More than twenty-five years ago, Miss Mary Lou challenged my teen Sunday School class, “If you say you believe the Bible, you should know what is in it.” Someone had given her that challenge forty years before, and she rose to meet it. She read the Bible cover to cover. That morning, she sought to inspire another generation with her testimony. It worked. My New Year’s resolution was set. I would read through the entire Bible for the first time that year.
Since that day, reading the Bible has changed my life. It has been sweet, convicting, and encouraging. I have drawn near to God, and he has drawn near to me. But it hasn’t always been amazing. At times, my reading has felt more like trudging through sludge or mindlessly brushing my teeth.
How do we make Bible reading enjoyable and sustainable for the new year? How do we move through chapters that talk about creatures we have never heard of? Take the hoopoe, for example, listed in Leviticus 11:19. What do we gain from detailed architectural plans measured in cubits (Exodus 27:1)? How do we read through hard to pronounce and funny names, like Maher-shalal-hash-baz (Isaiah 8:1)? My wife and I named our children names from the Bible. They are thankful we skipped that one. How do we process measurements, weights, currencies from thousands of years ago and miles and miles away? How do we deal with confusing passages, harsh curses, and out of this world prophecies? Here are five things that have helped me as a follower of Jesus read my Bible every year and get the most out of it.
First, begin with grace. Give yourself grace in creating and maintaining a Bible reading goal. Keep it manageable. Don’t be like me and say you will read it in French to brush up on rusty language skills from High School. (I tried a few years ago. My goal ended quicker than you can say, “Au revoir.”) It was creative but unrealistic. Make your goals doable.
What could this look like? Some people read a Psalm and Proverb a day. There are 31 Proverbs so that you can read a proverb for every day in the month. There are 150 Psalms. So, a Psalm a day will get you through it in five months. Some people want to read through the New Testament in a year. Great. Some use a calendar or plan. I do. Reading three to four chapters a day for a year will get you through the entire Bible.
Whatever you choose, go ahead and jump in. Daily Bible reading doesn’t happen without starting. At the same time, give yourself grace. Don’t give up. If you get stuck or stop, start where you left off. Don’t feel bad about changing your goal if it is not realistic. Give yourself grace.
The Bible teaches us that salvation is by grace alone, not Bible reading (Ephesians 2:8–9). Bible reading feeds you and points to God’s grace. So if you find you have skipped a spiritual meal, go to dinner. Grab a bite of God’s Word, read, and enjoy God’s grace that drips from every page.
Secondly, listen. Too often, I have read the Bible as a task and not a conversation. Listen to God’s voice. The Bible is his Word. It is unlike any other book in the history of the world (2 Timothy 3:16). Here he speaks clearer than he does through anything else in all of creation. Slow down and listen. To do that, you may need to find a quiet space or time to hear what he says. With little kids running around or a busy office, I have frequently retreated to a secluded room, quiet library, or even my car to hear God speak.
The Bible says don’t be hearers only but be doers also (James 1:22). Listening involves applying what you’ve learned. Ask yourself how you can take God’s Word to heart. How should you think, speak, and act differently once you know what he has said? The Creator of the Universe desires your attention.
Thirdly, study. We don’t want to misunderstand what God says. We need to be careful and accurate, not slipshod or cursory. God has given us many resources to help make sure we aren’t making the Bible say something it isn’t saying. An essential tool for understanding God’s Word is our mind. Ask questions about the text. Do you remember the five W’s from childhood: Who, What, When, Where, and Why? Use those. You can also reread the passage and dig further down for the gold that is there. In my study, I try to read a selection seven times to understand it better. It is amazing what new insights I find rereading the text over and over again. Studying the Bible can be that simple.
A few additional study resources can also help. A study Bible can offer critical insights, footnotes, and cross-references. Using various translations can flesh out the range of meanings of a particular word. Commentaries can provide valuable background material. I try to read one commentary each year. In whatever way you approach the Bible, do some study. Dig into the context and original meaning.
Fourthly, read your Bible with a pen and paper in hand or a laptop open, and mark up your Bible. Underline. Highlight. Circle. Journal your thoughts—document what strikes you, what confuses you, what encourages you, and what convicts you. Writing can help you slow down and listen and study and enjoy. It can help you talk to God about life and recall verses to mind later in the day.
Finally, share what you hear. Don’t keep it to yourself. It is like a hot commodity, an expensive delicacy, or a flashlight in the darkness. God doesn’t want us to keep the Bible to ourselves. It is too good for that. Share with others what God has said. Sharing some of what you are reading is a great way to cement truths in your heart while simultaneously spreading the good news about God. Grab a verse and pass it along.
I don’t share, write, study, and listen to every single verse I read. That is not possible or realistic with a goal of reading the Bible through in a year. However, I try to find something to take with me each day. And when I don’t meet my goal, it brings me back to the first point: grace. Give yourself grace and move forward again the next day.
I pray this year you join me in seeking to read God’s Word.
LAST WORDS: SEVEN SAYINGS FROM THE HEART OF CHRIST ON THE CROSS
In this powerful book, author Robert J. Nash explores a fresh perspective on a familiar event, guiding readers into the forgiveness, hope, comfort, and compassion of Christ’s words in his final moments on earth.