We're often encouraged to read the Bible, but rarely told how. In order to get the most out of our reading, it's important to know what we are looking for!
Sometimes we make reading the Bible more difficult than it is. I want to help eliminate the excuses by establishing healthy patterns for reading the Word. Over the years I’ve used the acronym CRAM to help me to read God’s Word devotionally. CRAM stands for Character of God, Responsibility, Attitude and Actions, and Meditation. I explain it below and provide an example of how to do it. The goal is to lead you to prayer to and delight in God through Christ. CRAM is not an exhaustive Bible study but a devotional Bible study aimed at the head, heart, and hands.
The point of Bible study is to encounter God. While we may not find God mentioned in every verse, the goal of reading the Bible is to learn more about who God is. When we read the Bible, we should be asking God to help open our eyes to behold wonderful things about him from his Word. When we read the Bible, we should be asking, What does this passage teach me about who God is? Perhaps it reveals something about God’s attributes, promises, law, or providence. It could be straightforward like in Ex. 32:5–8, or it could be revealed via the narrative (Gen. 19:1–29, Gen. 50:15–21, or the book of Esther). Before looking for personal application, consider the theological understanding. This will shape the personal application.
Write down what you see.
Next, ask, What does God require from people from this text? Is there something commanded? Is there something modeled that reflects what God has prescribed elsewhere in the Bible? Sometimes it’s straightforward, for example, the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20). Other times, it may be referenced on the way to a parable or narrative (Luke 18:9). It could be shown through the course of the narrative (Luke 19:28–40). In the New Testament, so much of the discourse writing can help you understand the Old Testament narratives. If you can answer the question: what does God expect or require from people here, then you are on the right track.
Write down what you find.
Content with moving the bookmark forward or learning new information, we can be tempted to skip over this crucial step. But growth comes by pressing down the light of Scripture upon our hearts to reveal the idols lurking in the shadows. What we’re doing here is connecting the dots from the Character of God and the Responsibility in the passage to our own lives. We’re asking: What does this reveal about my attitude and actions?
Write down what you discover.
Here we are asking how the study of this passage vectors me to trust and treasure Christ more. When we look at what God requires and how we fall short, we can then consider how Christ perfectly lived where we failed and died to pay the penalty for our sin. In other words, we are looking to discover how Jesus saves us from our law breaking by his doing and dying for us.
Furthermore, I like to grab a phrase or verse from the passage that sticks out to me. I’ll often write it down or try to memorize it and then keep it with me throughout the day as a spiritual lozenge. Just turn it over in your mind and heart as a prayer prompt for delight.
For example, let’s say I’m reading Ephesians 5:1–21 in my Bible. Here’s how I recently went through it.
Character of God
In this passage, I see that God is pure (5:3–6), light (5:7–14), and wise (5:15–21).
We are supposed to reflect God’s character like beloved children (5:1). The various commands flow out under these headers of purity, light, and wisdom (contrasted with their obvious opposites).
Attitude and Actions
I see nonconformity in my life in how I speak to others (carelessly, rudely, ungratefully). I’d cite specific examples.
I can also see it with a lack of stewardship of time (5:15–16), even by not being intentional with time like I should. I’d also cite specific examples.
I would consider Christ who “loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:1).
Christ loved me before conversion in my sin and now after conversion while I still sin. His perfect obedience is my standing before God. God’s pleasure with Jesus secures his pleasure with me. When I consider that Jesus always did what was pleasing to his Father (John 8:29), then I can humbly repent and gratefully trust in Christ. This brings the treasuring I’m after.
I could then grab onto a verse like verse 20, “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” I would write that down or memorize it to chew on in meditation and prayer throughout the day. It keeps the gospel sweetness on the tip of my tongue.
Why do we read the Bible? Reading the Bible is intended to procure our worship by revealing who God is, what he expects from us, where we fall short, and how Christ is just the Savior we need. There are many helpful tools that help Christians to read the Bible in this way. Early on in my ministry, when I was an intern, a pastor at the church developed an acronym that we used to help disciple people. It’s simple and versatile (it’s also easy to use in family devotions, small groups, or in one on one Bible reading). Over the last two decades, I’ve continued to use it and share it with others. I share it with you hoping it serves you well also.
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