October 17, 2014

Some Bible reading pointers

Bible reading is like prayer.  We know it’s important. We know it’s something we should do as Christians, but sometimes it can seem like a burden and as such is easily neglected.  What if it were to become a delight? What if we were to change the way we think about reading the Bible and take a fresh look at WHY and HOW we do it?

This year I’ve been reading the Bible differently than ever before.  I’ve been reading more of it and loving it more.  And my thinking has changed about why I read and how I read.  I’ve written about my actual plan at length on my JUST READ IT tab above.  But for today I’d like to give an update on how that’s going and some tips I’ve learned along the way.  And yes, I’m hoping you’ll try it too if you are in need of a plan to reinvigorate your time in the Word. 

But first a disclaimer

For readers new to the Bible, this plan is not ideal; it’s probably best not to break up reading into chapter segments.  Who reads a story that way?!  But if you’re familiar with the Bible and you know all the stories and feel like it has nothing new to offer you, this plan is ideal.  It will shake things up and get you out of old ruts of thinking about pet passages.

And a couple clarifications--

  • This is not a plan for ‘getting through the Bible in a year’.

This will likely happen but why count days or risk ‘getting behind’? This is a different way of reading the Bible, one in which you progress through all sorts of books at the same time, a chapter a day from each. Some books you’ll see repeatedly in a year’s time. Other longer books not as often.

  • This plan is not meant to replace your regular devotional time. 

There’s a lot of reading to do.  It could easily displace meditation and prayer if you try to squeeze it into a limited quiet time. You may choose to read a portion of it devotionally and take time to pray and meditate on it.  But I have found it best to save the bulk of the reading for another sitting, much like I would sit to read a book. Having said that, really, at a slow to moderate reading pace with time for making a few notes included, it only takes about a half hour to read up to seven chapters.

So HOW does this work….

I’ve spelled out the details of my plan here.  Basically, it’s a very flexible and ‘tweakable’ way to read the Bible so that every day you are seeing God through the lens of the law, the prophets, the psalms, the gospels, and the letters of Paul.  Because you’re not aiming to ‘get through’ the Bible it makes no difference when you  start (Today is a great day!) and you are never ‘behind’.  This is a way to read, not so much a schedule for reading.

Depending how many chapters you want to read a day you can expand or reduce the genres you are reading from. But the more types of books you include, the richer the experience will be. There are lots of options, but the point is that you will see ‘old’ passages in a new light when they are read beside less familiar ones.  The Bible becomes a commentary on itself. 

As you read flipping from one book to the next, ask yourself how these passages are related. What is the theme in each?  What stands out to you?  I have a little notebook in which I jot down a phrase or idea that jumps out at me from each chapter.  What I have found remarkable is how the same themes or even actual words will be given emphasis over multiple books in any given day.   I will find Solomon giving advice that is illustrated in the History book I’m reading.  Or Paul talking about a concept I find in Deuteronomy.  And always there is God--this awesome holy glorious God revealing Himself in every genre.  Don’t let anyone convince you the Old Testament version of God is different than the New.  You’ll come to have a greater appreciation for the New when you have ‘lived’ in the Old for a while. What better way to understand the book of Hebrews than to be reading simultaneously from Leviticus as the ceremonial laws for sacrifice are laid out?  The coming of Jesus as our Priest becomes all the more incredible!

Why read so many chapters at once?

I was initially skeptical of this plan. I have read the Bible before, multiple times. I have studied it quite a bit. It can feel all too familiar, so why read it even more, and why in such large doses?  Don’t I run the risk of the whole thing becoming a bore?!  I mean, I already get the gist of it;  I’ve heard all the stories…

But I was in for a surprise.  Tackling it this time was different.  Instead of going into my reading looking for what’s in these few verses for me, a sort of ‘eat-and-run’ approach, I read for the face value of the passage.  What is it saying, period.  What is the main idea?  The pressure was off to ‘find something’ to bless my day. With this much reading to cover I began looking at God’s words more objectively—what is God wanting me to see about His heart here?  What about the nature of man, my nature?!  And right from the start I was intrigued with the idea of finding connections between the different chapters.  How does this psalm relate to this law? to this Gospel story? to this letter?  What themes thread their way through all my readings?  What’s the big idea today? 

