Some Not So Usual Suggestions for Studying Your Bible
1. Do not start with Genesis. I know this sounds like bad advice, but the truth is most people who start Bible reading programs do not finish them, and Genesis is the book they already know the most about. A Bible reading program is supposed to increase your knowledge of the Bible. To most effectively do this begin with the books you know the least about.
2. Read the footnotes. Most Bibles contain footnotes. They are great sources of information that most people overlook. They will help to explain what is going on in each passage and give you the information you need to more fully understand what you are reading. Footnotes are like a free mini-commentary, so use them.
3. Choose a Bible translation you enjoy. While there is much debate over which Bible translation is best, most of them are excellently translated. Choose one that you can read and understand easily, then look at the footnotes. Different Bibles have footnotes that focus on different things. Some are focused on ‘life application’ and will try to relate the Bible reading to something in your life so that you can more easily apply the Bible to your own situation. Others are ‘study Bibles’ and the footnotes focus more on giving you background information about the passage you just read. There are a lot of different styles of footnotes so spend some time finding ones that are right for you.
4. Use a Bible reading plan. If you know that you know that this time you will in fact read through the entire Bible use a Bible reading plan. (Google ‘Bible reading plan’ and find one that looks good to you.) Bible reading plans keep you accountable, and also put passages of the Bible together so that you can see how different books viewed similar teachings.
5. Mix it up. If you have already read through the Bible at least once in your life do not use the same plan, or the same Bible to read through it again. Different footnotes will broaden your understanding, and a different plan will put different passages together allowing you to see things in greater context.
6. Use the verses listed in the margins. In most Bibles there are verses listed in the margins beside each passage. They are references to other places in the Bible where similar things are taught. When you get to a topic you are unsure about use them to look up what the Bible says about this in other places. They typically do not contain every passage on the subject, so look at the verses listed next to the passages you look up for even more information.
7. Read with friends and plan to discuss what you have read. Accountability works, which is why Weight Watchers does so well. If possible, find a group of people who are willing to read along with you and encourage you to stay the course. Further, their insights will help bring into your life more than you noticed while reading alone.
8. Use Bible studies that force you to look up scripture and read it for yourself. Commentaries are good. (I have one that is currently being released now, so I am not against them.) But, the best learning is done when you do most of the work yourself. My favorites are Kay Arthur’s Precept Upon Precept studies. You will need a concordance, and these studies require much of your time, but they are worth it.
9. If you know you have limited time, choose a book of the Bible that relates to what you are going through right now. Every book in the Bible focuses on a different theme. Leaf through them and decide which book will speak to you and your situation most right now.
10. Bring your Bible everywhere. Life is busy and most people fail because there is just not enough time in the day to do everything they want to get done. While waking up early and simplifying your life are good ideas, most of us will not make that change, so bring your Bible with you. Whenever there is a moment of downtime take it out and read. Do not be afraid of getting ahead. You will probably need a day off soon, and any ‘getting ahead’ you did will now come in handy. Life vacillates. Some days we have more down time than others. Use yours wisely.
11. Choose a Bible reading plan that gives you days off. These are not really ‘days off,’ they are days to catch up. Most people quit reading through their Bible because they have missed days and are now too far behind to catch up on the arbitrary goal they set for themselves. Days off give you time to ‘catch up’ so you do not feel frustrated and quit quite as easily.
12. Keep things in perspective. The Bible is a big book. It is actually 66 books. Most people would not set reading 66 books as a goal to do in a year. Thankfully many of the books are short, so it is not as bad as it sounds, but reading through the Bible in a year is a big commitment if daily Bible reading is not already a part of your life. Have mercy on yourself and know that if it takes a little longer than you planned it is still worth it, so stay the course.
13. If you have the time, take notes. Journal about what you have read. Writing things down helps you to remember and relate things to your life. Reread your notes frequently to remind you about what you have learned. But, if your time is limited, forget what I just said and keep reading through. Once you have covered the entire Bible more than once there will be time for more leisurely strolls through its pages.
14. Read even if you only have a few minutes. Many people make a big deal about their Bible reading time. This can be helpful, as it becomes a daily habit, or it can be limiting, since you feel you can only read in the right place at the right time. Take your Bible out as if it were a novel. Every little bit adds up, and reading short sections allows you to think about what you read more than you may have if you had read more at once.
15. Make an effort to think about what you have read throughout the day. Even if you do not have time to read more, think about what you have read while you are driving or doing any other task that requires little thought. This will also help you remember things better.
16. Go for the audio version. While the audio version lacks footnotes and other helps, it is better than not reading at all. Audio versions are great for joggers, time in the car etc so they often fit into your life more easily. James Earl Jones does a very nice job with the King James Bible, if you can handle the vocabulary and word order in the King James. There are also theatrical versions of audio available where different speakers assume different roles and try to make the Bible come to life.
17. Incorporate what you are learning into your daily life. This is more than just doing what the Bible says. If you are an artist, take a verse that speaks to you and incorporate it into your art. If you love to cook, try following the dietary laws when you read through them. If you love maps, look up the places mentioned. If you love the outdoors, imagine the terrain you are reading about on your next hike or bike ride. If you are a parent, think about what it must have been like raising children under the conditions described. If you are a nerd/geek, make outlines and lists, or maybe even a computer game that incorporates what you have learned. (You should see the outlines I have accumulated! But only do so if you find this fun.)
18. Pray. Always pray. Pray before you read. Pray when you are dealing with a difficult passage. Pray when you find an instruction and realize that you need the strength to change something in your life. Pray that you find the instructions you need and realize there are things you need to change in your life. Then, when you are done, meditate peacefully on what you have learned and thank God for everything He has revealed.
19. Set up an environment you enjoy to do the majority of your reading in. Making Bible reading time a treat, rather than a chore will help you do it more often. There can be candles, soft music, nice food and drink, a comfortable chair etc. Your routine should invite you to want to read. Even a bathtub can be set up with a bar for reading, so figure out what you like and get creative. Just don’t spend so much time setting up that you never find the time to actually read.
20. Reward yourself when you meet your goals. The Word of God is sweet like honey according to scripture. The Jews took this to mean that there should be rewards for learning it and rewarded children with treats. Most people are motivated by the thought of reward, so set goals for yourself and celebrate when you reach them.
Bible reading should never be a chore, but for those of us who did not grow up doing it, it is something extra to fit into our already hectic lives. Hopefully my suggestions will help you find the time, learn more and succeed. Remember, they are only suggestions. Take the ones that work for you and throw the rest out. And enjoy!
photo art by Kristin Andraka