One of the things that I have personally struggled with is maintaining a planned Bible reading time. This is not due to complacency; I want to develop this habit. It is not the result of laziness; there are times I labor in the struggle. I have struggled not only with maintaining a planned reading time but making that reading time productive.
This is due to my tendency to overthink everything. I am the guy who could have a nervous breakdown over the sovereignty of God vs. human responsibility debate. I am the guy who wrote a personal paper on the identity of the two witnesses in Revelation, because I had to have it figured out (1).
A dear friend of mine, Dr. Larry Moyer, has told me on a few occasions, “Your greatest strength can become your greatest weakness.” I want to know the right answers and do things correctly. This is not a bad thing. However, it becomes a weakness when I try to nail down “absolutes” that do not exist. God did not lay out a five step guide for having devotions. He has given us commands regarding Bible intake (2), but there is flexibility and room for personality in applying these principles.
God makes clear that we are to long for His Word (1 Peter 2:1-3), study His Word (2 Timothy 2:15), meditate on His Word (Psalm 1:1-3), memorize His Word (Psalm 119:11), trust His Word (Psalm 119:105; Romans 10:17), and apply His Word (2 Timothy 3:16-17). However, there is room for flexibility and creativity in how these commands are obeyed.
Perhaps you are like me and your overthinking has led to discouragement and paralysis in Bible reading. Here are some suggestions and encouragements for your Bible intake habits.
- View your interaction with the Bible as a means of building your fellowship with God. Bible reading, meditation, memorization, and application are not primarily tasks. They are means of growing in intimacy with God. (3)
- Start small. A cause of discouragement in Bible intake is having immediate goals and expectations that are too large. If you are not strong in the habit of Bible reading, it is likely not best to plan on reading the Bible through in thirty or ninety days. Start small. Make your goal look something like this: I want to read my Bible for five minutes at least four days each week. That may seem too small, but it is better to start small than to never start at all.
- Have a plan. Lacking a plan is an action-killer. If you plan on reading your Bible for five minutes every day without planning which passages to read, you will likely not last long. There are all kinds of plans out there. They all have their pros and cons. You can find reading plans that take you through the Bible in a year, through the New Testament in a year, or through topics over a designated time. My encouragement for those who have not already developed a Bible reading habit is to pick one book of the Bible and gradually read through it. More on that in the next suggestion.
- Set yourself up for encouragement not discouragement. If you are trying to start from the ground up in developing a Bible reading habit, then my suggestion is to start with a shorter book of the Bible and read one section each day. Don’t start with Isaiah or Luke with your first or even second attempt. Start with Titus, Philippians, Ephesians, Colossians or another short book. This will help you develop the habit, but you will also complete the book faster, which will provide encouragement.
- Stick with the Plan. It has been said that it takes twenty-one days to form a habit. The first few days and weeks may be hard to get through, but don’t give up! Stick with it! Remember the ultimate purpose is to develop personal fellowship with God, not complete a reading assignment. Stick it out for the ultimate purpose.
- Be flexible. Don’t bullishly pursue a reading plan that is too much or is not keeping your interest. This may seem like a contradiction to the previous point, and I guess it is. There is much to be said for stick-to-it-ness, but there is also wisdom in changing plans when the plan is not working as expected. Maybe you will ignore my advice to start small, and you will try to read through the Bible in six months. Perhaps you will find this too difficult and want to quit in two weeks. Don’t keep using that plan. Switch to a more manageable plan. It is better to change plans than to dislike reading the Bible or to quit reading altogether.
- Keep It Simple Sam (KISS). I love this acronym that I learned in high school. Of course my science teacher said, “Keep It Simple Stupid,” but that hardly seems edifying. The point is to keep it simple. Take in the Word of God through reading, memorization, and Biblical meditation. Don’t make things complicated. Usually, complicated systems die out. Keep it as simple as possible.
- Don’t compare. Be sure you avoid the comparison game in Bible reading and other areas of the Christian life. Avoid thinking, “I am not reading as much as they are; I am a terrible Christian.” Stay away from thoughts like, “I read way more than he does; I am the better Christian.” These thoughts are not encouraging to you or the body of Christ, and they will only lead to trouble.
- Accept where you are right now. This piggy-backs on the previous suggestion, and it is an important follow-up thought. Do not try to make yourself seem more spiritually mature than you are. Do not focus on where you think you should be. Spiritual growth takes time, and it does no good moping about where you want to be. Desiring growth is great! Refusing to accept your current reality is foolish.
- Rejoice in wins. If you read three days this next week after not reading the Bible at all last week, rejoice in the victory! These kinds of steps are proof of progress, and they are a blessing.
- Push past losses. Follow Paul’s example, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead…” (Philippians 3:13b). Don’t spend days beating yourself up when you fail. Forget playing catch-up. Simply pick up where you left off. Remember, this is not a religious checklist. It is a fellowship building tool. You are growing in your relationship with God. Confess your sins of neglecting the Word, accept God’s forgiveness in Christ Jesus, and press on.
- Thank God for His grace.Your desire to read and apply the Bible is a sign that God is graciously working in your life. Do not take the credit for this grace. Glorify God for His Spirit’s work in Christ (Philippians 1:6; 2:12-13).
- I wrote this personal paper on the witnesses of Revelation during my time as a student at Appalachian Bible College. I do not remember the context that pushed me to write this paper. I just remember feeling like I had to have this whole thing figured out. I came to the conclusion that the two witnesses in Revelation had to be Enoch and Elijah, the two prophets of God who have not died. While I think I had a pretty convincing argument, God never tells us who these witnesses will be. We can’t be adamant, nor should we waste time with something He has not revealed.
- Donald Whitney is the first person I heard use “Bible intake” to refer to all the ways we ingest Scripture. I have adopted this terminology as I think of interaction with the Bible. I first learned this in his book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life which is published by NavPress.
- I am thankful to my friend, Elias Wakefield, for his recent encouragement in this area.
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