I’m privileged to be interviewing Keith Ferrin. Keith is a speaker and author, with a passion for helping people read, study, and enjoy the Bible.
- How Keith developed his passion to help others read and enjoy the bible
- How to internalize the scripture rather than memorize
- Reading the Bible from a relational perspective
- How can people fall in love and enjoy reading their Bible?
- Keith Ferrin’s Book and Online Courses
Carrie: Welcome to Hope for Anxiety and OCD, episode 78. I am your host, Carrie Bock. And if you’re new to our show, we are all about reducing shame, increasing hope, and developing healthier connections with God and others. While we’ve had several episodes about prayer on the show. I realized that we really have not talked about reading the Bible and I ran into a guest.
That would be good for that. So today on the show, we have Keith Ferrin who is a public speaker, and author of how to enjoy reading your Bible among other books that he’s written. So welcome to the show.
Keith: Thanks for having me, Carrie. Good to be here.
Carrie: You’re really passionate about not just people reading the Bible because it’s, they should, or because it’s a have to, but you really want people to study the Bible because they want to, and because they enjoy it and it builds their relationship with God.
How did you get on that journey of helping other people?
Keith: It wasn’t quick where I can point to the actual day when it started though, cuz I was one of those kids. I was raised in the church and I found that I was kind of one of those typical people that I run into now, which is for most people who are Christians, they’re reading the Bible is the one aspect of their life with Jesus that is more of a should than.
That we want to gather in community and we want to hear good preaching and we want to sing and worship, and we want to make a difference in the world and the Bible comes up and we go, yeah, I should read that more. And that was me for the first 20 years. I was a Christian and the shift took place over the course of about a year or two.
And it began on April 18th of 93. And it was something that I was a full-time youth and worship pastor at a small church plant in Tacoma, Washington, a few days prior to that, I was having lunch with a buddy of mine who was a youth pastor at another church in town. And my friend mark said, Keith, I don’t know what to make of this.
There’s this guy coming to our church Sunday night, who has memorized the entire gospel of Luke. And he gets up on stage with no sets or props or costumes or anything. And he. Quotes it, and while he quotes it, he kind of acts it out. And I just remember thinking, okay, that is a lot. And are people really gonna listen to that for two hours?
It’s just my idea of memorized quoted scripture transported me back to when I was eight-year-old, a second grader scared in front of a big church, quoting John three 16 as fast as I. So memorized quoted scripture and good drama. Didn’t quite line up for me in my brain. I went honestly, no great kind of spiritual motivation.
I thought it’d be fascinating, but I thought I would kinda sneak out after a little while and because I didn’t think it would be good in engaging. And I tell people what happened for me that night is the living word of God went from being a phrase to a reality that I find as I travel around the world for most people, the living word of God is a phrase that they wish was a reality.
And it has nothing to do with whether we believe it’s true but believing something’s true and believing something’s alive and engaging and fun. Those are two very different things. No, not only did I stay through the whole thing, but I went up to this guy afterwards, his name is Bruce, and I just said, “Hey, they mentioned you were gonna be in the Seattle area for a week doing these presentations at different churches and colleges. What could I take you to lunch tomorrow?” And our lunch turned into picking him up at noon and dropping him back off at 9:00 PM. And we spent the whole day together and he just challenged me to soak in bigger chunks of scripture to sit down.
And he said this, if, what if instead of studying this little piece and this little piece and then memorizing this verse and this verse, he said, what if you just took a book of the Bible and you just soaked in it until you knew it, you just hung out there until you know it. And I had heard my whole life about studying the Bible and memorizing verses.
I’d never heard anybody talk about soaking in it and hanging out with it. So I just decided for the summer of 93, I would. Read Philippians every day, Philippians takes about 15, 16 minutes. If you’re just kind of reading at a normal rate of speed and I had read it, but it had always taken four days because it’s four chapters.
