On my office shelf sits a blue leather-bound, red-letter KJV that was given to me when I was 7. This Bible is one of my treasures because it’s the one my grandmother urged me to read. She challenged me to underline all the times the word “believe” and its variations occurred in the book. If I came up with the right number, she would give me a prize. My grandmother has since passed away, but those carefully circled words still remain.
At age 10, I embarked on my first New Testament read-through. And at age 11, much to my parents’ mixed feelings—because they knew the content rating of the material—I started the Old Testament.
Year after year, I worked through the text. My Adventure Bible, a gift from my beloved and deceased Sunday-school teacher, is in shambles after my early teenage forays through Scripture. But sometime in college, my motivation to read the Bible for a prize or to make God smile down on me ended. My spiritual life, my view of God, and even my view of the gospel itself were in complete upheaval. And I didn’t have the motivational tools to get back on the yearly-Bible-reading horse.
Time and again, I’d attempt the one-year journey only to find my bookmark stuck at the beginning of Leviticus when the Christmas tree was coming back out again. For a few years, I battled discouragement and frustration.
But thankfully, the past decade has been a process of reengaging with Scripture and the God of Scripture—and meeting a lot of dear friends who are on the same journey. Here are four redefining elements of my Bible study over the past decade that have restored both my joy in and practice of yearly Bible reading.
1. Redefine Expectations
One of the great blessings of reading church history is that you’ll encounter 2,000 years of faithful, God-glorifying Christians who were far more sanctified than you or me—many of whom never read their Bibles in a year. I found in my Bible-less and sometimes illiterate superiors in the faith the freedom to use their resources—meditation, memorization, listening, and fellowship—to free me from the guilt of missing my daily Bible reading. I needed the encouragement of my forebearers to tell me that failure in daily Bible reading wasn’t a failure in the faith.
Failure in daily Bible reading wasn’t a failure in the faith.
It’s said Martyn Lloyd-Jones was speaking to a group of medical students who complained about not having time to read Scripture. After dismissing their excuse, Lloyd-Jones said, “I make only one exception: the mother of preschool-aged children does not have time and emotional resources.” Since encountering this quip, I’ve used it to encourage several moms who are in a similar situation.
Change your view of the expectations surrounding whole-Bible reading, and you’ll walk away more, not less, motivated to read about Jesus who delights to encounter us in his Word.
2. Redefine Scope
Instead of aiming for the entire Bible, why not allow yourself to adjust to reading a single book of the Bible? Sometimes less is more. Give yourself a year to become your church’s expert in a particular book. Instead of going wide, go deep.
Use a single-book Scripture journal as you work. Write prayers inspired by the text and send them to an accountability partner each day. Use a commentary to help you consider alternative interpretations of the text. Do word studies across the book to get a better sense of its themes. Memorize a portion of the book or an entire shorter book. If you are a church leader, set a goal to produce a study guide for your church at the end of the year. But ultimately, allow your soul to rest in a slower-paced reading of Scripture.
3. Redefine Duration
Over time, my attention span has narrowed significantly. As my vocational and domestic demands have multiplied, I find I don’t have the discipline to repeat a task every day in the same way for an entire year.
There’s a reason why most diet and exercise plans only last 90 days, so I read the entire Bible in 90 days instead. It’s a short enough span for me to keep focused. It’s labor-intensive, but I can usually stay on track with just about any task for a few months at a time. The goal is visible and attainable at the beginning of the year.
Is your attention span too narrow for three months? I’ve even done a 30-day plan. You’ll get a birds-eye view of Scripture and still have 11 more months to do a book study!
4. Redefine Method
Allow yourself to use crutches. I know some reading purists who rule out audiobooks, but don’t forget Scripture was originally an audiobook—it was read aloud to the people of Israel and in the early New Testament churches (Neh. 8:1–3; 1 Tim. 4:13).
This path to engaging with Scripture can be a huge blessing, particularly in narrative portions of Scripture (Genesis–Job, Matthew–Acts). Keep your print Bible close by to note portions from the audio version where you want to invest more time and engage in closer study. Finding a narrator you like for an audio version of the Bible is also important, and the ESV app provides an expanding list of narrators.
You can also introduce variety into your yearly reading by using different versions each year. Try the NASB one year for a more literalistic rendering of the text. Try the NLT the next for a more periphrastic approach. The CSB or ESV provides a wonderful middle ground that renders narrative in a way that sounds much more like spoken English. Hearing or reading the text in a new way can help break up the “sameness” of the process.
The whole Bible is written to point us to Jesus (John 5:39). Redefine your assumptions about yearly Bible reading and see him afresh.
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