Sanctification & Growth
This article was published by DesiringGod in December 2014. I present it in its entirety.
Whether you feel like a beginner, or the grizzled old veteran, one of the most important things you can do is regularly read the Bible for yourself.
It is a remarkable thing that we have Bibles we can read personally, whenever we want. For most of the church history, and still today in many places in the world, Christians have not had their own personal copies of the Bible. They had to gather to hear someone read it to them. “Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture” (1 Timothy 4:13) was all they had for Bible time.
But now, with printed Bibles and electronic options galore, we have priceless access to God’s very words to us, words that we are so tragically tempted to take lightly. Reading your own copy of the Bible daily is not a law that every believer must abide; most Christians have not had this option. But daily Bible reading is an extraordinary means of God’s grace. Why miss this bounty and blessing?
The Whole Thing?
“All Scripture,” says 2 Timothy 3:16, “is breathed out by God and profitable.” It is the whole Bible, says Sinclair Ferguson, which was given to make whole Christians. Everything in Scripture, from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22, is for the good of the church. “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Corinthians 10:11). “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).
But not every text functions to build our faith in the same way, and has the same effect for every one of God’s children in the new covenant. It is a wonderful thing to read all the way through the Bible. It is something that pastors and teachers in the church should strongly consider doing on an annual basis, to let all the Scriptural data pass before their eyes for continually informing their public theological claims. But this is not a yoke to be set on every Christian every year. Though it would be a good thing for every Christian to try at some point, or at least to have some multi-year plan in place to eventually get you through the whole Bible in some cycle.
For those considering the journey, you may be surprised how doable it is. It takes about 70 hours to read the Bible from cover to cover.
That’s less time than the average American spends in front of the television every month. In other words, if most people would exchange their TV time for Scripture reading, they’d finish reading the entire Bible in four weeks or less. If that sounds unworkable, consider this: In no more than fifteen minutes a day you can read through the Bible in less than a year’s time. (Don Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines, 29)
Maybe now is your time to try it. Here are some of our favorites:
Discipleship Journal is our most beloved, and most used, over the years at Desiring God. There are four daily readings, but only 25 days each month — which leaves some margin for missing here and there when life gets busy. John Piper says, “Few things discourage us more from reading the Bible through in a year than falling behind. This plan gives five catch up days every month. This is absolutely golden!”
M’Cheyne is the classic plan, designed by Robert Murray M’Cheyne (1813–1843), the beloved Scottish minister who died before his thirtieth birthday. The plan has readings for every day of the year and will take you once through the Old Testament and twice through the Psalms and the New Testament.
The Kingdom gives proportionate weight to the Old and New Testaments in view of their relative length, the Old receiving three readings per day and one for the New. The Old Testament readings follow the arrangement of the Hebrew Bible, with one reading coming from each portion per day. Only 25 readings are slated per month and can be started at any time of the year.
For Shirkers and Slackers is for those who’ve tried other plans and stalled out again and again. This plan assigns certain genres to certain days of the week and breaks biblical books into sections you can read in one sitting — so without reading everyday, you can still make measurable headway. Pace yourself well and do some extra reading, and you might even finish in less than a year.
Or if the whole thing in a year seems out of your reach, try taking up a plan and working through it at your own pace, even if it takes you several years. It will give you a specific place to go next when you open the Bible, instead of just opening to some random text, and in time it will give you confidence that you’ve traversed the whole terrain of Scripture and at least glimpsed briefly God’s full written revelation to us.
How would you describe your spiritual growth? How do you measure it? How does it compare with last year?
Do you want to change it for the better? Join me as we read the Bible in 2016!
Thinking about reading through the Bible in a year may seem a little overwhelming. But it shouldn’t be. It’s simple to do, but it isn’t necessarily easy.
If you want to read through the entire Bible in a year, you will only read 4-5 chapters a day, every day. If you want to read through the New Testament, you can do it by reading just one chapter a day, five days a week. Last year a friend of mine simply looked at the number of pages in his Bible and divided it by 365 and came up with just under three pages a day every day. Like I said, it’s simple!
But where do you start? Just start at the beginning? For your first attempt, I would recommend one of many Bible reading plans out there. I have included two that you can download from my website: Discipleship Journal’s Book at a Time Bible Reading Plan and The Navigators’ 5-5-5 Bible Reading Plan (New Testament only). Just print out the plan and keep it with your Bible, marking off each day’s readings.