And I was told somewhere along the line, you’re supposed to read a chapter a day, but I realized after about day two or three, that I was finally reading this letter. The way that you would actually read a letter, if you sent me a letter and it was four pages and the first line on page one, I give. Thanks every time I remember I wouldn’t read page one and then go, okay, I’m gonna save page two for tomorrow.
Carrie: four days to read the letter.
Keith: Yeah. And so you’d read it and then you’d read it again. Over the course of that summer, I realized that I was making more connections. I was understanding it better. I was enjoying it more. I was remembering it, it was sticking in my mind and it was just such an engaging process that, that honestly, I got to the end of the summer and that I pretty much knew the whole thing, word for word without ever really trying because I had just read it 45 or 50 times. Think of the number of movie lines, you know, or song lyrics, you know, that you watched the movie or heard the song a bunch of times and you didn’t even try to memorize it. You just know it now.
And so that’s actually when I stopped even using the word memorize and started using the word internalized, cuz it was really knowing it, understanding it and memorization was kind of a small piece. Yeah.
Carrie: Can we camp out on that for a moment? Because I like that internalize versus memorize. Like when you think about memorizing something, you’re essentially regurgitating the material, right?
Like, oh, I memorized this line and then I’m saying it back to somebody talk about like the internalizing. What’s the difference there?
Keith: The essence of it can be summed up in kind of this sentence. Internalizing is about knowing the word and memorizing is about knowing the words. Ah, and so that idea, if you’ve internalized something, then you can probably quote it.
I mean, whether you can kind of perform it like Bruce did. And like, quite honestly, now I do, that’s a different level of work. I mean, to get it something stage ready, but to be able to have it where you can say it, it can come to your God can bring it to your mind. Whenever he wants to that when I’ve internalized something, if I’ve memorized something, then I don’t know that just by the fact of me being able to quote.
I don’t know that that’s transforming me to be more like Jesus or that’s really saturating my mind. But if I have internalized it, then I feel like when I had done that with Philippians and then the next year in 94, I made one new year’s resolution to internalize the gospel of John. I just wanted to read Bible. I wanted the life of Jesus to just saturate my life and mind.
And so I just read the gospel, John over and over again until I had it internalized. And when I did that, oh, and that’s why I say this process kind of took a year or two for. That as I had Philippians kind of both hidden in my heart and my mind, which is really what I think of as internalization and the gospel, John as well.
I understood over the course of the next year or two, what meditating on scripture is all about because you see things throughout scripture, whether it’s Psalm 1:19 or whether it’s Joshua. the do not let this book of the law depart from your mouth meditate. Day and night the word meditation and meditate on and think about and ponder and remember are woven all throughout scripture.
And I realized for the first time in 93 and 94 and into 95, what that was like because I could actually think about scripture. At times other than when I had my Bible open. Right? Yeah. I mean, once I had hidden it in both my heart and my head, I understood it and I knew it kind of word for word knew it, then God could bring it to my mind whenever he wanted, I could be walking down the street, whether it’s I needed a word of correction or comfort or encouragement or inspiration or whatever it is that you know, or whether I was talking to somebody else and they needed that.
I just felt like it was much more. Relational and conversational. And that’s what happened when internalized. And so I just found that all growing up, I tell people it’s just interesting that we, the first verse we typically have kids memorized in Sunday. School is John three 16, man. It’s a good one.
That’s a good place to start. But typically the second one is in Psalm one 19, where it says, I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. And we do that one, but typically when we talk. Actually knowing the word, we’re not talking about hiding it in our heart. We’re talking about hiding it in our head.
And so the second verse we teach kids is really about hiding it in our heart, but we don’t frequently equip them or ourselves to really build that understanding. And that love for God’s word. Into our memorization process. And I think when we combine those two, that’s where internalization happens. Yeah.
Carrie: I’m just kind of processing things from my own childhood. I think, cuz I grew up in the church and there was this element of almost like studying the Bible, like a school textbook mm-hmm but you were just supposed to know that you were supposed to read the Bible and nobody really sat down and said, this is how you read the Bible.
