What do we do with this Book, this tome attributed to multiple agents, spanning centuries? The Scriptures are central to Christian faith and ought to be respected, cherished, and handled with great care. Those who have the task of explaining the Scriptures bear a great responsibility.
While the nature, purposes, and sovereignty of God are shrouded in appropriate mystery, his revealed Word and will for our lives is not. We ought not feel overwhelmed, confused or inadequate in our study of the Scriptures. Don't settle for a foggy, haphazard relationship with the Bible.
Two words can help to give you clarity: Exegesis and Hermeneutics. Granted, the words themselves don't lend themselves to a feeling of clarity. These are specialized labels that describe a fruitful approach to understanding and applying the Bible. Despite sounding complicated, their meanings are simple enough. Let's start with what Eugene Nida and Paul Hiebert have to say about these two words:
Exegesis is asking this question: "What did the author mean?"
Hermeneutics is asking this question: "What bearing does the meaning have on my present context?"
There are wonderful and readily accessible tools that can help with the process of exegesis. One excellent tool is a solid study Bible. I recommend the ESV study Bible. If you are looking to build up a library for exegetical study, Logos.com offers some great packages.
Hermeneutics is a bit more tricky and requires a keen sense of awareness of the contemporary seen. Hermeneutics is accomplished when we read both the Bible and the newspaper. It is, however, absolutely essential to remember that accurate hermeneutics is impossible without accurate exegesis. At best faulty exegesis leads to irrelevant and fruitless a hermeneutic. At worst at leads to widespread perversion of the gospel.