the nourishment with other people. It is all I live and breathe for, and God-willing I won’t be done until I stop living and breathing.
I did absolutely nothing to deserve this wonderful life. And if God did it for me, He may very well do it for you.
How it can be yours too
To have a deeper understanding of the Word of God, you can use these 7 keys:
1 The Holy Spirit’s help
Really understanding the Bible can only be done with the help of the Holy Spirit. For no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2:11). We can only truly understand what God meant to say in His Word, by letting Him explain Himself. The Holy Spirit will help you remember, and will teach you (John 14:26). He will give you wisdom and revelation (Ephesians 1:17).
2 A steadfast love for God
Love God above all other things. It’s not only the most important commandment, it is also key to understanding the Bible. Because this love will stir in you a passion to know more about God since He will be your treasure and you will want to find more of Him (Matthew 6:21). Realizing that He is your treasure will also stop you from being distracted during your Bible reading (Matthew 13:22).
3 Faith based on Truth
Your faith needs to be firmly rooted in the Gospel, the Word of the Truth. For when you are firmly rooted in the Truth, you won’t trip and won’t be shaken when trouble or persecution comes your way (Matthew 13:21, Galatians 2).
If you believe things that aren’t part of the Truth, your whole foundation will shake when some of it is undermined. Say that someone claiming to be a Christian tells you that Jesus will make every believer a millionaire. If your faith is rooted in Truth, you will see the nonsense of that immediately and shake it off. But if you fall for it, and you don’t become a millionaire, you will feel betrayed by Jesus and you might lose the little faith you had.
This happens more often than you might think. Just think about all the people who lost faith after suffering from a terrible disease or the death of a loved one.
Understanding the Bible follows the same principle. If your faith is rooted in Truth, everything you read in the Bible will fall into place eventually. You won’t stumble on confusion or lose faith when confronted with something you don’t understand or don’t like.
4 Open eyes, ears, and heart
You need a miracle: Jesus needs to restore your eyes, ears, and heart before you are healed from blindness, deafness, and a hard heart (Matthew 13). All of that is necessary to hear, see, and understand the Word of God (Ephesians 1:18, 4:18).
5 A body
It’s important to be part of a body of believers who grow along with you in understanding the Bible. You need the help of other believers. Imperfect spiritual leaders are given by God to teach believers so that all of them can grow together (Ephesians 4:11-16, 1 Corinthians 12:12-30).
But if those leaders themselves don’t grow, they will suffocate and compress the body. I have seen and experienced that if you grow faster than the jacket you are wearing, you will burst out of it. That can be a very painful experience, especially if the jacket showed no flexibility whatsoever, or worse: if it was a straitjacket. But after recovering, you absolutely need to find yourself a new, good jacket before you die of hypothermia. God will help you with that.
Have the humbleness to admit that in your attempts to understand the Bible, you can have it wrong sometimes. No one but God can understand the full depth, riches, and magnificence of His Word.
This also means that you should not judge another Christian for knowing more or less than you do.
All Christians are granted different levels of understanding the Bible. Not everyone has the same role in the Body, so not everyone will understand the Scriptures on a teacher or preacher level. When you are given much, much will be required (Luke 12:48). And teachers will be judged with greater strictness (James 3:1). Knowing makes you accountable.
But don’t worry: God knows how much you can handle, and how much you need. So, expect an amount of insight that fits your calling. And expect to get it when you need it, and when you can handle it. That implies that you may need some patience before you will get your answer. In waiting you submit to God’s will, which is also a humble thing to do.
While you wait, remind yourself that God never forgets (Isaiah 49:15).
After my initial calling when I was 10, I’ve asked Him countless times how I should serve Him and told Him over and over again that I trusted Him to guide me in the right direction. In the meantime I continued on my own path, making a huge unbearable mess of my life.
I had waited for an answer for 25 years, but then it came loud and clear, as He picked me up, dusted me off, and changed my life for good. I had to be at the end of my rope before was humble enough, soft enough so that He could actually work with me and mold me into the shape He envisioned. So, always be humble and never stop asking.
You also need the humbleness to let go of your own “wisdom” and “understanding”, and to let God fill you with His (1 Corinthians 1:18-31). With your natural understanding, you will only read the physical text. And then you might very well be thrown off by talking snakes and splitting seas. With your Spiritual understanding, you will not only see more of the why things were a certain way, and see God’s hand in it all, you will also see the spiritual meaning behind it.
I could also put it this way: You will read the Scriptures in “3D” – by the power of the Trinity. (Ephesians 3:18-19)
7 Find Jesus by reading the Bible in 3D
Let me give you an example of what happens if you read the Bible in 3D.
If you read the Book of Ruth with your natural being, you will read the historical events that lead Ruth to marry Boaz. You can learn a lot through this story, but you will remain on a horizontal, flat level, and read it from a human perspective. The vertical level goes up and teaches us about God’s perspective, and He sees things from the highest “helicopter view” available: heaven.
We can get a glimpse of this dimension by the power of the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit always points to Jesus. So by His power, we can go higher and dig deeper and find how the Book of Ruth actually points to Jesus. How it prophecies about Him and teaches us to live like Him.
When you work together with the Holy Spirit, you uncover something else: the layer of depth. And that layer is the work the Word does in you. Through your understanding of Scripture, your soul rejoices and your heart burns because you have just found a treasure of great worth (Matthew 13:44, Luke 24:32). And then you should apply your newfound knowledge and lessons to help yourself and others grow, and so become doers of the Word (James 1:22). That way, all of us together bring the whole Body of Christ to maturity (Ephesians 4:12-14).
You are soul, body, and spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:23) and you wouldn’t be walking this earth with one of those missing. Your spirit, breathed by God, makes you alive. Your soul makes you feel and experience life, and your body makes you do life.
The three layers in the Word are also different and interdependent. You will never know and practice the entire Truth if one of them is missing.
The Bible is the living and active, God-breathed Word of God (Hebrews 4:12, 2 Timothy 3:16). Without the historical reality put into words, we would not be able to read the Bible. Without the Holy Spirit, God’s breath, it would just be a book and not be alive. And without it working in you and other Christians, it wouldn’t be active.
All of this is no surprise really if you meditate on what it means that Jesus is the Word of God (John 1).
(I hope this wasn’t too mind-boggling for you, because it can be overwhelming if you just started out trying to understand the Scriptures for the very first time. Don’t worry. Just bookmark this page and return to it in a year or so, and see how far you’ve come.)
What I want you to get from this is that if we fail to see beyond the first layer, we will become like the legalistic Pharisees in Jesus’ time, who knew every letter of the Word of God, but just didn’t get it. They thought they understood everything there is to understand, but instead, they merely understood the things that you can physically see. Because of this, they based their faith and worth on ancestors long dead and on dead works. And dead things don’t bring life.
Sadly, the heart of the matter was totally lost on them. And the heart of the matter is that Jesus is always at the center of His Word.
Ask and receive
The good news is that these keys are not about working harder, they are about working smarter. For instead of trying harder to understand the Scriptures by your own strength, you can start understanding the Bible by God’s strength. And since God is the One Who grants us the understanding of His Word, we can simply ask Him for it!
So, go ahead, ask Him for wisdom in faith!
You can pray your own way, but if you need a guideline, you can use the prayer below.
Then open the Scriptures and see the world that unfolds before you.
Enjoy your treasure hunt!