Can studying the Bible give us useful help in our day-to-day lives? I believe it does. It is a guide for life that fits all occasions, and has for many years. We just have to look for ways to put it to use.
Years ago, as a history student I was researching newspaper articles written during the French and Indian War of the 1750s, and I saw an example of using the Bible in a practical, relevant way. When a group of men from a town formed a volunteer militia company to join the war, it was common for the local pastor to preach a special sermon. I found several newspaper articles reporting such events and noticed that many times the minister chose to expound on Luke 3:14. That passage records soldiers coming to John the Baptist and asking him what they should do to please God. John’s answer seemed to be one that applied in the 18th century as well as the first: “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages.”
You won’t get to know God, though, by just picking and choosing scriptures here and there to read. You need to read whole sections or books—and not only now and then. Read the Bible often—read it every day.
In that circumstance, the Bible provided relevant advice to young men who wondered how to maintain their religious beliefs while entering military service. I should note, perhaps, that this story does not reflect United Church of God’s interpretation of the Bible’s teaching on how Christians should view military service, but it does well illustrate the value of turning to the Bible for practical guidance in life.
Many young people have found the book of Proverbs to provide much practical advice for forming good life habits. Again, looking back to college days, my friends and I noted that Proverbs 6:9-11 warns a lazy man that too much sleep can quickly lead him to poverty. We combined that with the example in Mark 1:35 of Jesus getting out of bed before dawn, and we made it our own practice to set an early alarm most mornings.
The Bible is full of examples and instructions for making decisions. Once a person understands the historical context, he can often apply the scriptures to his current situation. When it comes to dealing with people, you could hardly find better advice than the so-called “Golden Rule,” succinctly stated in Luke 6:31 as “Just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.”
Even so, the Bible is valuable as much more than a reference book to pull off the shelf only when you want guidance to make a decision. If you make a habit of reading in it regularly—daily is best—you will find it shaping your way of thinking in a positive way. You’ll be in good company, too. In studying to become a history teacher, I learned that almost all of America’s founding fathers made Bible study a regular habit. George Washington read it regularly, and John Adams began most days reading his Bible. We don’t know for certain how often Andrew Jackson studied, but he often said of his enemies, “Hang ‘em high as Haman!” Referring to the story of Esther—and showing that some practical lessons of the Bible don’t necessarily translate into everyday life.
Admittedly the Bible is a long and complex book. It is not as easy to read from cover to cover as a novel. However, there are schedules to help a person do just that within a year. An Internet search will yield several of them. You might also choose to refer to a commentary or study guide as reference as you read. UCG.org has an online commentary of the Old Testament available here: bible.ucg.org/bible-commentary .
Another way to make daily Bible reading relevant to your life is to read specific books or passages at certain times or in conjunction with particular events. For example, whenever I travel from home for any length of time, I like to read the story of King David running and hiding from his predecessor for several years. That serves as an example of maintaining a good attitude while enduring the inconveniences of travel. If I’m going through a difficult time, or am just sad, I read the book of Ecclesiastes to help me put things in perspective. If I’m really down, I may even read Lamentations. On the other hand, the Psalms are full of happy poetry that praises God and thanks Him for the wonders of creation. Struggling with how to talk to someone about a difficult situation? See Paul’s epistle to Philemon for a case study in the art of tact.
Reading the Bible can also give us insight into the nature and personality of God Himself. I can never read the 40th through 51st chapters of Isaiah without being impressed at the Creator speaking to us in first person. The books known as the Prophets not only describe history and tell of events to happen in the future, but if we pay attention, we will find that they show God in ways we may not have expected. Ezekiel 6:9 includes the surprising statement, “Then those of you who escape will remember Me among the nations where they are carried captive, because I was crushed by their adulterous heart which has departed from Me.” We may not think if God as ever having hurt feelings, but that seems to be exactly what this is describing.
You won’t get to know God, though, by just picking and choosing scriptures here and there to read. You need to read whole sections or books—and not only now and then. Read the Bible often—read it every day. You’ll find that it will help shape your way of thinking. It will provide practical help in building a lifestyle. It will give useful guidance for making decisions. That’s what people like me have discovered for many years. Join us in tapping into the practical power of the Bible.