How I Read the Bible
Last of all, let us resolve to live by the Bible more and more every year we live. Let us resolutely take account of all our opinions and practices, of our habits and tempers, of our behavior in public and in private, in the world, and by our own firesides. Let us measure all by the Bible, and resolve, by God's help, to conform to it. Oh! That we may learn increasingly to cleanse our ways by the word!
-J.C. Ryle, Startling Questions
I've had a few questions and comments about my Bible reading habits lately, and it seemed worthwhile to put down a few thoughts here. Regular engagement with scripture has been a transformative discipline in my own life, and I believe it is one of the most important habits a Christian can undertake. Reading habits are personal, so I'm not trying to prescribe something that will work for everyone, but here are a couple of areas that I've found helpful.
1. I read systematically
I have found that, for me, the best way to engage the Bible is to move continuously through the entire text. Having a structured reading plan is tremendously helpful. I've tried many (and like quite a few), but I always come back to Professor Grant Horner's Bible Reading System. I won't go into all of the details of the plan here, but it consists of reading ten chapters a day from genre-based lists:
- Gospels (Matthew through John)
- Pentateuch (Genesis through Deuteronomy)
- Romans through Colossians + Hebrews
- Remaining New Testament Letters & Revelation
- Wisdom Literature (Job, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon)
- Old Testament History (Joshua through Esther)
- Prophets (Isaiah through Malachi)
Whenever you finish a list, you start over the next day. All of the lists are different lengths, so you never read the same set of chapters twice. I've found that it's a great way to let the Bible interpret itself, weaving readings from different books together in new ways every day. Having said that, I don't always follow the system exactly:
- I used to beat myself up when I couldn't make time for all ten chapters in a day, but now I just roll with it. I read as much as I'm able and pick up where I left off the next day. Many days I read all ten, some days five or six, and occasionally only one or two. Moving through the various lists with regularity is the key.
- Sometimes I get excited and read a couple of chapters from a list or read the last few chapters of a book at once. I also frequently read a short epistle or minor prophet all in one day.
- I don't always read Acts as its own list. If I'm focused on a book for a Bible study or class, I'll read it as the tenth list and move Acts to the Gospels list between Luke and John. For example, this allowed me to read Hebrews and Daniel six or seven times each this year while studying them with our men's group. That group is actually reading Acts now, so I'm back to the regular lists.
If 10 chapters are just too much for you, the M'Cheyne plan has a similar feel with about half of the daily reading.
2. I read aloud
One Sunday, I arrived at church knowing that I was scheduled to read scripture that morning but unsure of the assigned passages (a rookie move, to be sure). As I stepped to the lectern, I was confronted with Acts 2 and a long list of biblical location names. I was able to tackle it head-on, partly because the Horner plan has me reading that passage every four weeks, but also because, with few exceptions, I do my personal reading aloud. I don't have a profound spiritual reason for doing this. I simply find that it helps me stay focused while reading and that hearing myself speak the words makes them easier to internalize. And finally, as a huge proponent of reading scripture together, aloud in the church, it enables me to read with confidence when asked.
3. I listen
Along with reading aloud, I've found that audio Bibles are valuable tools in my personal reading and study. Don't get me wrong, there is nothing quite like holding the physical book in my hands and feeling the pages turn as I go. But technology has given us a wealth of tools, and this is one that I take full advantage of. The ability to listen to large portions of the Bible while mowing the lawn, washing dishes, or working out has been a blessing in my life and has helped me stay engaged with scripture during busy seasons. Gone are the days of giant cassette or CD sets - there are many great app-based resources these days. I use the YouVersion apps extensively, and they contain free audio editions of the most popular English translations.
I'm sure that this is one of the longest posts I've ever published, and I could write much more! But these are a few strategies and that I've found helpful. Whether you follow a similar path or not, establishing a habit of regular engagement with the Bible will pay dividends in your faith and life. It's one of the best decisions a person can make.