Any plan is better than no plan! So print one of these and follow along, or sign up online with Bible.com. You can even use their Bible App (available for many devices) to guide you through each day’s readings.
Let’s do this!
I am resolved no longer to linger,
Charmed by the world’s delight,
Things that are higher, things that are nobler,
These have allured my sight.
I will hasten to Him,
Hasten so glad and free;
Jesus, greatest, highest,
I will come to Thee.
I am resolved to go to the Savior,
Leaving my sin and strife;
He is the true One, He is the just One,
He hath the words of life.
I am resolved to follow the Savior,
Faithful and true each day;
Heed what He sayeth, do what He willeth,
He is the living Way.
I am resolved to enter the kingdom,
Leaving the paths of sin;
Friends may oppose me, foes may beset me,
Still will I enter in.
I am resolved, and who will go with me?
Come, friends, without delay;
Taught by the Bible, led by the Spirit,
We’ll walk the heav’nly way
Here is a really good post from DesiringGod on reading the Bible. Per DG’s request, I have taken the content of David Mathis’s article verbatim, with changes only to open a new tab/window with each of the links.
There is some science to good Bible reading.
It’s important to know the fundamentals of language and communication, of subjects and verbs and objects, and most importantly conjunctions. Much can be gained from boning up on some basics of English or reading in Mortimer Adler’s How to Read a Book or Tony Reinke’s Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books. It’s helpful to have good Bible study aids, like overviews, introductions, and reliable commentaries (especially for the Old Testament prophets), and to have some sense of how the Scriptures are put together as a whole.
And just like we learn to ride a bike with training wheels, it can help to have someone spell out some simple method of “inductive Bible study” with the dance steps of observation, interpretation, and application. Rudimentary, memorable approaches like this abound in Christian circles serious about the Bible. They are a gift to help us get going, and come to an otherwise dauntingly large Book with some idea of what to do next.
But the point of learning the little bits of science behind it all is to be ready to dance when the music begins to play. And the best of dancing isn’t just taught in classrooms, but caught in practice.
Good Bible reading is no mere science; it is an art. The Bible itself is a special compilation of great artistries. And the best way to learn the art of reading the Bible for yourself is this: Read it for yourself.
Ask an Old Saint
Ask an old, weathered saint who’s been reading the Scriptures for himself for decades. See if he has a nice, clean formulation for how he goes about his daily reading. Does he have three or four simple, memorable steps he walks through consciously each day? The answer likely will be no; he’s learned over time there’s more art to it than that.
“The best way to learn the art of reading the Bible for yourself is this: Read it for yourself.” Tweet this quote.
Or more generally, just ask, How do you go about reading the Bible? You might see it on his face that it’s a tough question to answer. Not because there aren’t some basic, little “scientific” things, like the basics of reading and comprehension, or the various patterns and methods he’s developed for feeding his own soul over the years, but because he’s learned that so much of good Bible reading is an art. It’s a skill learned in engaging the task, not mainly sitting under formal instruction. And those who have read their Bibles most are the ones who have learned the craft best.
Learn the Art Through Practice
No biblical author gives us any nice, clean acrostic for how to go about daily devotions. That may feel daunting for the beginner who wants help, but in the long run it proves wonderfully freeing. It can be a great help to have training wheels for a season, but once you learn to ride the bike, those extra things sticking out the back are terribly constrictive and limiting.
At the end of the day, there is simply no replacement for finding a regular time and place, blocking out distractions, putting your nose in the text and letting your mind and heart be led and captured and thrilled by God himself communicating to us in his objective written words.
So, here at the outset of a new year, if you feel uncomfortable in the Scriptures, and inadequate in the art of Bible reading, the single most important thing you can do is make a regular practice of reading the Bible for yourself. There is no substitute for a few focused minutes each day in the text. You may be surprised how much the little bits add up in the long haul.
As much as we want a quick-fix, some fast lesson that makes us near-experts in eight short minutes, the best of Bible reading isn’t learned overnight, or even after a semester of lectures, but day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year, imbibing the Bible, having God’s words inform our minds, inspire our hearts, instruct our lives. It is then that we slowly see the lights going on everywhere as we walk through life, and keep walking through the texts.
Discover the Art of Meditation
One piece of counsel for any Bible reading plan, however ambitious, is this: Don’t let the push to check boxes keep you from lingering over a text, whether to seek to understand it (what we might call “study”) or to emotionally glory in what you understand (“meditation”).
