Choose a plan that works for you. There are a multitude of Bible reading plans out there to choose from, but each one has the same goal—getting you to read your Bible. You are going to need a plan that works for you, otherwise you will find yourself getting burnt out rather quickly. Take some time to look through the options and take hold of a plan that will see you through to the end! If you are just beginning your Bible reading journey, then a straight through in one year approach might be best, or possibly a plan that incorporates passages from both the Old and New Testaments. If you are a seasoned veteran and want a bit of a challenge, then there are reading plans that take you through the whole Bible in 30, 60, or 90 days. If you’re looking for ideas, Ligonier ministries offers this helpful webpage with different Bible reading plans to help you on your journey: https://www.ligonier.org/posts/bible-reading-plans (If none of the plans listed suit your needs, there is a link at the bottom that allows you to completely customize your own!)
Make a distinguishment between reading through the Bible and studying the Bible. While the goal of all time spent in the Bible should be to grow in your knowledge of who God is and what He requires of you, there are different ways to do this. A Bible reading plan should be used for just that—reading. Approach this time similar to how you would read any other book (not to say that the Bible is like any other book, but that we should approach our reading of it in a similar way). Read at a steady pace all the way through your reading for the day and try not to get too distracted. Reading through the Bible regularly (whether that be once a year or more) helps to build acquaintance with the Bible’s contents over time. Lifelong repetition breeds familiarity and that familiarity will breed understanding and deeper connections over time. This is different than studying the Bible. When studying, you are taking a deeper dive into the Bible’s contents. You may linger over a verse or even a specific word for an extended period of time and try to mine out all the golden nuggets that you can. Studying will involve looking into the original languages, making grammatical connections, and studying the historical settings of various time periods represented in the Bible’s 66 books. Both reading and studying are essential! Just try not to have too much overlap if you can help it.
Pick a translation that is both accurate and readable. Not all Bible translations are created equally. Some focus more on textual accuracy and remaining true to the original languages (formal equivalence), while others seek to capture more of the thought and intention of the original without a tremendous amount of concern for word-for-word order or accuracy (functional equivalence). Translations in the formal equivalence camp would be the New American Standard Bible (NASB), English Standard Version (ESV), King James Version (KJV), New King James Version (NKJV), or the recently released Legacy Standard Bible (LSB). In the functional equivalence category you have translations like the New International Version (NIV), Christian Standard Bible (CSB), and the New Living Translation (NLT). As a word of advice for those who are not familiar with the differences in translations, if you choose to use a functional equivalence translation for your reading plan (NIV, CSB, NLT, etc…), make sure to have a formal equivalence translation on hand for your study time (NASB, ESV, KJV, NKJV, LSB, etc…). A significant part of studying the Bible implies having an accurate understanding of what the original languages said. If you do not know Greek and Hebrew, then the next best thing is to have a translation that accurately reconstructs these languages into the English language. As for your reading Bible, you can certainly change up your version from year-to-year. Maybe this year you want to read through the Bible in the ESV and next year you want to try the CSB. Great! Just keep reading!
Choose a time and place and try to stick with it. This is simple, yet important. As humans, we tend to crave routine and consistency. Even the most unorganized, schedule-lacking individuals (I’m thinking about myself here) have something consistent in life that they rarely forget. Maybe it’s a morning cup of coffee, a trip to the gym, or watching the evening news. Whatever your schedule consists of, I’m sure you have something in your day that is so consistent that when you skip it things seem off. Why not let your Bible reading become one of those things? Everyone’s schedules and personalities are different, so there is not a one-size-fits-all time of day that will suit everybody’s needs. Maybe you’re a morning person. Awesome! Grab a cup of coffee or tea, sit down at your desk or in your favorite chair, and open up your Bible. Are you more of the night owl type? No problem. Cozy yourself up in bed and allow God’s Word to speak to you after the events of your day. It doesn’t matter when you choose to have your reading time, only that you are consistent with it. Whenever you choose to have your reading, just make sure that you able to be present and engaged. Give the Lord the best of yourself during this time. If you tend to struggle with grogginess and brain fog in the morning, then that’s probably not the best time for you. If you come to the end of your day feeling like you are ready to collapse in exhaustion, then you might want to consider choosing a different time. It could be during lunch breaks, after the gym, before dinner, after you put the kids to bed. Find that niche in your day where you have enough time and energy to give God’s Word it’s due diligence and make it happen! Over time you will find this to be a crucial part of your day that you won’t want to give up. One thing is for certain though, if you try to just ‘wing it,’ you are almost certainly setting yourself up for failure (I’ve learned that from experience).
