As I’ve mentioned in some other posts, we’re in a pandemic right now. I’ve covered topics addressing where God is in this pandemic, reminding us where our joy should be, and being watchful for signs. The one thing these all hinge on is our listening to God.
But really, how does one do that? Well, you can do that in a few ways. Some people find that God speaks to them when they create. Some hear God in music. Others hear God in nature. But the one place where there’s a guaranteed place of encounter with Christ is through His Word: The Holy Bible. Which means… we need to read our Bible.
Bible reading is arguably one of the most important spiritual disciplines. It being named a discipline is apt; it’s a mental workout.
If you’re finding that you’ve fallen off the horse of your Bible rendezvous, please know that you’re not alone. Many people—myself included—have struggled with making daily Bible reading a routine.
Even if you have decided where to begin, maintaining the practice can be trying some days, especially when you’re in a time crunch, or if you’re just not feeling up to it.
With this in mind, I’d like to highlight a few problems you’re likely to run into when attempting your Bible reading, and how to handle them.
1. In The Beginning
When you start a book other than the Bible, I’m sure you generally start at the beginning. Page 1. You know that the story is set there, and that if you jump into the middle of the book, you’re going to get confused and not understand the context. I can just imagine reading Pride & Prejudice from the middle—I, for one, would be confused.
The same could be said for the Bible; it’s just much grander in scale. You have the Old Testament, which gives context for the New Testament, which contains the crucifixion and resurrection (what our faith hinges on). Within each of these testaments exists many books—39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. But there aren’t any hard and fast rules as to how to approach them. You could start in Genesis, you could start in Micah, you could start in 1 Peter.
In an ideal world, to start in Genesis would make sense. It is the beginning (even starting with the key phrase “In the beginning”—how helpful is that?), and it has some iconic Bible stories that we all know and love.
However, therein lies the problem: Genesis is long. Luckily, Jeffrey Kanz did a word count of each of the Bible books, and found that Genesis is 32,046 words long. It’s a big commitment.
Of course, definitely read Genesis. You just don’t have to start there.
Where should you start, then? There are different approaches to this, as well. You could just pick a random book and start there. Or, you could ask your Christian friends around and ask where they would suggest to start. However, if you want a more structured beginning, I’d suggest starting with a bible reading plan. You can find many to your liking here, which is a site I particularly like to refer to for my plans. Alternatively, you could use a very mobile-friendly option, going to Bible reading apps such as BibleGateway or YouVersion, who have reading plans readily available.
2. How To Choose The Next Book
What if you’re not following a Bible reading plan, and you’ve finished the first book? Do you read the next book, or should you read elsewhere? You might feel stuck with indecision. Don’t.
It’s easy to put a lot of pressure on yourself when reading God’s word, but breathe. Take a moment and step back. God put together His word for you to read and hear His voice. How awesome is that? It’s like reading a long and culturally significant love story, made just for you. So go ahead, read it however you want to. There is no “wrong” way. Read from books that aren’t adjacent to each other. You do not have to read “in order”.
When I was a pre-teen, I tried to read the Bible “in order”. I started in Genesis, then charged through Exodus and Leviticus. Then, I stopped in Numbers, because I was bogged down with details and bored out of my mind. I felt like I had to read the Bible the “right” way, and if I couldn’t read it in order, then there wasn’t any point. After that, I read small portions, but making it a daily practice was hard for me. I felt like I had hit a mental wall.
The next time, I printed off a reading list and was determined to try again. I didn’t print off the list to follow the order, but just to cross off which portions I happened to read that day. I picked from random parts of the page. Eventually, I read the whole Bible. And what’s more—I wanted to read it again to get more out of God’s word because I finally had some agency.
As a result of flipping around between books, flipping between the Old Testament and the New Testament is one of my favourite things to do. It’s incredible to see the continuity of God’s love throughout the journey, and how Jesus really fulfills every prophecy.