Think of your Bible reading as a daily surveying of the biblical landscape to find a spot to settle down for a few moments to meditate, which is the highpoint and richest moment of Bible intake. Go for breadth (in reading) and depth (in study), where you stop at something you don’t understand, pose questions and provide answers, consult resources, and perhaps capture a brief reflection in words or a diagram. There is a place for “raking” in Bible reading and gathering up the leaves at a swift pace, but when we “dig” in Bible study, we unearth the diamonds. In meditation, we marvel at the jewels.
Bible reading is like watching the film in real-time. Study is like going through a clip frame by frame. Meditation, then, along with Scripture memory, is for lingering over particular frames and pressing the significance to our hearts, and into our lives.
Grow in Finding Jesus
One final thing to say about Bible reading as art, not just science, is that Jesus taught his apostles to read the Scriptures in what we might describe as an artistic way. The science part of Bible reading is essential, but it doesn’t necessitate reading so rigidly, narrowly, and modernistically that only the most explicit and specific of prophecies apply to Christ, or that the text is always “for the original readers” and never for us.
Jesus himself read the Scriptures with much more flair — not in any way making things up, but seeing with the eyes of faith what’s really there to be seen below the surface, often out of sight to the natural mind. Such deep reading is a kind of acquired taste, through regular practice, not an easily transferred skill; it’s developing the apostolic palette for finding Jesus throughout the Scriptures, in his many textures and hues, without falling into either unbelief or make-believe. It is learning with the apostle John that “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Revelation 19:10).
And so “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets,” Jesus himself “interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). He claimed, “Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad” (John 8:56). He said Moses “wrote of me” (John 5:46), and that “everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44). And so he opened their minds — beyond their narrow, fallen rationality — to truly understand the Scriptures (Luke 24:45).
As we learn to read the Bible not only with our left brain, but with our whole mind and heart, we see more and more how the apostles heard whispers of the Scriptures — and how they saw pointers to Jesus everywhere.
- Practical Helps for Bible Reading (with short video)
- Primer on Reading the Bible
- Three Tips for Better Bible Reading
- Resolved: To Read the Bible in 2015
“Learn to find Jesus throughout the Scriptures, in his many textures and hues, without falling into either unbelief or make-believe.”Tweet
I didn’t grow up as a Baptist. I wasn’t saved in a Baptist church. I didn’t become a Baptist until I had been a Christian for thirteen years. So why did I become a Baptist?
I grew up in another division. I say this because “denomination” is a math term and is related to division. The division I grew up in was the one chosen by my parents shortly before I was saved. It seemed to fit me well for eight years or so. Then I was challenged to look at what the Bible said about eternal security.
I had always thought that it was possible to lose your salvation. A high school teacher challenged me to consider what the Bible had to say about the subject. As I looked at what was clearly taught in the Bible, I realized that maintaining my salvation had nothing to do with what I did. It had everything to do with what Jesus had already done! As I continued to consider the issue – even recently – I saw that my eternal security had everything to do with the very character of God!
A few years after my epiphany on eternal security, I began to consider my call to ministry from my early teens. I looked into what my division had to say about issues like abortion. My division’s official position was that abortion was a private issue between a woman and her doctor. But this seemed to be contrary to what the Bible taught about the sanctity of life. Psalm 139, among other scriptures, seemed to indicate that life began at conception. If that’s true, how can abortion be a private issue between a woman and her doctor when a baby’s life is at stake? I couldn’t see myself following a ministry training program in a division that differed from the Bible on this clear issue.
About that time, a non-Baptist friend told me that I was a Baptist, but I just didn’t know it; he said that I already believed everything Baptists did. As I considered his comments, I picked up a couple of books about what Baptists believe. Sure enough, I was a Baptist, I just didn’t belong to a Baptist church. As I continued to consider, not only Baptist beliefs , but Baptist ministry, I saw the importance of cooperative ministry: churches pooling their resources to do ministry, evangelism, missions, and education. Southern Baptists seemed to do ministry from a Biblical model.
So I joined, not only a Baptist church, but a Southern Baptist Church. And when it was time to pursue ministry training, I went to an SBC seminary.
I still have many friends from my former division, as well as friends from many other divisions. We can all agree to disagree on non-essential issues. But at the end of the day, I am a Southern Baptist because I agree with the beliefs and the way Southern Baptists do ministry.