"Give Attention to Public Reading…"

Here’s a rough draft on practical applications from 1 Tim 4:13. Let me know what you think:

Last April, I attended a seminar by Jason Nightingale of Wordsower Ministries. For those unfamiliar with his ministry, Jason dramatically recites large portions of Scripture from memory. Very cool. While his seminar was mostly instruction for oral interpretation, the lesson that struck me the hardest was how little I hear or read Scripture out loud. I think Jason even asked why people don’t get together just to read or hear Scripture. After all, Paul did say to devote yourselves to the public reading of Scripture. Convicted and inspired, I determined to do something – anything – to implement this in my life. I talked to my friend Chaun about getting together just to read. I also started reading James out loud every night with my wife. Here are some of the obvious benefits.

Repetitive, audible reading helps me understand the flow of a book. Personally, I am so prone to the particulars in study (syntax, vocab, etc) that I miss the big picture. It helped me break the habit of reading verses and start reading sentences and paragraphs. My friend Chaun and I met twice a week for a while to read Ephesians out loud together. Before we met the first time each of us read it out loud alone. We read all six chapters out loud and it only took 22 minutes! Then we discussed what new questions arose, what verses struck us, and how we saw the argument developing. Each time we learned more and more. But be warned: repetitive reading like this will certainly spiral into more study. New questions arise every single reading. Reading whole sections isn’t just necessary for epistolary literature; it is vital for Old and New Testament narratives as well.

Repetitive reading gets rid of “stained-glass” speech. I hate it when the Bible is read like a papal decree rather than a letter written in common language. This false “reverence” for Scripture probably does more harm than good. Practically, I think this means the active use of new translations (I use the NASB, but also like the ESV, and NKJV). Unless you’re trained in Shakespeare, the KJV just doesn’t cut it today.

Reading out loud has helped me build confidence. I’m really bad at reading out loud. In fact, I stink! I’m choppy, easily distracted, and stutter a lot. When Chaun and I read through Ephesians for the first time, it wasn’t pretty. Neither one of us are thespians so correct vocal inflection and emphasis was awkward. But reading out loud by myself (yes, I often do my devotions out loud now – it’s only weird at first), with my wife, and in front of my friends has helped me be more natural in my reading. I still have a long ways to go. By the way, Jason Nightingale never allows anyone to read Scripture in his church unless they’ve practiced out loud at least twenty times!

Reading whole epistles out loud in one sitting again and again dramatically accelerates memorization. My wife and I read James nearly once a night for two weeks. I’m guessing that we’ve been through the whole book between 30 and 50 times since we began (They say 70 times is almost guaranteed memorization). It’s amazing how much you remember after that many readings. Everyone memorizes at different speeds, but I wonder how many people who “can’t memorize” would be able to if they just read it. Just imagine how fun this would be with Romans or Mark or John or Revelation!

I have already mentioned a few ways to practice this, but here are a few ideas for implementation. As I said before, I’ve tried this in my personal reading. It seems funny at first, but it really helps me understand more and stay focused longer.

It is also fantastic to do with two people. This gives the opportunity to read more. When Chaun and I met together, we either read every other chapter or three chapters in a row. It’s amazing how refreshing God’s undivided Word is!

We have enough Bible Studies, support groups, and programs. I’ve encouraged small groups to try just reading together regularly, but I haven’t had the privilege to try this in a small group. I am eager to try.

When Paul encourages Timothy to give attention to public reading, he had the actual church service in mind, but when was the last time you heard more than the obligatory 15 verses at church? I love it when whole psalms are used. Let’s be creative. Use music. Try several readers. Read Scripture instead of having music during Communion. I read about a church plant that reads the whole Gospel of Mark every week right now!

There is one issue that needs to be addressed. While I love the added understanding available through multiple translations, it can hamper reading, especially for memorization. For small groups, it would probably work the best to use the same translation, but I’m not sure how should be implemented. We must be cautious to avoid feelings of superiority of translation.

If I really believed the Bible was the inspired word of God; that it is sufficient; that it is source of regeneration and sanctification in my life, how much more committed would I be to reading, hearing, memorizing, studying, and knowing the Bible? As a Baptist, Biblical authority is foundational to all of my belief. It’s time for me to start believing what I believe and practice what I preach! Let me know if you want to meet some time to read.

10 thoughts on “"Give Attention to Public Reading…"”

  1. We read a chapter each. So I read 1, 3, & 5; he read 2, 4, & 6. Then we switched the next time. Later we tried other ways. I would read 1-3 and he read 4-6. Sometimes we would follow along with each other. Sometimes we would just close our eyes and listen. We really had no preference, but variety is healthy.In a small group setting I have three ideas: 1) Rotate every chapter or two; 2) Have one person read the whole book; 3)Have only a couple of readers per time.In typical postmodern fashion, I kick against any formalism. However I think that it would be wise to mandate some sort of preparation before reading. I would ask anyone who wanted to read to “practice” at least once by themselves.If versions were an issue, it may be better to stick with one per reading and then try another a different time. Do you have any ideas?

  2. Vary helpful post Zach. This is a great challenge for us to give an important place to public reading as the scripture commands us. It seems that the reason public reading is neglected is because it is so hard for people to pay attention these days. One of the ways to remedy this is enthusiastic reading, rather than the “stained glass” reading you mentioned. Also quoting the scripture can be very powerful as well. I once heard a man by the name of Keith Daniels quote through Sermon on the Mount. He actually preached these three chapters unadulterated. It was very powerful and convicting. Another remedy to attention defect problem is just stressing in church the importance of giving attention to reading, as you did in this article. This gentle reminder could help those of us with ADD tendencies get our minds in gear and reverently give heed to the Words of God.

  3. Maybe parsing out exactly how it would work would be a waste of time. But I love the idea. And oh by the way it’s scriptural… I was just thinking that one person reading a large chunk would preserve the flow better, and yet you want everyone to participate somehow (otherwise their ADD kicks in). Thanks for the stimulating post. When are we getting together?

  4. This is great, Zach. I’m learning to quote larger portions of Scripture to my kids (4,3,1) because I think it is a great way to get the Word of God in them…especially at bedtime.

  5. I read Romans 12-15 this morning out loud. And I gotta tell you, I saw the passage in a whole new light. He really harps on unity more than I had noticed. Great excercise, I intend to make this a part of my life.

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