Or if you did, you may have gotten like a devotional book or two, and then it’s like, okay, well, I guess I’m supposed to go out and buy another devotional, or now you can there’s apps, you know? Okay. Well, I guess I’ll go get another devotional on the app. And one of the struggles I always had with those was you had two or three verses and then someone’s life story was really the rest of it.
And there are plenty of devotionals out there like that. And some of them there’s a time and a season for some of those. But it doesn’t really help you get into the word of God, right? Like you’re saying if you’re not actually reading the words of God and getting that in your head. I had a conversation with my husband a while back where I said, I have such a hard time memorizing scripture.
Like I really wanna know what it says, and I wanna be able to quote it. And he just really encouraged me not to get so hung up on saying it word for word, cuz I’m like, there’s these really long sentences in the Bible. And even if you try to break it down by phrase and it’s not how we typically talk or communicate.
And he said, “yeah, but it’s more important that you understand the essence of the scripture of what it is speaking to you rather than just being able to quote it back.” And I was like, “oh yeah, you’re right on that one. Reading the Bible like it was intended to be reading the letters. It was a letter really soaking in and reading some of the same things over and over.
How else can people really fall in love and enjoy reading their Bible?
Keith: That’s what I spend hours writing things and all that, but I’ll give you a couple of kind of nuggets. One is really what I call our position. You can remember these two by thinking of your position and your process. Your position is really your mindset, your approach to scripture.
I think that so often, and you just alluded to this, that so often when we’re 11, 12, 13, 14, we’re supposed to start reading the Bible on our own and having this quiet time or whatever it is, we are almost taught the Bible like a textbook and we’re approaching. Informationally. And I say, if your position is relational, instead of informational, yeah.
It will change everything. So many of us, we breed the Bible to learn what God wants us to know, so we can do what he wants us to do and live a life that honors and glorifies him. And that all sounds well and good, except it’s not the purpose of the Bible. The purpose of the Bible is the only book that’s ever been written with the purpose of drawing you into a relationship with its author.
The purpose of the Bible is relational. And I think let’s say that you and your husband moved here to the Seattle area and became friends with Carrie and me. And we said that we were gonna get together for dinner once a. Over the course of those weeks to come, we would learn things about each other. I’m not saying there’s not information in the Bible.
We would learn information about each other. And how did you and your husband meet and how long have you been married? Do you have kids and where are the different places you’ve lived and what do you do for work? And what do you like to listen to? I mean, we’d learn tons of information about each other, but imagine.
You and your husband coming to our house the first week and my wife and I pull out our notepads and across the top, it says, here are 54 questions. We need to ask Carrie and her husband. So if they’re gonna be our friends. And so how did you meet? Do you have any kids? How long have you been married? When did he brought you to Seattle?
What do you do for fun? What sports do you like? What music do you like? What tech do you like? What blah, blah, blah. You and your husband might be polite, but on the way home, you’re talking about how can we make sure we never have to come.
Carrie: Super awkward dinner.
Keith: I think that so often we go to the Bible and we’re taught, read what it says and figure out what it means and how it’s gonna apply.
And everything is kind of in that mindset. And I’m not saying those are bad questions, but if those are the only questions, I don’t think it leads to enjoying the Bible. Whereas the irony is that the more relational our approach, the more. Information will actually learn. I mean, think of the people that you’ve learned the most from the people that can correct your mindset, your attitude, when it’s off, that can comfort you the best.
I mean, those are also the people that you watch movies with and have a pizza with. And the people that you’re in deepest relationship with are the people who you learn the most from and who comfort you the best. We know that as people. And I think that if God is our heavenly father, why do we think that every day he wants to teach us something and that some days he just doesn’t wanna play with us and just enjoy the relationship.
And so there’s that relational mindset that I think is a huge piece of that. And that’s, that’s what I call. And kind of what’s our position as we come to the Bible. And the second is really the process and some of what I’ve already mentioned about kind of reading a big chunk that certainly falls into the process piece.
