It is surprisingly difficult to turn a good intention into a life-long discipline. That isn’t to say it can’t be done. But it will be hard, there will be setbacks, and it will take both backbone and resilience. Now is probably a good time to remind you of that.
If you are like many Christian people, you made a commitment this year to read through your Bible. Good for you! That commitment is worth celebrating! Wanting to do a good thing is a good thing! But wanting to do it doesn’t necessarily make it any easier. Even though your decision was not rash or foolish, you may still be finding it difficult to follow through. You are a human being and human beings struggle to do hard things.
Thankfully, God is merciful. He knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. (Psalm 103:14). He is wise and kind and he often hides the grace just beyond our natural limits of endurance. If you are struggling to maintain your Bible reading commitment in 2020, here are a few suggestions from some fellow fallen travelers along the way. (This article is a collaboration between myself and my friend Paul Carter since we both had the idea for the same article at the same time. I began the year with the 5 Day Bible Reading Plan while Paul began with the Robert Murray M’Cheyne plan.)
1. Modify your routine
Most of us create habits and fall into patterns that more or less fill the 24 given hours of a day. That’s why it is so hard to add something like Bible reading into an existing life schedule. You probably weren’t sitting around with a giant 20 minute hole in your daily routine waiting for something significant to fill it. Therefore, if you try and shove a new habit into an already full life, you will often be disappointed with the outcome.
Something has to give, and it will almost always be the last thing added to your list of priorities. What you should probably do is rearrange your entire schedule, and, as Stephen Covey said famously, you will need to put the Big Rocks in first. This is why we both prefer to do our Bible readings in the morning. We try to put our time with God in first so that if we run short on time later, it will be something less important that gets left behind.
Try that. Try reading your Bible first. Try carving out a priority appointment and building lesser commitments and activities around that.
2. Identify distractions
If you are having difficulty finding the 20 minutes or so per day that it takes to read through the Bible in a year, you may simply need to identify and reduce some common distractions. For example, according to Business Insider, Americans spend 40 minutes a day using Facebook (or, at least, they did in 2015). The average North American user checks Facebook 13.8 times a day which suggests that most of us are spending less than 3 minutes on Facebook each time we check it, which in turn suggests that if we resolved to check Facebook no more than 6 times a day we would miraculously rediscover the 20 minutes necessary to fulfill this important commitment. It’s not that hard to get back the time, is it?
It may be helpful to decide in advance when you will check in on social media. It may be helpful to limit yourself to 2 or 3 different platforms. It may be helpful to delete the apps from your cell phone. Checking in on a laptop for example, tends to be slightly more intentional than just thumbing mindlessly through an app on your phone while sitting on the couch. That’s how a quick check in becomes 15 minutes of lost time – lost time that could have been used to keep an important commitment.
Having a cell phone on your desk or anywhere in your line of sight can also greatly extend the amount of time it takes to read your Bible. If you are checking in with social media between each of your 4 chapters of assigned reading, for example, you have a problem. The solution may be to leave your phone in another room. If you were being given a 20 minute interview with the President, I trust that you would not be answering calls or sending texts during that time period. You would want to maximize your appointment. The same principle applies here. Leave your phone in another room and you will likely discover that it takes half the time you think it does to read your Bible.
3. Experiment with different tools
We are living in a golden age when it comes to Bible reading tools. If you are struggling to keep up with your plan there are so many resources you can experiment with before deciding to call it quits. If your plan calls for reading 4 chapters a day, as most plans do, you might find that reading 2 chapters in the morning is all that you can handle – but then you could easily make use of a Bible reading app on your phone to listen to the next two chapters while commuting to work or school.
The YouVersion app has a great bible reading feature that is easy to use and customizable to a variety of plans. Crossway has an “ESV: Through The Bible In A Year” podcast that is also very helpful and available for free on iTunes. Paul hosts a podcast called “Into The Word” in which he reads and explains whole books of the Bible, chapter by chapter and verse by verse. He created this podcast specifically to help commuters maintain their Bible reading commitments. If you want to check it out you can visit the homepage here or find it for free on iTunes.
Although it is still hard – it has never been easier to begin and maintain a Bible reading habit – thanks be to God!
4. Remember the primary objective
The point of a Bible reading plan is not to check off 365 tiny tick boxes. The point is to know and love the Lord. That is what we are after – according to Jesus, that is eternal life: “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).
We read the Bible so that we can know God – the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom he has sent. That’s the point. So even if you miss a day — even if you miss two days — you haven’t lost the project. You might not get all your boxes ticked, but if you stick with it, you can still grow in your knowledge and love of God. So keep on going. Many people quit because they forget what the race is all about. So what if you fall a few days behind? Keep on reading!
If you need to, lengthen out your horizon; decide to read the Bible over two years; do 2 columns instead of 4 – who cares? The point is the hungering and the thirsting after God. Don’t quit because you’ve lost the opportunity to display your fully coloured reading chart on Instagram at the end of the year. That was never the point. The point was seeing and loving the Lord.
Or, if you’re like Tim, you’re easily discouraged when you fall behind. If that’s the case, play catch-up and do it quickly. Breeze through the chapters you’ve missed. Read them as fast as you can, and get caught up. Then, do your best to stay on track from this date forward.
5. Ask for help
Most of us know that reading the Bible is a means of grace. It is something that God uses to bless and shape us. We know that. But we forget that regular people need grace to access the means of grace. We see that in the prayers of David. He called out to the Lord and said:
- Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law. (Psalm 119:18)
- Put false ways far from me and graciously teach me your law! (Psalm 119:29)
- Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain! Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways. (Psalm 119:36–37)
- Your hands have made and fashioned me; give me understanding that I may learn your commandments. (Psalm 119:73)
- I am your servant; give me understanding, that I may know your testimonies! (Psalm 119:125)
If you feel like you are stuck, pray those prayers – each and every one of them – before you even think about giving up on your commitment. Every good thing requires grace. If you could do it alone, then it would not be from God. God is in the business of feeding us and stretching us so he generally stores the good stuff one shelf beyond our natural reach.
So pray. Ask God to open your eyes, edit your priorities, shrink your obsessions, redirect your interests, deepen your attention, broaden your understanding and increase your will and desire to read his Word so as to do it.
Thanks be to God!