Have you ever eaten your way through a bag, box, or carton of snacks – just a little bit at a time? Ever tried to satisfy a craving for something you shouldn’t eat, by picking up some crumbs or sprinkles on the end of your finger? Or, have you ever had a big pan of something (like lasagna) in the fridge, and found that it took days to finish it off?
Whether we eat a little bit of something at a time, or consume the whole batch in one sitting, we theoretically get the same nutrition. However, the experience is not the same. When I’m the only one home, heating up some leftovers from the previous night is not the same as eating the first serving of freshly-cooked food (except chili, which gets better over time). In most cases, sitting down and eating a full meal is more satisfying than picking away at the edges of something.
In the same way, a past teacher of mine used to discourage his students from a practice that he called “lucky-dipping”, when reading the Bible. This happens when someone opens up the Bible at random, drops their finger on a verse, and reads it. You might end up with this verse, for instance:
The priest shall offer them up in smoke on the altar as food, an offering by fire for a soothing aroma; all fat is the LORD’s.
Leviticus 3:16 NASB
Or, you might discover this one:
Then out of the smoke came locusts upon the earth, and power was given them, as the scorpions of the earth have power.
Revelation 9:3 NASB
Having said that, I’m sure that there are people whom God has directed to specific verses or passages in the Bible, and spoken to them through His Word in that way. However, as we become more mature, and learn more about the Bible, understanding it at a deeper level usually involves reading it more thoroughly.
A few musical notes from a symphony (or a famous riff from a pop song) may be fun to listen to, but pales in comparison to the entire performance. Similarly, the Bible makes many excellent individual points, but absorbing the entire message in context makes those points all the more powerful and meaningful. In fact, many verses either don’t make sense out of context, or can be easily misinterpreted if not read as part of the entire passages where they appear.
Remember that the division of the Bible into chapters and verses was done out of convenience, well after the actual writings were recorded. What we see in translations of the Bible as chapters, verses, headings, footnotes, and commentary is there to help us, but sometimes we need to step back and look at each book of the Bible as an entire document. Then, we can step back one more time, look at the combination of all of the books (how they all fit together), and see God’s message at an even larger scale.
Admittedly, there are many devotions (including some of those on this site) that focus on a verse or two, here or there. A good author or teacher should be careful to not give the wrong impression by sharing only a portion of a passage. In return, the reader or student has an obligation to vet what is being taught. If you find a passage that you like (or maybe hear something that doesn’t quite seem right), get your own Bible and read the context before and after it, to better understand what it meant to those to whom it was written.
As you become more acquainted with the Bible, I encourage you to work your way through entire books of the Bible. You don’t have to finish the longer ones in a single day, but leave a bookmark and keep going through a book until you’re finished. I believe that you will find much more clarity and satisfaction from what you learn that way, compared to “lucky-dipping”.
If you need a quick Bible “snack”, feel free to look up some of your favorite verses or passages. When you want to really grow, though, invest in a full “meal” of Bible reading.
See also The Snack Ministry