I think, after almost thirty long years of trying to figure this Bible-reading thing out, that I finally have a plan that works for me. 🙂 I always struggle with knowing how much to read, where to read, and with feeling like I’m either not paying enough attention, or paying too much attention and not reading enough.
Anyway, this is obviously not the One True Way of reading the Bible, but I am posting it just because it has been such a struggle for me, and this is the first time in my entire life that I have really found a reading “plan” very effective and beneficial to me, rather than incidentally so. Second caveat, I have only actually done this one year so far. But already I am eager to both continue what I am doing now, and to start over again at the beginning, and it has maintained itself well through the months. So I think it’s a good plan. 🙂
90 day rush
To begin with, I do the Bible in 90 Days plan. This is good for at least three reasons: 1) it’s a very definite, regimented, dare-not-miss-a-day plan. There’s no floundering around wondering what to read or how much. It’s also very intimidating so there’s no doubting whether the intensity is adequate. 2) it takes (and builds) a lot of discipline. Depending on how slowly I’m reading, it takes at least 30 minutes to an hour to read. Even more if I get stuck or branch off into looking up something I run across. It’s not remotely unusual to end up spending two hours a day here—although, if I’m really busy, I don’t have to take that long. Further, there’s no skipping the “boring” parts of the Bible. There’s no reading just what feels comfortable or easy. I am not sure how to describe the mental muscle it takes to read roughly 20 chapters of the Bible every day, but whatever it is, it gets a good workout this way. Finally, 3) it goes through the entire Bible. Haggai doesn’t get left out. Numbers doesn’t get left out. There’s not a section left without the pages crinkled. You read it all, and moreover, you know you’ve read it all, and recently, which for me is a big deal for letting go of difficulty throughout the year. I also was amazed at how much better grasp I got of the overall layout of Scripture, especially the history and the timelines, by reading it all at once so close together. It was really helpful. Next time I am going to try to read it in chronological order (the table of contents order is not chronological), I think, but otherwise the same pace.
look at it again
Now, the important thing is, coming right off the 90-day challenge, there’s all that time that now I’m used to setting aside for Bible study, without complaining about it to myself. I found this a really useful time to go back to one of the sections that really jumped out at me in the 90-day overview and slow way, way, way down (to like, 10 verses a day) and try to really get a handle on some of the parts that are just impossible to parse well at the breakneck speed. For me, this time ‘round, this was the gospels, particularly the teachings of Jesus, and I poured over them with commentaries and cross-references and some journalling. Next time I would like to attack some of the epistles this way. This has to be totally self-discipline, though, because I didn’t have a “plan” and certainly didn’t have any official calendar to keep me accountable to it. Sooo, when the self-discipline began to lag (after maybe three months or so), I was happy to have accidentally fallen into another type of study…
do some homework
Bible studies! I am in one at church and I found myself really enjoying the “homework.” It made me read through the Bible chapter (one per week) pretty slowly, but was about the perfect size to finish out in 45 minutes to an hour, and I was pleasantly surprised how just writing down the answers to basic questions about the passage made me really stop and pay attention to what was going on. Add a few suggestions about cross-references, and a couple of application questions, and I found it almost impossible to restrain myself from doing one of the “sessions” every day instead of once a week!
So… I picked up some of my own. The ones our church does are from the Faith Alive series, which are pretty short and pretty cheap (if it takes me two-three weeks to do one, that’s about $10-15/month, which is well worth it imho, plus I’ll keep them and recycle). There are many other studies like this and I am very anxious and excited to cover some more books before I get back around to the 90 day challenge (which I hope to start in January).
This is a really good way to parse some of the more historically complicated books, like Judges and some of the other Old Testament books, while still covering them in a reasonable amount of time. It’s mostly questions to make sure you’re paying attention, and occasionally pointing out relevant historical information or the way that passage in Judges recounts the same events as this passage in Joshua, for example, which is obvious and verifiable, but easily missed by just casually reading through it by myself.
I don’t think this necessarily has to be Bible study “booklets,” but some kind of methodical study, like the Navigators, or something, along with some kind of scholarly insight on a broader level than detailed commentaries. Having it all in one small book (even with space to write some answers!) is really useful to me. I will say that I am happier with the leaders’ version of the books so that I can consult them for more information rather than getting on the computer and going to chase it down, if needed.
As I said, this isn’t One True Way. 🙂 But the changing combination of big picture / little picture, casual reading / deep study, heavily regimented / completely freeform has really helped me steer more efficiently away from complacency, while also giving me space to study the things I know I need to study, and still encounter new things that I didn’t even know I didn’t know! I think it’s been the pattern of intensive overview –> deeper repetition that has been so specifically useful.