As the new year dawns, many people will get started working on their New Year’s resolutions. For countless followers of Jesus, this means getting started on a new Bible reading plan. Many helpful reading plans are available, but reading plans are not really the point. The most important thing is that we are engaging with God through his word, growing in the knowledge of his word, and allowing what we learn from his word to change our hearts.
As you get ready to read your Bible this year, I want to offer six strategies for Bible reading that will help you grow in your grasp of God’s word.
Read Big Chunks of the Bible
The other day my kids were watching the Charlie Brown Christmas special. The version we have also contains It’s Christmastime, Charlie Brown and several of the characters quote and refer to Scripture in it. Sally asks what a calling bird is and Linus reads to her from 1 Samuel. When Sally tries to help Charlie sell Christmas wreaths, she tells people they come from the forests of Lebanon, which they can read about in the first book of Chronicles.
Watching this reminded me of how much Scripture previous generations knew. Even people who were not Christians had read Scripture extensively and could reference the people and events on its pages. In contrast, we have what Jen Wilkin has called a “biblical literacy crisis.” Even many faithful followers of Jesus don’t know even many basic facts about Scripture. The only remedy is the repeated reading of Scripture.
Decide on a section of Scripture you want to learn and read at least two chapters a day. Read these chapters at a good, steady pace. Don’t speed read, but also don’t stop to take in every detail. When you get done, jot down a couple of sentences to summarize the contents of each chapter. What were the major people, places, and events involved? Were there any verses that stood out to you as you read that you want to study in more detail? Make notes about these and come back to them later.
Read Bite-Sized Nuggets of the Bible
We cannot do all of our Bible reading at 30,000 feet, so we need to take some time to get into the details of biblical passages. The best way to do this is to read small portions of Scripture slowly, repeatedly, and with a pencil in your hand.
One way to dig deep into a shorter passage is to write it out with a space between each line or to print the text out with a space between each line. Read the text multiple times. Draw boxes or circles around significant words. Make a note of things you don’t understand. Sketch lines between phrases that are similar or concepts that are contrasted with each other.
Doing this kind of work in Scripture helps you to see details that you don’t notice when you read multiple chapters at a time. Since you are writing, you engage multiple sense and are more likely to remember things you read. The result is that you have a deeper engagement with the Scriptures and grow in your knowledge of them.
Ask the Bible Questions
My four-year-old went with me to the store today and it would be impossible for me to count how many questions she asked me in the hour we were gone. Her natural curiosity reminded me of the kind of heart and mind we need to bring to the Bible. We read over so many things quickly because we are vaguely familiar with them and think we know them well or because we don’t want to do the hard work of thinking about Scripture. Either way, we must abandon our old mindsets and ransack the Bible with questions.
One of the first questions we need to ask of each Bible passage is “what is this?” By this, I mean that you should mark unfamiliar people, places, things, or themes and find out what they are. This weekend I preached Psalm 56 and the introductory note to the Psalm says David wrote this when he was fleeing Saul and lived among the Philistines. I made a note to go read that narrative so I had the background set. This was basic information I needed to know to understand the passage.
Also, ask questions about how the paragraphs and sentences are related to each other in the passage you are reading. This means noting the connecting words like “for,” “therefore,” “as,” “in order that,” and others like it. Ask how these words tie thoughts in the passage together and start thinking through possible answers.
Memorize More of the Bible than You Do Now
I previously mentioned the best books I read in 2017, but the most important thing I read (outside of the Bible) this year was a post about Vern Poythress’ Scripture memory practices. In this post, Dr. Poythress’ son shared how he reviewed six chapters of the Bible every day. Even though I may never match his pace in Scripture memory, his example challenged me to renew my efforts at Scripture memory.
For 2018, take whatever you have been doing in Scripture memory and challenge yourself to do just a little bit more. For some of you, this may mean learning a verse a week. That would be great since you would have stored 52 verses of God’s word in your heart by the end of the year. For those of you who are memorizing a couple of verses a week, see if you cannot add to that total by a couple more a week. Also, maybe this is the year that you need to memorize an entire book of the Bible for the first time.
We need to understand, though, that the key to long-term Scripture memory is reviewing the verses you have already memorized. It does not take long to lose verses that you memorized when you have not looked over in a while, but you will find that a regular review schedule will help you keep memory verses fresh in your mind. If you use an app like ScriptureTyper, it has a built-in review schedule you can use.
Pray During Your Bible Reading
When I was a young Christian, I often thought that Bible reading and prayer were two separate activities. I would read my Bible, then close it, and pull out my prayer list. Thankfully, someone recommended Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life when I was still in college and it helped me bridge the gap between my prayer and Bible reading.
This calls for you to read your Bible with an eye toward your everyday life. Is there something in this passage you know that you need to do, but feel that you lack the strength to obey? There’s your invitation to pray. Did the passage of Scripture you are reading reveal a sin for which you need to repent? Stop and repent in prayer immediately. Does the passage show you something you should thank or praise God for? Praise God as you read Scripture.
Get 8 Hours of Sleep on Saturday Night
If attending your church’s Sunday worship gathering is a Saturday night decision, and it is, then doesn’t it follow that your Saturday night sleep will affect your attention span in worship? We cannot listen to and engage with God’s word properly when we don’t get enough sleep on Saturday night.
Turn off the TV and put down your phone an hour earlier than you normally go to bed on Saturday night. If you know the text your pastor will be preaching on Sunday, take out your Bible, read the passage, and meditate on it before you go to sleep. Then ask the Lord to help you sleep well and get the eight hours of sleep you need so your mind can be fresh when you hear God’s word preached on Sunday morning.
We truly are in a biblical literacy crisis, but we don’t need to remedy this so that we can win Bible drills or trivia contests. We need the Bible for life. We need the Bible for healthy Christians and healthy churches. We need the Bible so we can help our neighbors. We need the Bible so we can love the God who made us more faithfully.
“Nine Questions to Ask Yourself to Prepare for 2018“
For Further Reading:
How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart
Living by the Book by Howard Hendricks and William Hendricks