Reading this way becomes a treasure hunt.  And because the same Author inspired the whole thing, you see His character shining through in a way that begins to balance misconceptions you’ve had. Do you need a bigger reason to read? Read to know the Author better.  Read to understand His heart.

OK, some tips…

The nitty-gritty of setting up your plan can be found at the “JUST READ IT” tab at the top of this home page.  Included there is a PDF file of my own specific plan, but it’s not magic; use it as a launching off place to form your own.  Just be sure to make a copy of your plan and tuck it in your Bible!

But as I’ve followed through on this I’ve learned a few things that have worked for me…

  • Make time no matter what (esp. for the first month or two)

As with any new habit you will have to carve out a little chunk of time. Not much, just a half-hour a day or so. If you are strict with yourself for the first month or two you will find pockets of time you didn’t know existed. If it’s a priority you will read before you open the computer or  watch a movie or open a magazine or before you go to bed.  If at first you don’t allow for the missing of a day, it will become a habit. I discovered audio Bibles [ ‘ESVBible.org’  and BibleGateway.com ] on my smart phone early on.  That way if I didn’t have time to sit down and read I could multi-task.  I washed the dishes to Leviticus and brushed teeth to the Sermon on the Mount.  It’s not always ideal to do it this way but it works in a pinch, and it adds welcome variety any time.

  • Don’t let it become a burden

Once the habit is established don’t become a legalist.  Your spirituality is not dependent on whether you’ve read your designated chapters without fail.  There will be exceptional days.  There will be days you want to read somewhere else than what is designated.  There will be days that crowd out your best routines.  If you find the reading becoming a dreaded burden, lighten the load. Drop Leviticus and come back to it later.  Be flexible. Tweak your plan.  Read a whole book right through for a change. Allow the Spirit to draw you to other passages than the ‘designated’ ones.  This is a plan, not THE plan to end all plans…

  • Ask questions as you read 

Wonder ‘why?’  It keeps your attention glued to the passage.  You might not have an answer. That’s ok. Write down your question and tomorrow maybe there’ll be a tidbit of light on it…

  • Talk about what you’re reading

Give it a life outside your head!  Copy your favorite verses down and find a way to share them. 

  • Mark Cross-References

Make note of related passages with a tiny reference in the margin or a footnote. Soon you’ll have your own customized chain-reference Bible.

  • Keep a little notebook

Record snippets from the chapters you’re reading—a phrase, an idea, a theme, or a favorite verse.  Compare the day’s notes when you’re through. Do you see any related themes?

  • Write about it (?)

On days with a little extra time, write a mini-devotional tying together as many passages as you can.  It will help you assess what you’ve gleaned!  If writing is not for you, by all means pass your thoughts along over a pot of tea…  

  • Stay Flexible

This is A way, not THE only way.  Be open to a change of plan on any given day.  If a chapter comes to mind as related to the theme that’s unfolding, go for it.  This is not a ‘check-it-off’ plan.  You’ll be reading this book for the rest of your life. Enjoy the process; there’s no rush to get through it. For instance, yesterday morning as I was reading about King Joash  I had questions? Why did his servants rise up and kill him--I thought he was a good king?  I departed from my ‘plan’ to include the parallel account of his life given in II Chronicles.  It was an eye-opener.  I was glad I’d taken the detour!  A plan is good when it gets you reading consistently. It’s bad when it suffocates and confines.

  • Just start 

If this is something you’d like to do, don’t wait for the perfect time to begin.  Start today; there’s no reason to wait for a new year.  This is not a year’s worth of reading, but an endless orchestration of chapters ever combining in fresh ways to reveal God’s unchanging purposes.  

I know this plan isn’t for everyone.  I don’t mean to sound ‘pushy’; I just wanted to share what has worked so well for me in hopes that you too might find it a blessing. Actually, I’d enjoy hearing how you keep the Word present in your mind’s eye and alive in your heart.  Please share your own ideas in the Comments!


P.S. If you’d like to see how this works—I’ve tried my hand at the ‘mini-devotional’ idea here using one day’s gleanings.  See: “My Gleanings—The Mini Devotional.”

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