But what I realized is I was reading Philippians that, you know, every day for that summer, and then I. Read the gospel of John the next year. And I didn’t read that. Obviously, those two books are different. Philippians takes 15 minutes and John takes a little bit less than two hours. So when I was reading John during 94, that wasn’t something where I was reading the whole gospel every day.
I bet in the year there were probably two or three days outta the whole year where I sat down for two hours and just read the whole thing. Most days I’d read for 30 minutes or something like. But over the course of that 93, 94 timeframes, I kind of accidentally put some things together, which is realizing that when we line up our process of Bible study with how God has wired our brains to naturally and enjoyably learn anything, it changes everything that think of anything that, you know, anybody that’s listening to this podcast, think of something that you know really well and that you.
I don’t care whether it’s sports or music or cooking or technology, whatever it is, I’m guessing that you learned it from the general to the specific. You didn’t learn a detail and then add a little detail and then add a little detail. I love to cook Italian food, but if I’m gonna teach somebody how to cook Italian food, the first lesson is not gonna be all of the uses for basil.
If you’re gonna cook Italian food, you should probably know something about basil, but it’s not the first lesson. Right. And approaching the Bible from the general to the specific is 180 degrees opposite from how most of what I was taught the first 25 years, I was a Christian about how to study the. Yeah, analogy that frequently helps this idea make sense for people is I call it the movie analogy that if you and I, when your husband and you come over and we’re hanging out and we decide, let’s say that the four of us are gonna watch a movie.
I mean, imagine if after seeing one, I paused the movie and said, let’s discuss. And then we watched scene two and I paused it again and said, let’s discuss, wouldn’t be long before you and your husband would be like, just put the remote down. Let’s watch the movie after we’ve watched the movie. If you want to talk about a scene or a character or a plot twist or something like that, we can have a specific conversation, but we kind of wanna watch the movie first.
And I think from a process standpoint, one of the reasons that so many people are confused by the Bible, they’re bored by the Bible. They don’t remember what they read in the morning. By two o’clock in the afternoon is because we’re studying the Bible. Like we’re studying the scenes of a movie. We’ve never watched.
We know what Philippians four 13, I can do everything through him who gives me strength. We know what that means, but if I say what’s Philippians about we go, I don’t know. And I’ve fought the good fight. I’ve finished the race. I’ve kept the faith. We’ve heard sermons on that and we’ve seen it written about, and we’ve seen blog posts on it and all this kind of stuff.
And we don’t even know what book that’s in. Let alone. It’s second Timothy, by the way. So we don’t know what second Timothy’s about. We don’t know what was going on with Paul at the time. Whereas I tell people if you took second Timothy, which is that’s even shorter than Philippians, it’s four chapters, but they’re shorter chapters.
So it’ll take you probably 12 minutes. If you took second Timothy and you read second Timothy in its entirety every day for a month, and then you studied it verse by verse. After that you’d never read. I fought the good fight. I finished the race. I’ve kept the faith the same. Because when you got to that, which is toward halfway through chapter four, you’d have such an understanding of the whole picture.
Kinda like again, going back to the movies that if you’ve ever heard somebody, a speaker, whether it’s your, a pastor or just another speaker, that’s used a movie clip in their speaking and you see the movie clip. If you haven’t seen the movie, that movie clip, you can still kind of be inspired by it, or you might learn something or whatever.
But it’s nowhere near as rich an experience as if you’ve seen the movie that the clip comes from, because then when you see that clip, the whole movie floods back. Right? Right. So from a process standpoint, when we read more of it, when we read bigger chunks and when we then read that again and again, and soak in one, when we devote a month or two months or something like that, to reading the Bible and getting kind of the big picture overview.
And then we naturally move to the next place that we move, which is then looking at smaller pieces, looking at a chapter and then looking at a paragraph or one theme or something like that. And you’ll understand it because then you’re looking at that little detail in the context of the whole, which is how anything that we know deeply never met a musician that learns a song, one measure at a.
