The Answer Really Is Discipline
I can’t remember how many times I’ve been told, or told other people, that reading the Bible is key to living a godly life, and doing it daily is something all Christian’s should endeavour to do.
I think many of us are waiting for some sort of light-bulb moment, some sort of switch that’s flicked that starts us off on a life-time of consistent, life-giving, Bible-reading.
The thing is, if I were to tell you that I needed to exercise, eat better and look after my health more, you would say, well you need to get disciplined, and you need to do it regardless of how you feel. Well, 1 Tim 4:8 says, “for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” In other words, the principle translates.
The answer really is discipline. Bible reading, prayer, fasting, Christian meditation, worship… are all things that we should do whether or not we feel like doing them. And so, I thought I’d start the ball rolling with some things that have worked for me at different times, which may help you too.
I think there are two major things Christians need to consider when deciding upon a strategy for reading the Bible.
Option 1: An Overview
The first is, do you have a comprehensive overview of the overall narrative of the Bible? If you were to jump into a TV series like ’24’ half way through, there would be some things you could access straight away, but without understanding the beginning, the middle and the end, there’ll also be a whole lot you’ll miss. It’s really important that every Christian with access to a Bible takes time at some point to get this wider narrative arranged in their head. Do you know basic things like who came first, Abraham, David, Moses, Noah and Joseph? Could you order them in the right order? These are some major Old Testament characters whom God uses to roll out His wider plan of salvation.
To go for an overview of the Bible, my preference is to read it big chunks of the time, at a surface level, and do it quickly. Just like a novel or biography or history book.
For those with excellent attention spans, I suggest 15 chapters a day (will take you between 30-50 minutes depending on reading speed) for 90 days, beginning at Genesis and reading straight through. This means that you’ll get to the end of Genesis three days after you begin, and certain names, events and situations will re-occur and you’ll be able to join the dots together a little better than if you read it more slowly, which would allow a lot more time to finish a book, and therefore more time to forget what’s happened.
For those who would say that isn’t for them. I suggest two other ‘overview’ options. The first is similar to the one we’ve just discussed, but instead of reading straight through, read 5 chapters a day from Genesis forwards, read 5 chapters a day from Matthew forwards and read 5 chapters a day from Esther forwards or something similar. This will keep it varied.
The second option could be to do it more slowly, say over a year. This works out at about 4 chapters a day. If you do it this way, I’d suggest reading it at a slightly deeper level, perhaps taking time to journal thoughts as you go. This will help you connect themes over a longer period of time. You could vary where you read from as you go like the plan we’ve just discussed.
Option 2: Devotional
Just because I’m calling this option ‘devotional’ doesn’t mean the first option isn’t, it’s just that I think this option lends itself to more of a life-long practice than a 90-day blitz through the 1000+ chapters of the Bible!
Here are some that have worked great for me before. (For the record, I like to switch it up because I get bored otherwise)
Use a devotional book/reading plan.
My favourite is from N.T. (Tom) Wright. He has written a series of devotional commentaries called the “For Everyone” series. He translates the passage (usually about 7-10 verses), and then, in a very down-to-earth, conversational way, explains and applies it. I like to do one of these a day. Check it out here: http://www.spckpublishing.co.
Read a Study Bible slowly.
I often go to a Study Bible like the ESV (which has the best study notes and is the best current literal translation), or the Apologetics Study Bible (which tends to answer the questions you’re asking about difficulty passages as you read). There are other great ‘themed’ Study Bible’s too, like the Life Application Study Bible, the Maxwell Leadership Bible and more. I find that reading the notes that run along side the text (usually at the bottom of the page) are really helpful.
Reading and journaling.
Reading slowly, just a few verses at a time can be really fruitful. I like to hand-write the passage out on paper first. This helps me engage with each word individually as I write each one down one-by-one. Then, as you look at those verses, go back and read two chapters before and two chapters after (where possible) just for an overview of the context. This will help you to get the true meaning of the text, rather than putting your own meaning onto it.
Before any of this however, the key to effective Bible reading involves two other things. The first is prayer. The Holy Spirit can give you insight into the Bible like nothing else. By reading the Bible prayerfully, you stand a much better chance of getting something out of it.
Secondly though, as I intimated in the “reading and journaling” section, it’s important to try and read the text and let it speak for itself. There’s a big difference between the question “what does the Bible mean to me?” and “what does the Bible mean to me?” One helpful way to think is that any particular Bible passage only ever has one meaning: the meaning for which God intended it to be written. But it has as many applications as there are people, situations and cultures.
The Bible is God’s Word and as such, it should interpret our lives far more than we interpret its meaning.
Happy Bible reading everybody!