How to go about reading your Bible in 2013 (for those who feel like its already too late)

Every January there is a flurry of blog posts (like this one and this one) and encouragement to make a plan for your personal reading of the Bible (among other things) in the new year. That’s good. But, the reality is you may already be behind or too busy to come up with a plan. In fact, most of us are, which is why I’ve waited to post this until now.

There is a strong temptation to think, “Well, its January 9th already and I’m already behind…I guess there’s always next year.” We’re only 9 days in! It’s never too late. The reality is that we can begin any time, but the dawn of a new year is a helpful starting point to reassess our priorities and realign our calendar in light of those priorities.

Q: "Why should I read my Bible?"

Reading your Bible isn’t about just “reading your Bible”. To read your Bible is to listen to, interact with, and learn from God, which is why it is so important. When you read your Bible you learn about:

  • GOD (“In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Ps 16:11)
  • JESUS (“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God…” Jn 1:1)
  • HIS PROMISES (“I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Mt 28:20)
  • HIS GOSPEL (“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” Jn 3:16)
  • HIS CHARACTER (“The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty.” Ex 34:6-7)
  • YOURSELF (“you were dead in your sins and trespasses in which you once walked…but God, being rich in mercy…made us alive together with Christ” Eph 2:1,4-5)
  • YOUR IDENTITY IN CHRIST. You can learn more about that here.
  • STRENGTH, ENCOURAGEMENT & SUPPORT (“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want…” Ps 23:1; "God is my refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble..." Ps 46:1)
  • SIN TO AVOID (“Put to death therefore what is earthly in you…” Col 3:5)
  • CERTAINTY & CONVICTION (“it seemed good to me…to write an orderly account for you…that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” Luke 1:3,4)
  • OUR FUTURE HOPE (“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth…” Rev 21:1)
  • and more

Q: "Is this just a form of brainwashing?"

At times, I'll get asked this question. In a way, yes - but not in the way you think. The Bible says that, by nature and choice, our brains are dirty – and, thus, need to be washed with the truth of God’s Word. The theological idea in view here is the noetic effect of sin. “Noetic” means “mind”. Sin clouds our ability to see, think and understand rightly. The Bible says we are darkened in our understanding (Eph 4:18). But God “has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 4:6). If we want to counter the noetic effects of sin, grow in Christlikeness, experience freedom from sin and enjoy the life God has for us it is vital to get the Word in us – not just get in the Word. It revives the soul, makes wise the simple, enlightens the eyes, and endures forever. (cf Ps 19:7-11)

Q: "Where do I start?"

FIRST, GET A GOOD BIBLE. No, really. For personal study and devotion you need a good Bible. There are a number of things to think through, including: 

  • Translation: For personal study, I recommend the ESV. The NASB, NKJV and NIV are also good options. There are three that I encourage you to avoid. Avoid the New Jerusalem Bible (Catholic) which includes some apocryphal writings, inserted after the canon was close. Also avoid the New World Bible as it is a  translation created by the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Lastly, avoid the NRSV which takes unfortunate liberties in the name of cultural engagement.
  • Font: Is it comfortable to read for short and long stretches of time?
  • Paper quality: The quality of the paper is important when it comes to highlighting, making notes, etc. Does everything bleed through or will it withstand the devotional onslaught of a Jesus-follower?
  • Binding: You don’t want your Bible falling apart.
  • Cover: Paperback is fine, but at some point you’ll want to upgrade to a nicer leather version because it will last longer – and smell better!
  • Cross-references, maps, etc: You’ll also want to examine the cross-referencing system. Does your Bible have one? Maps? Concordance in the back to look up terms/words?

SECOND, IF YOU'RE A NEW CHRISTIAN AND/OR ARE NEW TO THE BIBLE, GET AN ESV STUDY BIBLE. One of the best things I did as a new Christian was to get a study bible that helped explain the text, define terms and connect the dots. If you don’t have that help, you need it or you may grow discouraged along the way. If you’re constantly trying to define terms and figure out what’s going on, you’ll likely miss what God is trying to show you. A study bible can help with that and the ESV Study Bible is the best available, no question. If you don’t have the financial resources to purchase one, please let us know and we will ensure you are provided for. 

THIRD, FIND A PLAN THAT WORKS. There is nothing that will keep you away from the Bible like not having a plan. If I don’t have a plan of some kind, its hard to know where to start. ESV has provided a number of different plans here. I also put together a plan that combines two of my favorites here. A healthy first goal is to read through the entire Bible in 1-2 years. It will help give you a sense of the storyline and how it all fits together. If at any point you don’t like your plan, you can always change.

FOURTH, SET A TIME AND PLACE. Whether we like it or not, we are creatures of habit. We would never miss a meeting with the President of the United States, but we do with God all the time. Much of that is due to not having a particular time and place for it to happen – and then sticking with it. Look at your calendar and identify what is the best time to be with God. Consider it a form of tithing – tithing off the first fruits of your day. For me, that’s the morning. For others, that may be the evening. Personally, my primary devotional time is in the AM, separate from any sermon prep (though clearly that is devotional in nature as well) and end the day with a word from the Psalms – filling my mind with just a bit of truth before hitting the hay. 

FIFTH, RECORD WHAT YOU'RE LEARNING. Your Bible reading will be transformed if you interact with the text in writing. The goal isn’t just to get in and out as quickly as possible. The goal is to get something from it, every time you go in – just like you do when you go to the refrigerator. Get a journal, small notebook or use your computer. Write out the verse(s) that stand out to you every day and prayerfully write out a prayer to God based on that text. The Holy Spirit made it stand out for a reason. He’s personal like that. If you know you’re looking for at least one Word for the day from the Lord, it will make your reading come to life and will give it an added dose of expectancy.

SIXTH, DEVELOP A NOTE-TAKING SYSTEM. This isn’t as crucial, but it can be helpful. Did you know that you can write in your Bible? I thought that was sacrilegious as a new Christian. Star. Underline. Circle. Comment. Put dates next verses that are significant markers. Put names of friends and family next to verses that you’re praying for others. Right now I use a red pen for anything, from Genesis to Revelation, that deals with Jesus. I use blue for anything related to God, his Word and his character. I use purple for God’s promises and/or anything that provides encouragement and comfort. I use brown for sin and examples to avoid – avoid brown! I use green for anything related to God’s mission – sending, calling, proclaiming, etc. It really does make the Bible come to life and you’ll see connections you never saw before. But, what matters most is that you find something that works for you. Also, FYI, I have another Bible without markings that I refer to when I want to read the text with a clean slate.

SEVENTH, READ AND DISCUSS THE BIBLE IN COMMUNITY WITH OTHERS. In other words, share what you’re learning with others. What is God convicting you about? How is he encouraging you? How is the gospel becoming more meaningful? There is nothing more sharpening than being in relationships where this type of honest, reflective sharing is taking place. Avoid the discussions that focus on Bible trivia, while emphasizing looking for how the text points to Jesus and his work.

What have you decided to do this year?