It is the Qur'aan that deserves to be read under the best circumstances for learning so that the reader can understand the guidence it possesses. It is meant to be understood, pondered over and acted upon. When a person does that, he will, by the will of Allaah سبحانه و تعالى, receive the blessings and guidance that the Qur'aan contains. Allaah سبحانه و تعالى says,
"(This is) a Book (the Quran) which We have sent down to you, full of blessings that they may ponder over its Verses, and that men of understanding may remember." (Soorah Saad, 38:29)
After quoting this verse, Shaykh Saalih al-Fawzaan حفظه الله wrote, "Allaah سبحانه و تعالى has made it clear in this verse that the [first] goal of revealing the Qur'aan is for its verses to be pondered over. That is, we should think about their meanings, their implications, their intricate points and their information until we are able to derive from them guidance and we get from them [the result that we] fear Allaah سبحانه و تعالى and worship Him alone without ascribing any partner to Him and that we know what we should fo and should not do with respect to deeds, statements, dealings and so forth. This will not come completely to someone and this will not be achieved except by pondering over the Qur'aan." 
In addition to what Shaykh Saalih al-Fawzaan حفظه الله mentioned, pondering over the verses also includes having a strong connection and complete attention to the Qur'aan when reading it. When the person is completely attuned to what he is reading, he then begins to ask Allaah سبحانه و تعالى for forgiveness whenever he comes across a verse that he has not fulfilled properly. Whenever he reads a verse concerning Allaah's mercy, he responds by asking Allaah سبحانه و تعالى for such mercy. Whenever he reads of Allaah's punishment, he immediately seeks refuge in Allaah سبحانه و تعالى from such punishment. This was the way of reading of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم, even during his reading of the Qur'aan during his late-night prayers, as Imaam Muslim has recorded in his Saheeh. 
A sign that one has truly pondered over the meaning of the Qur'aan and is considering what it is saying is if it has the effect on him that Allaah سبحانه و تعالى has described the Qur'aan as having on the true believers:
"The believers are only those who, when Allah is mentioned, feel a fear in their hearts and when His Verses (this Quran) are recited unto them, they (i.e. the Verses) increase their Faith; and they put their trust in their Lord (Alone)." (Sooratul-Anfaal, 8:2)
If one simply recites the Qur'aan, either in the Masjid or at home, without actually thinking about its meaning and without it having any such effect on him, then it may be that he is treating the Qur'aan in a way similar to how Allaah سبحانه و تعالى describes the disbelievers as dealing with the Qur'aan. Allaah سبحانه و تعالى states,
"Do they not then think deeply in the Quran, or are their hearts locked up (from understanding it)?" (Soorah Muhammad, 47:24)
It is recorded that the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم stood in prayer one night and when he came across the verse,
"If You punish them, they are Your slaves, and if You forgive them, verily You, only You are the All-Mighty, the All-Wise."(Sooratul-Maa'idah, 5:118), he continued to recite that verse over and over and ponder over it until morning. 
Similar reports have been narrated about the Companions Tameem ad-Daari, Asmaa' and Ibn Mas'ood رضي الله عنهم, as they would ponder over one verse for hours at a time. 
The Companion Sayyiduna 'Abdullaah Ibn 'Abbaas رضي الله عنهما is narrated to have said, "For me to read Sooratul-Baqarah and Soorah Aali 'Imraan slowly, precisely and with concentration [on their meanings] is more beloved to me than to read the entire Qur'aan in a quick fashion." 
Sayyiduna 'Ali Ibn Abi Taalib رضي الله عنه is also reported to have said, "There is no goodness in a reading without knowing what [one has read] and there is no goodness in knowledge without understanding and there is no goodness in worship that contains no concentration." 
Imaam Ibn Ashoor رحمه الله states that the jurists of his school stress that reading less of the Qur'aan but with concentration and understanding is better than reading more of it while not comprehending it. 
There are numerous important benefits that result from pondering over the Qur'aan in the proper manner. Imaam Abdur-Rahmaan as-Sa'di رحمه الله notes that pondering over the Qur'aan is the key to knowledge and understanding. From it, one can derive all good. From such pondering, one's faith is increased and its fruits are watered because one begins to know his Lord سبحانه و تعالى and object of worship. One also sees the path to pleasing his Lord سبحانه و تعالى and the path that leads to one's destruction. The more the person ponders over the Qur'aan, the greater his knowledge, deeds and awareness. 
One must never, though, get the goals confused with the means. Pondering over the meanings of the Qur'aan is not the ends in itself. It is only part of the means to apply the Qur'aan. The goal is to believe completely, understand correctly and apply the Qur'aan properly in one's life. 