Carrie: I think you’re really talking about finding out about the character of God, which can only be found out over time. You can’t just like, I can’t know my husband all at once. I knew his character by watching his actions day by day by day and watching how he interacted with other people and watching how he interacted with me.
The words that he said, did they line up with what he actually did and those types of things. And I feel like that’s what we have to do with the Bible. We can’t know the character of God by one verse or one chapter or even one book. We have to really learn over time as we walk with him. And as we’re approaching the scripture that way, and then you have the surprises along the way.
I was talking one time and somehow we got on the conversation about milking cows mm-hmm and Steve, my husband. Oh, I’ve milked a cow. And I was like, you’ve milked a cow. I was like, I’ve never heard this story. You gotta tell me about that. he was like, well, yeah, I was, I had like ag because we grew up about an hour away from each other, but his area is not that way now, but it was a little bit more rural back then.
And I was in a little bit more of a suburb. So even though my mom milked cows growing up in Tennessee, I had never milked a cow. So I found this story very fascinating. Right. Anyway, I digress, but I think it helps us with situations. As we’re trying to walk on this earth when we can go back and point to not just, like you said, specific words, but, okay. What is the character of God through the Bible? That’s awesome.
Keith: Frequently people say, how do you go about studying the Bible? What do you do? And I don’t have time to kind of teach them my whole process of something. I’d boil things down to. Really asking four questions. And the first that you can take for any passage that you have, and the first question is that character of God, well, you know, what is this passage say about who God is?
And then looking at that, what does this passage say about what God has done? The third is what does this passage say about who I am or what I have or whatever, because of who God is and what he’s done. And then the fourth is really I’ve switched. It used to be kind of that one that I was raised on, which is what are you going to apply?
What’s your application? And I say, I’ve switched it a little bit to say, what is my response? Because I think sometimes that response is to apply something. Sometimes that response is to change your thinking or to correct something or whatever, or get rid of something or. Whatever, but sometimes our response is just to worship.
Sometimes our response is just to sit in silence. Sometimes our response is just to be amazed at how cool the story was. We just read. I think that when our question is, how can I apply this? Then that puts us in an informational mindset. Whereas if we say, what is my response? God may have something to teach you and have something for you to apply.
And if that’s the case, then apply it. But God may also just want to that particular day. Reveal something about just how much he loves you. And your response is to say, thank you. And then to go through the rest of your day. I think that idea of we need to learn something every day is just not bad. It’s just misdirected.
Carrie: I think that switching it from the concept of, I need to learn something versus I need to maybe experience the word of God today. I don’t know if that’s a good word to use there. It really takes down some of that intimidation that I think people have about approaching the Bible almost like they think they have to have a degree or something to learn from it.
But a lot of the Bible was written by some people that were educated and some people that were not formally educated. So just kind of going back even to the authors, the fact that you would have to approach it from an academic. Oh, I went to school for it is a little ridiculous for sure.
Carrie: okay. Tell us a little bit about what’s coming up for you as far as books, or I know that you do speaking engagements. How can people find you as well?
Keith: Well the easiest way is keithferrin.com is my blog. Some of the things that we’ve talked about today, I mean, relational Bible study. Got a course on that. If you just search relational Bible study or just go to relational Bible study.com, that will take you. If that kind of how to study the Bible, if that’s something you struggle with or that internalized just last September recorded a brand new online course, teaching people my process of internalization and kind of how to hide it in your head and your heart.
And so keithferrincom/internalize is how to find that. The main thing, as far as books goes, it’s been fun. I have something called the Bible life community, which I started two weeks after the pandemic started for I’d had it in my mind for a couple years, but once all my speaking engagements were canceled and I had a bunch of time on my hands, I finally created this kind of online Bible study community.
