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 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.
1. Create Space
A deeply rooted time in God’s Word requires space, or as David McIntyre put it, “a quiet place, a quiet hour, and a quiet heart.” We must find a place and time that is free of 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.”
2. Manage Your Expectations
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 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 benefit more for meditating on one or two verses for 10 minutes than breezing through three or four chapters in that same time. Set realistic goals and manage your expectations.
3. Plan to Miss
One of my biggest frustrations with Bible reading plans is getting behind. I remember one time missing several days and realizing I needed to read over 10 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 room for a few missed days. If getting behind tends to derail your plan, design your plan in a way that it will be impossible to get behind.
4. Balance Your Diet
I personally enjoy reading in many different places in the Scripture each day. Many plans are designed this way already. All Scripture is beneficial for our souls, but verses in Deuteronomy will work in us differently 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.
5. Pray Before, During and After
One mistake I made early in my life was separating times of prayer from times of Bible reading. As I’ve grown, I realized that prayer is essential for gleaning from God’s Word. Before reading God’s Word, I pray that the Holy Spirit would open the eyes of my heart and help me to love what I’m about to read. I pray that He would “sanctify me by the truth of His Word” (John 17:17).
While reading, I regularly pause and 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 to kill, Stephen prayed, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60) and 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 specific things I’ve read and ask Him to help me remember them. I ask for power to obey every command, hope in every promise, believe every truth and amen every prayer. Prayer is gasoline on the spark of God’s Word.
6. Reading Bible
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 is 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 my reading Bible I keep 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. (I’ve written more about this idea here.)
So, here’s what I do. Every morning, I read in 10 different places in God’s Word (this is a plan I learned from Professor Grant Horner). I keep 10 bookmarks in these 10 different sections of my reading Bible. Some mornings I read in all 10 sections. Other days I read more in one place and skip another. My priority is keeping myself moving in all 10 areas of God’s Word.
I love this plan because I’m never behind, and I can prioritize areas I need to read more. For instance, this spring I’m teaching a class on Psalms and have been reading more in that section as I prepare. One of my sections is the book of Proverbs and another is the book of Acts.
In a given month, I often move through the entire book of Proverbs and the entire book of Acts. With this plan, I am free to design it so I move through some books more frequently than others, even while I’m moving through all Scripture. And did I mention I’m never behind?
You don’t have to use my plan. In fact, there are many great reading plans to choose from. Above all, keep striving to grow in consistency and in your love for the Lord Jesus Christ. He’s what it’s all about. I pray 2013 will be a year of growth in God’s Word for you!
Copyright 2013 Andrew Hess. All rights reserved.