Shaykh Saalih al-Fawzaan حفظه الله astutely noted, "If we stopped at just reciting and pondering over the Qur'aan and we leave acting [according to it], we have stopped at the beginning of the road and we have not attained anything. All of our efforts would have been lost without any benefit from them as we would have tired ourselves on the steps and we would have abandoned the fruits. This is because the fruit [of the efforts of reading and pondering] is the acting in accordance with the Qur'aan. Allaah, perfect and exalted is He, said,
"Indeed, those who recite the Book of Allah and establish prayer and spend [in His cause] out of what We have provided them, secretly and publicly, [can] expect a profit that will never perish - That He may pay them their wages in full, and give them (even) more, out of His Grace. Verily! He is OftForgiving, Most Ready to appreciate (good deeds and to recompense)." (Soorah Faatir, 35:29-30).
These verses show that they did not stop at recitation but, in fact, they established the prayer after they had established the practice of reciting the Qur'aan. Similarly, they gave out of what Allaah سبحانه و تعالى had provided for them by giving the Zakaah, charity and doing acts of goodness toward the creation. That is the fruit of recitation, it is the acting in accord with it. If you act in accord with it, it will be a proof for you while if you do not act in accord with it, it will be a proof against you. The Messenger of Allaah صلى الله عليه وسلم said, 'The Qur'aan is a proof for you or a proof against you.'"  
The Companions رضي الله عنهم of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم understood very well what were the means and what were the goals behind reading and studying the Qur'aan. They gave the goal preference over the means. Perhaps, Allaah knows best, this is why Sayyiduna 'Abdullaah Ibn Mas'ood could say, "It was difficult [relatively speaking] for us to memorise the wording of the Qur'aan but it was easy for for us to act upon it. For the people who came after us, it was easy for them to memorise the Qur'aan but difficult for them to act upon it."  
 Shaykh Saalih al-Fawzaan حفظه الله: Muhaadiraat fil-'Aqeedah wad-Daw'ah (Riyadh: Daarul-Aasimah, 1415 A.H.), vol. 2, p. 299.
 Abd Rabbih: Kayfa Nahyaa bil-Qur'aan (Ad-Dauha: Daar al-Haramin lin-Nashir, 1983), p. 99.
 Recorded by Imaam an-Nasaa'ee رحمه الله, Imaam Ibn Maajah رحمه الله and Imaam al-Haakim رحمه الله. According to Shaykh al-Albaani رحمه الله, it is hasan. See: Saheeh Sunan an-Nasaa'ee (Riyadh: Maktabah at-Tarbiyyah al-Arabi li-Duwal al-Khaleej, 1988), vol. 1, p. 218.
 Cf., Haafidh al-Hakami رحمه الله, An-Naseehah li-Kitaab Allaah (ad-Dammam, Saudi Arabic: Daar Ibnul-Jawzi, 1995), p. 62.
 'Abdul 'Azeez Mustafa: Sharh Asbaab al-Asharah al-Moojibah li-Muhibbah Allaah kamaa Adaha al-Imaam Ibn al-Qayyim رحمه الله (Riyadh: Daar Taybah, 1415 A.H.), p. 32.
 Quoted in Imaam az-Zabeedi رحمه الله: Itihaaf as-Saadatul-Muttaqeen bi-Sharh Ihyaa 'Uloomud-Deen (Beirut: Daar al-Kutub al-'Ilmiyyah, 1989), vol. 5, p. 87 from Abu Nu'aym's رحمه الله Hilyat al-Awliyaa'. Such a statement is also narrated as a hadeeth of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم but the scholars are agreed that it is most apparently a sttement of Sayyiduna 'Ali رضي الله عنه rather than a hadeeth. See Shaykh az-Zuhairi's footnotes to Imaam Ibn 'Abdul Barr's رحمه الله Jaami' Bayaan al-'Ilm wa Fadhlih (Beirut: Daar al-Kutub al-Ilmiyyah, 1978), vol. 2, p. 811-812; Shaykh al-Albaani, Silsilatul-Ahaadeeth ad-Da'eefah (Beirut: al-Maktab al-islaami, 1399 A.H.), vol. 2, pp. 162-163.
 Imaam Ibn Ashoor رحمه الله: Tafseer at-Tahreer wat-Tanweer, vol. 1, p. 29.
 Imaam 'Abdur Rahmaan Ibn Naasir as-Sa'di رحمه الله: Tayseer Kareem as-Rahmaan fee Tafseer Kalaam al-Mannaan (Beirut: Muassasah ar-Risaalah, 1996), p. 154
 Cf., Abu 'Abdur Rahmaan: Kayfa Tataathur bil-Qur'aan wa Kayfa Tahfidhuh (Al-Khobar, Saudi Arabia: 1992), p. 24.
 Shaykh Saalih al-Fawzaan حفظه الله: Muhaadiraat fil-'Aqeedah wad-Daw'ah (Riyadh: Daarul-Aasimah, 1415 A.H.), vol. 2, p. 302.
 Abd Rabbih: Kayfa Nahyaa bil-Qur'aan (Ad-Dauha: Daar al-Haramin lin-Nashir, 1983), p. 112.
