First, a brutal confession: In high school, I didn’t care about the Bible. I cared about Jesus, but I saw him as a distant Savior who helped only when things went terribly wrong. If I needed Jesus to hear me, I’d read his Word because I thought that would make him happy—and when Jesus was pleased with me, he’d be more likely to answer my prayers.
In college, my relationship with the Lord changed drastically. I actually understood what Jesus’ love for me meant and realized he wanted me to be close to him. My life was radically transformed, and with this new view of the Word, I started picking up my Bible and reading it as much as I could. I wanted to get to know Jesus and figured the best way to do that was through the “diary” he left behind for me.
Want to learn more about how to read the Bible with a Jesus filter? Check out Season 2, Episode 10 of Paying Ridiculous Attention to Jesus Podcast: When the Bible Doesn’t Meet Your Expectations.
My heart changed my desire to engage with God’s Word. I couldn’t trust someone I didn’t know, and the Bible was the best way to get to know Jesus. At first this was exciting, but after a few years, my time in the Bible lessened as my relationship with Jesus became less “fresh.” This eventually forced me to ask a tough question: “Why did I care about reading the Bible at all?”
>>See Jesus from Genesis to Revelation in the Jesus-Centered Bible
During this wrestling match, I reached a conclusion that changed my view of the Bible forever. I didn’t want to read because I was learning about God. That could prove interesting or boring, like reading an encyclopedia of facts that may or may not hold my attention. I also didn’t want to read to find a list of do’s and don’ts from God. Again, the list in front of me could be deemed relevant or antiquated, depending on my personal viewpoint.
Instead, I needed the Bible because it created a conversation with God. Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.” So I needed to treat the Bible as alive and powerful. My approach to God’s Word had to stop being one-sided. Instead of Jesus talking at me, I needed to engage with him.
As a result, I started reading the Bible in an entirely different way—and teaching my own children and youth group kids to do the same. Because young people have different reading levels and different interest levels in words, teaching them about conversation helps them know that the Bible isn’t a chore; it’s part of a relationship.
I highly recommend these simple-yet-meaningful strategies:
Journal or draw the Word—First, realize the Bible isn’t just a story, but a revelation of the heart of Jesus. Journaling through the Bible by writing a verse and then a letter to Jesus in response helps you remember you’re interacting with him. In a culture where so much interaction is filtered via texts and written words, writing to Jesus helps us feel close to him. Some people aren’t wired to be writers or long readers, so why not draw? Start with a simple verse or phrase and then doodle what stands out to you. Some Bibles provide margin space for journaling, but I love to just draw with colored pencils in that space. The artwork doesn’t have to be a masterpiece; it’s just about sitting and reflecting on Jesus’ conversation with you.
>>The Jesus-Centered Journal makes it easy for teenagers to engage scripture through journaling
Take notes for yourself—I like to underline and highlight. I circle words and put notes and arrows in the margins of my Bible. I also open the notes section on my phone and keep a running list of concepts that strike me as I read the Word. Note-taking is a flexible practice, with many iterations of it.. Inductive Bible studies use symbols. Some people use different highlighter colors for different ways things are said. But I just read and take notes for myself. Start with one verse. Read it several times and then interact with what stands out about the passage. Taking notes helps you to slow down and “pay ridiculous attention to Jesus”—to go deeper and learn more as you interact with the Jesus you’re encountering in the passage. Remind your teenagers that there are no “wrong” notes.
Use online tools—I love to learn the why and how behind God’s words to us. Lately I’ve become a big fan of digital Bible resources. YouVersion and Blue Letter Bible both create avenues to check commentaries, read devotionals, share notes, and highlight in a variety of ways. You can even create a meme or image with a Scripture verse and share it with others. Technology makes it so easy to interact with God’s Word. When we read and think, “God, what are you saying here?” or “Why did this happen?” these tools can help give us insightful context. Sometimes teenagers just need to know that reading the Bible isn’t as hard as they might think.
Pray the Bible—Simply pray while you read Scripture aloud. Take one line at a time and then talk to Jesus about it. The best way to know this is a conversation is to actually have one.
Focus on one verse—Sometimes I feel guilty about engaging with just one or two Bible verses. Yet some conversations are short, aren’t they? If you’re interacting with God’s Word, the time spent doesn’t have to be long. You can receive a “verse of the day” by email or text and then talk to Jesus about it. Sometimes I write that verse on a sticky note and put it on my dashboard or a notebook I keep with me all day. Little notes and verses remind me that Jesus is constantly talking.
Youth leaders have the privilege of helping teenagers know that the Bible isn’t stale or old. Kids spend so much time wondering what Jesus wants from them, and I often respond, “It’s really not that complicated; he wrote all his thoughts down for us.”
Looking for a youth ministry curriculum that gets kids into the Bible, check out LIVE Books of the Bible
As Jeremiah 29:13 says, “If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.” Jesus isn’t hidden or far away, yet he won’t talk over us. Sometimes we must put ourselves in a place where we’re willing to listen—and then talk, too.