Don’t get discouraged. If you’ve been at this yearly Bible reading thing for any amount of time you know that discouragement is one of the great killers of a good Bible reading streak. It always seems to happen the same way—you get a good pace going on your plan, miss a day, then two days, and all the sudden a week has gone by, and you haven’t kept up with your schedule. By the time you think to get back to it, you are overwhelmed with the thought of all the catch-up reading you’re going to have to do to get back on track. Let me just say this…it’s okay. Get back on the horse and start riding. If you don’t finish your reading plan until January 5th of next year, it’s not the end of the world. The goal is to read the Bible, not keep up with the Joneses. Nobody is standing outside your window shaking their head in disappointment because you missed a few days (if that’s the case, then you might have some other problems). On top of that, there isn’t a commandment in the Bible that says, “You must read through the Bible in exactly one year.” A yearly reading plan is just a tool to help you stay on track and make it through the whole Bible. Some reading plans are even set up so that you read through the Bible in two years. As you grow, so will your fervency, diligence, and consumption of God’s Word. It’s about progress, not perfection. Don’t allow discouragement to come between you and your Bible. Afterall, it is the Bible that is meant to come between you and your discouragement. Press on, good soldier!
Avoid cram-reading. Whenever we fall behind in our reading, there is a tendency to want to do all of our catch-up right away. This can lead to trying to cram 20 or 30 chapters into a single sitting. While possible, this is actually counterproductive. Speed reading through massive chunks of Scripture does little for us in the way of comprehension and retention. Instead, stick to the schedule. As we’ve already established, you’re not a bad Christian if you finish your plan a little later than January 1st. No one is going to report you to the Church, and you most certainly won’t be disqualified from fellowship. If it is something that is bothering you, then try adding an extra chapter or two each day until you get caught up again. Just make sure that your quality of reading isn’t being affected.
Remain free from distractions. If you allow for distractions during your reading time, then your intake of God’s Word will be hindered. Life is busy and full of seemingly important things that take our focus away from what truly matters. Text messages, emails, phone calls, social media notifications, dryer chimes, conversations in the other room. All of these will grab for our attention if we let them. Isn’t it amazing how you can go the whole day without getting a single phone call and then as soon as you open your Bible the phone rings? Maybe that’s just me. Limit distractions like the plague! To put it in terms relevant to our day, you need to social distance those distractions (too much?). This goes back tip number four (choosing a time and place). If you choose a time of day to read your Bible that is usually full of distractions, then don’t be surprised when you get distracted. Also, I highly recommend using a physical Bible as opposed to an electronic device. Call me old fashioned, but nothing beats holding the Word in your hands. The touch, the smell (if you have a good leather Bible), the sound of the pages. It’s irreplaceable! I understand this might not be for everyone (although I wish it was). If you do choose to use a device for your reading, there are some ways to help limit distractions. Putting your phone on airplane mode will keep messages, calls, and internet notifications from coming through. Turning off the Wi-Fi on your tablet, laptop, or desktop will cut off all internet capabilities. If your desktop or laptop are attached to a router via an ethernet cable, you can just as easily unplug the cable during your reading time and plug it back in when you’re finished. Many devices now have a feature called ‘focus mode’ that can be used as well. Focus mode is a setting that you can turn on, and it allows you to choose which apps and features are allowed to be accessed on your device. It will also keep notifications from applications you have blocked hidden until you turn the focus mode setting off again. While text messages and phone calls can still come through, it does limit many other distractions. If you are new to this feature, these web links should help: For Android devices: https://www.androidcentral.com/how-use-digital-wellbeing-focus-mode-android-10 For Apple/IOS devices: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT212608
Talk to the Author. I don’t think that this point can be emphasized enough. When reading the Bible you have the unique opportunity to communicate with the Author Himself. Take advantage of this! Praying as you read is a beautiful way to engage with the Word of God. Allow the Bible to examine, challenge, confront, convict, and encourage you. Whatever thoughts stir up during this time, share them with God. Praise Him as you read of His persistent deliverance of His people. Cry out to Him with the Psalmist as his words strike the chords to your distressed heart. Lament as you read of the destruction that is coming upon the wicked. Plead with Him that He would save men’s souls. Seek wisdom from the All-Wise One, Strength from the Almighty One, comfort from the All-Comforting One, and forgiveness from the All-Forgiving One. As you read the Bible you are confronted with the mind and will of God. Our greatest task in this life is to bring Him glory by becoming more and more like His perfect Son. This only comes through diligent prayer and knowing His Word. Learn to hold these two close together.
