Should Christians read through the Bible in one year? Christianity Today recently asked some prominent Christian leaders and thinkers whether that’s a good idea. Here’s how Bible Gateway’s general manager Rachel Barach answered:
“What’s important is regularly listening to God through his Word. If a reading plan motivates you, use it. But if it becomes a chore that deters you from Scripture, don’t get caught up in the method; remember the reason.”
Several other answers shared Rachel’s hesitance to unconditionally recommend reading through the Bible in a year. At first, that surprised me a little bit—after all, how could a Christian not say “absolutely, yes!” when asked if reading the Bible is a good idea?
Of course, what Rachel and the others are pointing out isn’t that Bible reading is a bad idea. They’re simply observing that we can get so wrapped up in following a routine—for example, a New Year’s resolution to read through the entire Bible in 2014—that we lose sight of the real reason we started in the first place. Worse yet, if the routine we commit to following is too difficult and burdensome, we reach a point where we actually dread reading the Bible. When all we can think about is meeting our daily quota of Bible reading, even a beautiful activity like reading God’s Word can feel like a chore.
We’re about two weeks into the New Year. Right now, many of you who made a resolution to read through the Bible in 2014 might be starting to question that commitment. If you started at the beginning of the Bible, you’re well into the Books of Moses, where countless well-intentioned would-be Bible readers have floundered on a sea of ancient legal codes, genealogies, and stories that are sometimes strange and upsetting.
Are you starting to regret your commitment? Have you started to fall behind schedule with your reading? Are you starting to dread your Bible reading?
If so, take heart. Here are six ways to save your floundering Bible reading commitment.
1. Don’t let yourself bog down in passages you don’t understand. It doesn’t matter where you are in your spiritual journey: at some point during your year of Bible reading, you will run into passages and stories that you don’t understand. (If you are reading the Bible from start to finish, you are actually starting with some of the Bible’s most challenging books.) You may even come across entire books of the Bible that confound, bore, or upset you. This is completely normal. Christians believe that all parts of Scripture are inspired by God and worthy of reflection—but right now, just focus on reading. Keep a list of passages you don’t fully grasp; you’ll have time later on to return to Bible passages that confused you on your intitial reading. When you do return to those passages later, you’ll find that having read the entire Bible gives you a better context for understanding them.
This is not to say that you should skim or skip over every difficult Bible passage you come across. But don’t bring your reading momentum to a halt over one difficult chapter.
2. Change your Bible reading environment. The time and place in which you read the Bible can help or hurt your reading experience. If getting up 30 minutes early to read the Bible just isn’t working for you, or if reading it right before bedtime is making you too sleepy, then try a different time during the day. If the readings are too long for one sitting, split your Bible reading into smaller chunks throughout the day—maybe instead of reading for 30 minutes straight at night, you read for 10 minutes each after breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Get an audio Bible and listen to your daily reading during your commute to and from work. You might need to try several different times and strategies until you figure out what combination of place and time puts you in a reflective, attentive mindset for reading.
3. Change the Bible you’re reading. You commited to reading the Bible—but you probably didn’t commit to reading one specific translation of the Bible! Different English Bible translations read very differently from one another, and finding a Bible that “reads well” for you is critical. Some translations revel in majestic, old-fashioned language; others employ chatty, everyday language; and most fall somewhere between those extremes. So if you’re stumbling over the wording, the problem may simply be that the Bible you’re reading isn’t a good match for the way your brain thinks. If you think that’s the case, try a different translation for a little while and see if it clicks for you.
4. Get somebody else involved. Any major commitment works better if you enlist the help of somebody else. At its most basic, this could be a friend or family member who will check in with you periodically to see if you’re keeping up with your reading. Better yet, this person will actively encourage and pray for you throughout the year. If you know somebody else who’s reading through the Bible, meet with them regularly to exchange insights, frustrations, and words of encouragement as you journey through God’s Word.
5. Stick with it; it will get easier. Research shows that it takes about two months for a repeated activity to become a habit. Your daily Bible reading may seem awfully difficult now, but if you can make it through the initial few months, it will become a part of your daily routine. Keep at it, and before you know it, your day just won’t feel right without time spent reading God’s Word.
6. Don’t be too hard on yourself. This is a simple one: don’t beat yourself up too much for struggling to stick with a Bible reading commitment. There’s a reason that so few Christians read the Bible daily: it’s hard. The Bible is a complex, diverse collection of documents. Some parts are easy to read and understand; others are quite challenging for modern readers. So go ahead and admit that by choosing to read through the entire thing, you’re embracing a real challenge. If it’s tough going at points, it’s not because you’re a bad Christian or a spiritual failure. And if you need to scale back your reading commitment or even bow out completely, that’s much better than subjecting yourself to daily guilt and resentment over it.
So take heart—if you’ve committed to reading the Bible, you’re embarking on a difficult, but very rewarding, journey. It’s our prayer that time spent each day in God’s Word, whether it’s one verse or several chapters, will bless and enrich your life this year.