 Recorded by Imaam Muslim رحمه الله in his Saheeh. In this hadith, the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم makes it clear that the Qur'aan is either a proof for someone or a proof against him. There is no third, neutral party. One must be from one group or the other. This is similar to what Allaah سبحانه و تعالى has said in the Qur'aan,
"And We send down of the Quran that which is a healing and a mercy to those who believe. And it increases the wrongdoers nothing but loss." (Sooratul-Israa', 17:82).
This verse shows the diametrically opposite results that come about through the Quran. If a person turns to it with belief and seeks its guidance, it is a healing and a mercy. However, if a person ignores the Quran and refuses to follow it, that does not harm the Quran in any way. Indeed, that only harms the person himself. The Quran will then come as a witness against that person and will lead him to the Hell-fire. Commenting on this verse, Qatada stated that no one sits with the Quran except that it will either increase or decrease him.
In other words, anytime one listens to the Quran, it will either increase his faith and blessings or it will cause him greater harm due to his neglect of it. One of the early scholars stated that a person may be reading the Quran while the Quran is cursing him. For example, in the Quran, Allah سبحانه و تعالى curses the wrongdoers while the person himself is reading the Quran and not applying it. He is, therefore, one of the wrongdoers. He is reading his own curse and not even realizing it.
One of the early scholars stated that no one sits with the Quran and stands up from it while remaining the same as he was before. Either he profited from it or he lost due to it. And then the person recited the above verse.
The Companion Ibn Mas'ood رضي الله عنه stated that if a person puts the Quran in front of him, as a guide, it will lead him to Paradise. If he puts it behind him, not using it as a guide, it will take him to the Hell-fire. On another occasion, he said, "The Quran will come on the Day of Resurrection. It will intercede for its companion and will be a guide to Paradise. Or it will come as a witness against him and drive him to the Hell-fire."
Abu Musa al-Ashari رضي الله عنه, another Companion, stated, "This Quran will be a reward for you or it will be a burden upon you. Follow the Quran and do not have the Quran follow you up. For one who follows the Quran, he will descend with it into the gardens of Paradise. And for one who is followed up by the Quran, he will have it take him by the back of his neck and he will be thrown into the Hell-fire."
The Quran is First and Foremost a Book of Guidance
In the opening verses of surah al-Baqarah, at the beginning of the Quran, it is explicitly mentioned that the Quran is guidance. This demonstrates the major goal of the Quran: to guide humanity to the Straight Path with all of its connotations. As Abdul Hameed Siddiqi wrote, "This explains the main purpose of this Divine Book. This Book is primarily meant as a Book of right guidance for humanity. It is neither the Book explaining the fundamentals of physical sciences nor the laws of medical science, it is meant to guide people to the path of righteousness. This book is in fact a visible expression of a very favourable response from the Lord for the supplication made to Him in the concluding part of Sura al-Fatiha that Allah, in His infinite mercy, should direct the humanity on the right path."
Although this point should be quite obvious, it is something that is often forgotten. People have a tendency to turn to the Quran for reasons other than trying to receive the guidance of how to believe and live. People read it for the sake of barakah (blessings) or to cure illnesses. Some read it as some sort of intellectual journey, learning about the past, metaphysics or to get some temporary spiritual high. When this occurs, and the Quran is not looked upon first and foremost as a book of guidance, the true blessing and teaching of the Quran is lost, although people might still continue to read it.
It also should be noted that the guidance that it gives covers all realms of human life. In other words, it is not simply a guidance related to ritual matters. It guides man in its relation to his Lord سبحانه و تعالى, to other humans in society, and even to himself. The fundamental and guiding principles for social, political and financial life are all encompassed as part of its teachings and guidance.
The most important guidance it contains is the guidance related to knowing one's Lord سبحانه و تعالى and one's relationship with his Lord. Allah has made all of these matters very clear in the Quran. If a person sincerely turns to the Quran and sincerely seeks this guidance from the Quran, this Quran will be a proof or witness for him on the Day of Judgment. However, if a person turns away from the Quran and does not bother to benefit from what the Quran has to offer him, then the Quran will be a proof against him on the Day of Judgment.
Allah's revealing of the Quran is one of the greatest blessings that He has bestowed upon mankind. There is virtually no excuse for anyone's not benefiting from the Quran. The meaning of the Quran is clear. Its message to all of mankind is clear. If a person does not turn to it, learn it and apply it, he will be misusing one of the greatest blessings from Allah سبحانه و تعالى. On the Day of Resurrection, he will have no argument on his behalf. Instead, it will be the Quran that will be a witness against him.
On the other hand, if a person turns to the Quran and benefits from this great blessing in a proper way, it will be a witness or proof for him on the Day of Judgment. He had followed the guidance that came from Allah سبحانه و تعالى and this was all that was required from him in this life. In the Hereafter, the Quran will be his guide to Paradise. [Commentary on the 40 Hadeeth of Imaam an-Nawawi رحمه الله, vol. 2, pp. 734-736]
 How to Approach and Understand the Qur'aan, pp. 95-100