With my arms still in quite a lot of pain through nerve damage, I’ve asked a few friends to step in from time to time. Today Paul Carter provides an excellent article on beginning a Bible-reading habit in 2018.
If you intend to read through the Bible in 2018 now is the time to get started. Habits are not formed in a day – it takes a little bit of time and preparation. Here are a few hints and suggestions that might be helpful in getting you up and on your way.
Pick a Plan
A number of years ago a friend of mine lost 35 pounds in a relatively short amount of time. I was about 15 pounds overweight myself and so I immediately asked him: “What plan did you use? Did you use the Atkins Diet? The South Beach Diet? The Makers Diet?” His answer stuck with me over the years. He said, “It doesn’t really matter what plan you use. What matters is having a plan and using it.” The same holds true when it comes to reading the Bible.
There are a number of really good Bible reading plans. Each one has various points in its favor but as with weight loss, the magic is not in finding the right plan but in using the plan that you find. I’ve been using the RMM Bible Reading Plan; named after pastor and author Robert Murray M’Cheyne, since 2012. If you want to read more about the features and benefits of the RMM plan check out this article. The short version is that it is customizable to your reading speed and supported by a host of print and on-line resources. To learn about other Bible reading plans see here.
Set a Time
Generally speaking it is extraordinarily difficult to “find time” to do hard things. You will not fall backwards into Bible reading. You will need to carve out space and time. If you are serious about doing this then you will need to rearrange your personal schedule. You will need to wake up 20 minutes earlier or go to bed 20 minutes later every day. Do not try and “find the time”. You won’t. Make the time or give up the resolution.
Join a Group
Like a lot of men my age I need to exercise 3 times a week if I want to keep my weight under control. However, like a lot of men my age, I would rather not. I always seem to have an excuse for not getting in my exercise. To combat this natural tendency I have found it helpful to integrate relationships into my exercise routine. I play squash on regular rotation with several friends and I find that I am far less likely to bail on an exercise session when there is someone else counting on me to show up. My fear of disappointing people and my desire to be with people results in more calories burned and fewer pant sizes gained.
Knowing what makes me tick allows me to engineer the right incentives into my routine. So it is with reading the Bible. Find out if your church has any Small Groups that support and supplement a Bible reading plan. Alternatively you can find such groups on-line. The Into The Word Bible Reading Podcast that I host has an associated Facebook page that features daily encouragements and conversation starters for people tracking through the RMM Plan. Face to face groups are better, but on-line groups are better than nothing. Doing something in a group is always easier than doing it on your own.
Start with a Clean Bible
Most people are motivated by indications of progress. When I first started jogging I was motivated by being able to keep track of my times. When I began I was quite happy to complete 3 kilometers in 20 minutes. However, after a while I was motivated by seeing those times change. 3 kilometers in 16 minutes gave way to 5 kilometers in 30 minutes and finally 10 kilometers in 50 minutes. Tracking that progress motivated me to carry on.
If you start with a clean Bible you can track your progress with a highlighter and a pen. Each day when you complete a chapter simply highlight what you perceive to be the important verses in each section of the text. Use your pen to make notes in the margin or to star things for further thought and reflection. Over time, your Bible will change in appearance. You will be able to watch it “fill up” with highlights, notes and reflections. This will motivate you to continue! You will be “bothered” by those blank pages in Leviticus and determined to find something to highlight and appreciate. This will make you a more attentive and motivated Bible reader.
Be Resilient (and Forgiving)
“Keeping resolutions is so much easier than making them,” said no human being ever. Most of us know what we should do; we know what’s good for us; we know what is most important; but we struggle to follow through. As with losing weight, jogging or anything else, so for reading the Bible. It is very hard to turn a good intention into a life long habit. But by the grace of God, in fits and starts, it can be done. The key is being resilient and forgiving. Don’t quit because you find it hard or because you fall behind. Everything important feels hard at first. But then, slowly but surely, if it is a good thing, it moves from being a duty to a delight. If you fall behind, my advice is to not try and catch up. Just read the readings that are for today. It can be overwhelming to feel that you have to read 18 chapters today in order to get back on track. So don’t. Skip forward and read what God has for you today. That is another reason to use a highlighter. You will know what chapters you missed and you can hit them next time around. Be resilient and go easy on yourself. Great habits are not developed in a day. Keep at it. You will come to love it over time.
And may God alone be glorified,
N.B. To listen to Pastor Paul’s Into The Word devotional podcast on the TGC Canada website see here; to listen on SoundCloud see here. You can also find it on iTunes.