I remember the first time I tried to read the Bible for myself. I found my grandfather’s copy on a shelf in his living room. I was nine years old.
I sat down on the floor, cross-legged, with the Bible on my lap. I opened it slowly … reverently … and began to read.
- I was fascinated by God’s creation of the heavens, earth, and man in Genesis 1–2.
- I was swept into the drama of man’s temptation and fall in Genesis 3.
- I was saddened by Cain’s murder of Abel in Genesis 4.
I felt like I had discovered a lost book—the key to the universe! I was captivated.
Then I hit the “begats” in Genesis 5.
My eyes glazed over.
I closed the Bible, stood up, and slipped it back on the shelf. I didn’t pick it up again for another ten years.
So many people have told me they’ve had similar experiences. They know they should read the Bible; they just don’t know how to begin.
Even if you are not a Christian—or don’t consider yourself a spiritually-inclined person—the Bible is worth reading. Without question, it has had a greater impact on Western civilization than any other book published.
You can’t understand great literature, common metaphors, or cultural allusions without a basic knowledge of these ancient texts. (I use the plural because the Bible is actually a collection of books.)
But how do you start? The Bible is, after all, a big book! I have read it through several times. In fact, my goal is to read it through every year, though it some times takes a little longer.
This has served me well in so many ways. I find myself referring to the stories and sayings again and again. The best part is they have become the foundation and raw material for everything I do.
In this post, I thought I’d share how I read the bible. It’s not the only way to do it, of course. But I thought this might be helpful to you if you want to read it all the way through and partake of its treasures on a regular basis.
- Read at a set time each day. As I learned a long time ago, what gets scheduled gets done. I read the Bible first thing each morning, so I don’t get side-tracked by something else.
- Distinguish between reading and study. When I am reading, I don’t try to do word studies, read commentaries, or chase cross-references. While this can be valuable, I consider it Bible study—something I reserve for other times. The goal for my reading is breadth not depth.
- Use a balanced, Bible reading plan. This is key. I read from four passages each day: Old Testament, New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs. This way, if I hit a dry patch in one section, I can usually get something out of another. Innumerable plans are available. This year I am using the One Year Bible.
- Read in an easy-to-understand translation. Some may disagree, but a paraphrase is fine for Bible reading (not study). The key is to use a translation that helps you to understand what you are reading. I usually read in a different translation each year, just so the text doesn’t become so familiar I stop paying attention.
- Highlight or underline as you read. Maybe the thought of marking in a Bible scandalizes you. I hope not. It helps me focus my attention and get back to those passages that I find particularly meaningful. I read on a Kindle, so I also have access to those highlights in the cloud and in Evernote.
- Identify at least one key take away. Personally, my goal in Bible reading is not merely to increase my knowledge; I want to change my life (see James 1: 22–25). This begins by paying attention to what I am reading and marking those passages that seem particularly relevant to my current circumstances. When I am finished reading, I go back over my highlights and pick one to record in my journal, along with my response to it.
- Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day. This is difficult for me. I am a recovering achiever and a perfectionist. But it is essential if you are going to make progress. The truth is you are going to miss some days. It’s okay. It’s not the end of the world. It doesn’t mean you’re a failure. Just pick up the next day and keep moving.
The key, I think, is to keep the process simple. Don’t make it more complicated than it needs to be. Don’t get hung up on what you don’t understand.
Like Mark Twain once said, “It ain’t the parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”