Seek accountability. It can be helpful to share your reading plan with a friend, spouse, parent, or small group. Maybe you are both using the same reading plan and can encourage one another to press on. At the very least, having someone to talk to about your progress and the things you are reading can be a great way to stay the course throughout the year. You can also seek to be that person for someone else. A little accountability can go a long way!
Don’t follow too many rabbit trails while reading. While there is a time for doing word studies, digging into historical context, and mining the grammar of the text, don’t use up your reading time for such ventures. Allow yourself to simply enjoy the experience of reading God’s Word. If there are things that you would like to study out further (and there should be!), then keep a note pad handy. Quickly jot down your questions or ideas and come back to them during your study time (remember tip number two). Allow your reading time to be used for just that—reading!
Consult good resources. When you do come to your times of studying the Word, consult good Commentaries, Lexicons (Bible dictionaries), historical reference materials, Bible handbooks, and study Bibles. These are priceless tools for helping you to better understand the cultural, historical, and grammatical context of the Bible. You will find that when you do this, the Bible will come to life in new ways, and your daily reading will be seasoned with greater context and clarity. I have known men who rail against bringing extra-Biblical materials into your study. They go on about the thoughts of men corrupting your views (ironic) and insist that all you need is the Word of God and prayer. While this may sound like a very pious position to hold, it can actually be damaging to your understanding of Biblical teaching in the long run. Charles Spurgeon once said that “It seems odd, that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves, should think so little of what He has revealed to others.” Godly men have wrestled with the Scriptures for thousands of years and left us with the precious fruits of their discoveries. In fact, when we make it a habit to study the writings from our brethren in the past, we are introduced to many of the false teachings that they themselves battled against in their day and are better equipped to spot them in our own. No man has perfect doctrine. All will be flawed in some point. But choosing to turn away a cart of gold because there might be a few pieces of pyrite (fool’s gold) mixed in seems like silly thing to me. As Christians we have inherited “the faith which was once and for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). This means that you and I are not the first of God’s people to ever think about the truths of Scripture, and if left to ourselves alone we may end up coming up with all kinds of ‘wild interpretations and outrageous inferences’ (Spurgeon again) that men of the past (and present) have warned against. As one writer put it, “Although fallible, quality commentaries provide checks and balances against the witness of faithful interpreters of the past.” Consult other resources, and consult them frequently, but remember that men are fallible and prone to error. Only God is right in all things all the time.
Don’t be afraid to revise your plan if necessary. You may make it a month or two (or six) into your reading plan and realize that it just isn’t working for you. Maybe the reading load is too heavy or too light. Maybe you want to have a mix of readings each day, rather than a straight through approach. Perhaps you would like to incorporate a reading from the Psalms or Proverbs into your schedule each day. While some might say, “suck it up and press on,” I would say that rather than potentially becoming discouraged and scrapping the whole thing, go back to the drawing board, and revise your plan. Remember, the goal here isn’t to check a task off the list, but to form a regular habit of consuming God’s Word. You may need a plan that slows down the pace a bit, or you may find that you need to pick the pace up. Whatever it might be, there are minor tweaks that you can make to your plan so that it works for you. Continue to read and work on it as you go. As I have already noted, it is okay to read the Bible in less than a year or more than a year. The benefits of a steady, daily consumption of God’s Word far outweigh the hiccups you face along the way. Whether that is one chapter, three chapters, or ten chapters, keep your reading at something you can maintain and retain. Obviously, you won’t remember every word you read, but as the years go by those words will begin to solidify in your heart. You will remember through diligent repetition
Enjoy yourself! This might seem like a silly bit of advice, but I assure you that it is indeed necessary. When you enjoy something, it loses much of its intimidation factor and you are less likely to get bored with it. Rather than feeling like a task to be checked off your daily to-do list, your time in the Word should be something you look forward to, something that sets the course for your day and draws you near the Father’s heart. On top of this, God is the Author of all forms of joy and pleasure. It might come as a surprise to some, but we serve a supremely happy and joyful Master (don’t believe me? Take some time to meditate over Psalm 16:11). So sit at the feet of the All-powerful, All-Wise, All-Righteous, and All-Joyful God and enjoy yourself!