A note: Some historical events are repeated in different books. You’ll especially see this if you use a daily bible reading that sets the books in chronological order. So if you feel like you’re experiencing déja vu, don’t worry, it’s not you, it’s the Bible.
3. Your Reading Pace
If you’re the type of reader to read a consistent amount each day, then that’s awesome, and I commend you. You’re likely the kind of person who finds maintaining habits easy. Keep up the good work.
However, if you clicked on this post, it’s probable that you’re more like myself, and have uneven rates of reading. You might not read in a long time, but when you do, you binge-read. Or maybe it’s simpler than that, where you read periodically, but not a lot. Maybe you don’t read at all.
Whatever your situation is, there’s a pace problem.
How I used to read my Bible was similar to how I exercised. I used the same approach: read on a consistent basis until life distracts me, don’t return to it for months on end, feel floundered when I re-start. Repeat. And through it all, I wonder why I’m not seeing any progress.
As anyone knows, with any kind of health maintenance (spiritual, physical), you must put in regular effort. Oh, how I wish I could just do one push-up a month and be “fit”.
Finding a time of the day that you have alone to read is important. You don’t need to disrupt your life to do this. Usually, early morning or late evening are good choices. Personally, I like to read in the morning to let my mind ruminate over the verses I read. You don’t need a long time. Even 5 minutes is a good window of time to start with.
I have found that a big contributor to poor pacing came from subconsciously pressuring myself to read more. I would feel more proud on days where I read three chapters than on days where I read one. Eventually, I got to the point where I thought I might as well not read at all if I wasn’t going to read a large portion that day.
I know, it sounds ridiculous, but I’m sure some of you may have been in this boat.
The point isn’t how much you read, or even to read at all, frankly. The point is to connect with God and through His word. If you’re not there to connect, there is no point in reading His word. So long as your motivations are to seek His character and His will, it doesn’t matter how much you read at a time. If you want to get to know someone; you’ll make time for them.
Some days I read one verse. Other days I read a chapter. Others, I read the whole book. Let the pressure on yourself melt away, and watch your consistency improve. It’s the consistency of how much you keep coming back, not of how much you read. Quality vs. quantity, folks.
4. Hearing God Through The Text
You’ve chosen where you’re going to start. You’re reading away, but quickly enough it feels like your eyes are just scanning the page rather than taking in anything with substance.
How are you supposed to hear God when you can’t see Him?
I think I should clarify that it’s okay if you aren’t getting something out of every verse you’re reading. But there should be at least one takeaway from whatever you do read. You could learn more history, you could see how much Jesus loves His people, you learn a proverb that you need to add to your own life—the list goes on.
The cool thing is is that God speaks to people in different ways, even in His word. He may reach you by showing you a similar situation in the verses to the one you’re living in your life. He may reach you by letting a verse or a word stick out to you more than the others. You might hear a voice. You might see an image or a vision. Or you might have a thought that isn’t something you’d normally think or say—take note of it.
But the question is, are you ready to listen?
Before you read, close your eyes and let yourself sit in silence. Ask God what He wants to say to you. Slow down. Don’t just read to read. Read to understand the God who loves you.
5. Being Confused—i.e. What Does This Mean?
You may notice that there’s a huge cultural gap between the times of the Bible and present day.
Between multiple translations and cultural differences, you’re bound to be confused at times in your daily Bible reading. This is okay.
Don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t know an answer. If you find that you’re just scanning the page instead of understanding what it says, maybe you need to understand the context. Read up on commentaries. Read the subtext, if it’s provided.
You know what’s a great help for Bible study? The internet. Google. Bible apps. People you know who know their history.
Sometimes you don’t find your answer. That’s okay too. Sometimes I’m stuck on a passage and file it away in my brain until I can find an answer elsewhere.
Regardless, if you come out knowing more than I did going in, then you’re on the right track.
I truly hope this helps. Have more points to discuss? Feel free to comment them below!