“Behold, I long for your precepts; in your righteousness give me life!” Psalm 119:40
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” John 6:68
“May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.” 2 Peter 1:2
We all know we should do it. We all know that God’s word is the source of life, of true knowledge of God himself. We know that we will find grace and peace from God as we grow in our knowledge of him. Yet we often find it difficult to find the motivation, the discipline, and the longing for God’s word.
I read recently from a study that it takes at least two months to form a habit. Two months of daily routine before it starts to feel natural. Two months of regular practice before we begin to miss it. Two months doesn’t seem like a long time, but once we start on the journey of trying to read our Bibles regularly, it doesn’t take long before we have let it slip from our schedules. This is both discouraging to our own hearts, as well as defeating, leading us to think that we are not able to attain this goal.
I don’t need to convince you of how important it is to have a regular diet of God’s word. Instead, I hope to encourage you to take up and read in a way that helps you establish, grow in, and thrive in the daily practice of meeting Christ in his word.
Many of you have undoubtedly tried using reading plans. Most reading plans follow a calendar, which tell you what chapters to read each day. The problem I have encountered with such plans is that they become one of two things. One is that they become something of an accomplishment. What I mean by this is that our success in following them turns into a source of pride, or at the very least, we merely approach them like a chore that we can check off. The other problem is that they become a source of frustration when we fall behind, especially if you are following a plan on a computer or other electronic device that tells you loud and clear that you are “behind.” Granted, this is not the case with everyone. Many people follow plans very well. But many of us do not experience this, and when we think of starting a plan again, we face it with trepidation.
An additional problem is that we have filled our days with other activities that flood our time, and we think, “How can I possibly fit this in?” The truth of the matter is that we will often fill our spare time with things we enjoy to some degree or another, and we need God’s help. We need God to revive our hearts to long for him.
The first thing I’d like you to do is pray for God to renew your desire for his word. This is a prayer I pray often. I am regularly in God’s word, but sometimes I just don’t have the desire. I need God’s help to want him because my flesh is at war with my spirit.
The second thing is to find a plan that fits your schedule as it is right now. Don’t try to bite off more than you can chew. This will only lead to the failures described above. But whatever plan you decide on, ignore the calendar! I only say this because a calendar is like a cruel slave master to me. It may work for you, but I want to free you from its chains if it doesn’t.
If you have a Study Bible, or the YouVersion Bible app, or Logos Bible Software, or Olive Tree, you have plenty of plans to choose from. But which one should you choose? This is completely up to you. But let me make a few suggestions.
If you have never read the entire Bible, I would suggest a plan that gets you through it. A plan that takes a year requires about 3 chapters per day, which on average will take 15-20 minutes per day of reading. There are a few to choose from. Some people like the plan by M’Cheyne. The ESV Study Bible also has a comprehensive plan that covers the Bible in a year. Whatever plan you choose, they are all very similar. The goal is to be exposed to the whole Bible. This will begin to help you get a grip on the Bible’s storyline.
Recognizing the storyline of the Bible is immensely important for understanding how the parts of the Bible fit together. A key theme, if not the key theme of the Bible is the Kingdom of God. So, as you read, take mental (or better, written) notes of how this part fits in the whole story. But like I said before, ditch the calendar. Put your plan on paper, and just keep track of your progress. Don’t feel bad if you miss a day, or only do part of what you originally committed yourself to. Just keep at it, and don’t feel like you need to “catch up.”
If you have read through the Bible before, and you have become familiar with the storyline of the Bible, but you still don’t know it very well, or if you have not developed a habit of regular Bible reading, there are a couple of options that you can try. One is that you pick a book of the Bible and read it over and over again, several times. If you don’t think you have time to read a whole book, especially the larger ones, look at an outline of a book in a study bible and follow the sections in the outline, picking a manageable sized portion. If you don’t have a study bible, there is a free version at esv.org called the “Global Study Bible” that you can access which provides outlines and some background information about each book of the Bible. The purpose of a plan like this is to get you very familiar with that book of the Bible. We have all been told about the benefit of memorizing Scripture. This approach to reading will make that happen rather naturally as you repeatedly read the same text several times.
Another option, and this one is a bit daunting at first glance, is another kind of reading plan that covers ten chapters per day. Now, I know what you are thinking. Ten chapters per day?! Just hear me out on this one.
Several years ago, I was exposed to a reading plan called Professor Grant Horner’s Bible Reading System. It is currently available through Olive Tree Bible Software, and I think it is in the YouVersion app as well. I don’t recommend using a digital platform to follow it, because it really isn’t designed for those platforms well. Professor Horner developed this plan as a way to expose himself to all of the Bible regularly, but in a unique way. He created for himself 10 bookmarks, one for different portions of the Bible. His bookmarks were as follows: 1) The books of Moses (Gen-Deut), 2) The historical OT books (Joshua-Esther), 3) Psalms, 4) Proverbs, 5) other Wisdom Books (Job, Proverbs-Song of Solomon), 6) Prophets, 7) The Gospels, 8) Acts, 9) Romans-Colossians & Hebrews, and 10) Thessalonians-Philemon & James-Revelation.
The beauty of this plan is that it takes you through all the Bible regularly, and the many different portions you read will inevitably expose you to cross references and the inter-relatedness of the whole text of the Bible. It also doesn’t follow a calendar. You can read as much or as little as you like. The point is to just read. You can read at different times of the day to break it up, or all in one sitting if you want.
I followed this plan for a few years, and then decided to make my own custom sections. For example, at present I have 6 bookmarks. I have divided up my readings into 1) the Psalms, 2) the 5 books of Moses, 3) the Prophets, 4) the Writings (the Prophets and Writings according to the Hebrew Bible ordering), 5) the Gospels, Acts, Revelation, and 6) the NT letters.
Whatever plan you decide to follow, set a time of the day at which you can be attentive and undistracted. If you choose a larger plan, feel free to spread out your reading to various parts of the day. Like I mentioned earlier, it takes a while to form a habit, so it is very important that you are consistent with whatever plan you choose.
I also highly encourage you to read from a physical copy of the Scriptures. There is great convenience in having a bible on our phones and computers, but there is a real and measurable difference between reading on a device and reading from a physical book. Our memories have a geographical bent to them. When we are reading from a book, we feel the weight of the book in our hands, the distribution of weight between the sides of the book, the depth of the pages between our fingers, our eyes track the location of the text on the page. All of this helps in retention, a benefit that is lost for most of us when reading from a screen.
In order to get the most out of your reading, I would also suggest keeping a reading journal in which you can record some reflections on the text you are reading or a part of what you read. Currently, I just pick one spot to reflect on from my various readings, and I just write a couple paragraphs, either in the form of a prayer, or how a section encouraged me, or what it reveals about God or myself. Do whatever you like, just write something down.
Lastly, and most importantly, remember that the point of reading God’s word is to encounter Christ himself. So, as you read, think about how the text reveals some aspect of your brokenness, as well as what you see about how God in Christ has worked for your redemption. And to make the most biblical use of your reading, I’ll finish with the word of Paul in Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”