I write a new Bible study. Every month. And sometimes it’s one month study. Sometimes it’s two months. Sometimes it’s a book study. Sometimes it’s a topic, things like that. But I guide people through that. We discuss it together in community. We have some live conversations over zoom and all that. That’s been really fun and I’ve taken the last several of these studies and turned them into books that, so it’s been crazy cuz I released six books in 20 years and then four books in the last six.
Just taking these Bible studies. And since they’re right there and I’ve been writing them anyway, I just turned them into these books that I call the scripture journey series. And so two of them have been topical, advent and lent when we walked the first one was advent coming up to Christmas and then lent going up to Easter.
And we did a book study on the book of Ephesians. Book study on the book of first Peter, if you go to Amazon and you search on my name, one of the things you’ll see there and all the covers kind of look similar, but there’s a series of books called the scripture journey series that are kind of these combinations of the utilizing the process that we’ve talked about, but also having a devotional aspect to it.
So a lot of small groups and churches and things like that will take some of those because most of them are 40-day scripture journeys is what I call ’em and those have been really fun to see people walk through those.
Carrie: You did a blog post that I saw on your website about messing up during one of your talks. It was great.
Keith: That was the craziest because as you know, as I kind of, we didn’t talk a ton about, but as I alluded to, I saw Bruce do the gospel of Luke and then started three years later in March of 96, I started performing in quotes, the gospel of John, but then also present different books of the Bible, short books about the way that he did with Luke.
So I did that. I’ve been doing that for 26 years of kind of doing the biblical storytelling. It was last fall. I think that was all the week. It was, I think it was the weekend after Thanksgiving or something like that. And I’d been presenting John for a quarter century. I’ve done a ton and there was a church that’s local here in Seattle.
I’ve spoken at this church probably 20 times friends with the pastor and they’re preaching through John. So they had me take two Sundays in a. Present John one through five as the sermon. Just no preaching. Just get up, present John one through five and just kind of the watching the movie, if you will.
And then the next Sunday, six through 10. And I mean, you talk about having brain freezes as you saw from the clip, the clip that is on my website that you saw. That was from the second service, which went better. The first service was even worse than the clips that you saw, but I thought let’s just throw it out there.
And some of the conversations that led to, and just the transparency were all a mess. Yeah. We all have days that are good and days that are bad. And we have days that we take things that we’ve known and that we’ve done well and everything. And some days, those things that we’re good at that we’ve done well, that we’ve been solid on before.
Some days, even that’s messy. And just realizing that as one of my friends calls it, we’re all a glorious mess. So it’s just be gloriously messy together.
Carrie: Yeah. And just the idea that God can use you, no matter what your mess has been or is in the present. I just, I love that concept. So this piece of the podcast and everything certainly is not perfect, but we strive to get it better.
A little at a. All right. Well, thank you so much for talking with us about this today. Its pleasure. It’s been very interesting for me and eye-opening. Just thinking about my own process and what I would like to do maybe differently in what I can try. It was helpful.
Keith: Thanks for having me.
Carrie: I have to say that since interviewing Keith, I made this decision to read through first Peter over and over again as our pastor is preaching through first Peter right now. So he does one chapter a week and I haven’t necessarily done it every single day, but I’ve read through several times and it’s been interesting to see.
The different themes and the different things that stick out to me on different days, kind of seeing that as a whole entity, instead of just broken down into different chapters or different verses. One thing that we didn’t mention in this episode that I just wanted to throw here in the end is that the Bible has some quite crazy stories in the old Testa.
To put it mildly. If you read those things, you’re like, what in the world just happened right now? It definitely makes for some interesting reading. Granted, there are some kind of boring parts of the old Testament when you get into the genealogies, but some of the stories in there. If you’ve never read, ’em are pretty amazing.
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Hope for anxiety and OCD is a production of By the Well Counseling. Our show is hosted by me, Carrie Bock, licensed professional counselor in Tennessee. Opinions given by our guests are their own and do not necessarily reflect the use of myself or By the Well Counseling. Our original music is by Brandon Mangrum, Until next time may you be comforted by God’s great love for you.