Tips for Successful Bible Reading
For most of my adult Christian life, the New Year has meant some type of recommitment or recalibration of my daily time in God’s Word. It seems like I’ve started dozens of different reading plans in my years as Christ’s disciple, but have, unfortunately, failed to finish many of them. I don’t know if its laziness, poor discipline or some secret strategy of the satanic empire, but maintaining the habit of Bible-reading is hard work. Over the years, I’ve been blessed by several bits of advice that have made my times in God’s Word fresh, consistent and anxiety-free.
A deeply rooted time in God’s Word requires space, or as David McIntyre puts it, “a quiet place, a quiet hour, and a quiet heart.” We must find a place and time that's free from distractions. Additionally, we must learn to quiet our own hearts. Personally, I prefer first thing in the morning, but others may prefer the middle of the day or evening. Create your own space and set every possible interruption on “Do Not Disturb.”
Most new habits grow slowly and die quickly. If you don’t have a regular habit of reading God’s Word, it’s wise to start slowly. You might start by reading a few verses and then thinking about them throughout the day. Most reading plans are fairly aggressive in how much Scripture to read daily. It’s OK to slow down and read yearly plans in two—or even three—years. You may reap greater benefit from meditating on one or two verses for 10 minutes than from breezing through three or four chapters in the same period of time. Set realistic goals and manage your expectations.
One of my biggest frustrations with Bible-reading plans is getting behind. I remember missing several days once, then realizing I needed to read over ten pages in Leviticus to catch up. No offense to the writer of Leviticus, but that’s just rough. So, whatever plan you establish, be sure to leave enough room for a few missed days. If getting behind tends to derail your plan, design your plan in such a way that it will be impossible to get behind.
Personally, I enjoy reading many different passages in Scripture each day. Many plans are designed this way already. All Scripture is beneficial for our souls, but verses from Deuteronomy work differently in us than those from a Psalm, Proverb, Prophecy, Parable or Promise. So, we need to grow from verses that are easy to understand, and we need to grow from verses that are harder to understand. Think of it like nutrition—and balance your spiritual diet.
One mistake I made early in life was separating times of prayer from times of Bible-reading. As I’ve grown, I realized that prayer is essential for gleaning God’s Word. Before reading God’s Word, I pray that the Holy Spirit will open the eyes of my heart and help me to love what I'm about to read. I pray that He will “sanctify me by the truth of His Word” (John 17:17).
While reading, I regularly pause to ask God to make me like what I’m reading. Just this morning, I read about the stoning of Stephen. As the crowd threw stones, Stephen prayed, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60). Similarly, I prayed, “Lord, make me like Stephen. No matter what people do to me, may my heart sincerely long for their forgiveness.”
After reading, I thank God for the gift of His Word. I thank Him for the specific things I’ve read and ask Him to help me remember them. I ask for the power to obey every command, hope for every promise, belief in every truth and "Amen" for every prayer. Prayer is gasoline on the spark of God’s Word.
I recommend having a Bible you designate solely for your daily reading. It should be in a solid translation (I recommend the ESV) and without study notes. This should be a Bible that's easy to read—and reread and reread. I don’t underline, highlight or mark in mine. I have other Bibles that I mark up, but I keep my reading Bible clean on purpose. I do this to keep from biasing future readings of the Scriptures. In years to come, the Holy Spirit may draw my attention to different verses, and I don’t want my mind to jump to or focus on verses I’d previously underlined or highlighted. I want my daily reading to be fresh every time I read.
Written by Andrew Hess
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