If you want to be obedient to the Lord, you’ve got to fall in love with God’s word. – Steve Sommerlot
At the church where I grew up, the other kids and I joked that every single question asked in Sunday School and Youth Group could be answered one of five ways: God, Jesus, the Bible, Church, or Pray. In our Sunday School, at least, they were drilled into our brains so much that they had become clichéd. But our attitudes were also sadly representative: many Christians pay lip-service to the habits of church attendance, or prayer, or daily Bible study.
The latter especially seems to be floundering; a recent Barna survey found that 88% of households in America own at least one Bible, but only 37% of Americans read it at least once a week. Even those who do make an effort to read it may only read some parts and skip others; I’ve heard people talk about reading only the New Testament, for example, because they either couldn’t get into the Old Testament or found it irrelevant.
And the Bible is daunting, no question about that. There are 66 books and a total of 1,189 chapters. No wonder people are scared, and assume that they’ll get enough spiritual growth out of church, without digging into the Bible on their own.
But, as we learned in our study of the life of King Solomon, even the wisest man in all of history faltered because he didn’t obey the core command of copying and daily studying the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible). And if King Solomon, who spoke to God personally, stumbled in his faith, how much more will we fail if we don’t read it!
If you’ve never managed to get into the habit of daily Bible study, the good news is, it doesn’t have to be scary! Really, just a few minutes a day will get you started.
1. Schedule time
The first thing to do is to schedule a specific time of day to do a daily Bible study. If you read stories of the heroes of the faith (John Wesley and the like), you may hear that they spent two hours a day in study and prayer—before breakfast. Don’t let these stories scare you! Remember, people who do this are called giants of the faith for a reason. One blogger points out that just 15 minutes a day will pay dividends—it adds up to 90 hours a year, or over two full work-weeks. If you’ve never personally read the Bible before, even 5 minutes a day is a start.
More important than trying to schedule hours for study, you just need to find a schedule that works for you. For early birds, try reading right when you wake up. Night owls, read right before bed. Or read on your lunch break, or pop in an audio version and listen on your commute. You may need to do some experimenting to find your right fit.
The important thing is not when you read, or how much you read. It’s that you find something that works for you.
Of course, once you’ve got the time figured out, the next step is to actually dive in. Just like finding a time that works, you’ll need to mess around to figure out a reading plan that works. When Steve Sommerlot got saved, for example, he followed the Billy Graham plan of reading five psalms and one chapter from Proverbs a day for the first year or two. I personally tend to just read straight through, Genesis to Revelation, at the rate of a chapter or two a day. And of course, if you look online, there are tons of Bible reading plans out there, like deep studies into specific books, or plans for reading the Bible through in a year.
It’s important to read the entire Bible. Don’t skip the boring parts (like the genealogies), no matter how boring they get. As 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says,
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
All means all, boring stuff included. The great news is, the more we read the Bible for ourselves, the more it will engrain itself into our hearts and minds…and Scripture will start to interpret itself. Solomon’s sins, for example, are easily understood in context of the commands to kings in Deuteronomy (check out this message by Steve for more detail).
As a note, there are plenty of translations out there. At Riv, we use and recommend the English Standard Version (ESV), which emphasizes a literal, word-for-word translation while still being readable, but there is freedom in what translation you choose.
3. Process what you’ve learned
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.—James 1:22-25
Reading the Bible is worthless if you don’t put what you’ve learned into practice (see also Solomon’s life). Some things you read will be comparatively easy to put into practice (like the command “Thou shalt not murder”). Other passages, like the book of Leviticus, will be a bit more esoteric.
Perhaps one of the best places to start is to simply process and reflect on what you’ve read. Like everything else in this post, this means finding a habit that works for you. Verbal processors should have regular conversations with someone, such as a spouse or accountability partner. Life groups are a great place for this sort of reflection. Others may prefer a more private means of reflecting, such as keeping a journal by your Bible, or underlining parts and writing in the margins.
4. Let God do the rest
The big thing to remember, regardless of how you choose to study, is that diligence is key, especially at the beginning. Building a habit is hard work. But over time, as you read and read and read some more, the Holy Spirit will do his thing in your life. He’ll reveal secret sins, or provide strong encouragement in the trials. But the more you set your heart on following the Word, in spite of how you feel, the closer God will draw you to Himself.
Image Credit: MattLake