Happy New Year! Those words automatically conjure up several thoughts – the ball dropping in Times Square, celebrations with family and friends, and if you’re Southern, black-eyed peas. It also brings to mind the idea of New Year’s Resolutions.
I’ve noticed that when it comes to resolutions, many people seem to be in one of two groups. Either they embrace the concept completely, and make lists of changes they’re going to make in their lives, or else they totally reject the idea, and refuse to set for themselves any kind of personal improvement goals. All you have to do is watch the numerous television commercials for gyms and weight loss programs to know what the most commonly voiced resolution is.
For Christians, one frequently heard resolution is to “Spend more time reading the Bible.” That’s a fine goal, but unfortunately, many of those expressing that thought set themselves up to fail. They get some kind of daily reading guide from their church, with frankly unrealistic goals, they work at it for a day or two, and then get behind. They figure that if they’re behind, they need to catch up, so they double up on the daily readings, but despite their good intentions, they get further behind. By the middle of January, they’ve given up on the whole idea, and heaped more guilt on themselves for “not being a better Christian.”
(There’s more that we could say about THAT phrase, but we’ll save it for another day.)
If you started going to a gym, and hired a personal trainer to help you with an exercise plan, I guarantee you, you would NOT start out with a goal of a two-hour workout and jogging around the block 50 times – you’d start with smaller goals. Set some reasonable goals for yourself, work up to them, give yourself a chance to succeed, and then set some new goals. The same is true for daily Bible reading.
Of course, there is a sense in which we just need to do it, and quit whining about it. Like anything else worth doing, daily scripture reading requires a certain level of discipline and commitment.
My brother David is the senior pastor at Northside Christian Church in Spring. He and I were visiting over the holidays, and we had been talking about me following a low-carb diet because of my diabetes. We discussed how that it really wasn’t a diet, as much as a lifestyle change. Nobody is really standing over me making me do this – it’s just the right thing to do, so I do it.
The conversation turned. I knew I was going to be writing about this subject, so I asked him if he had any suggestions for ways to make getting into the habit of daily Bible reading easier. He just looked at me. “Why do we need to make it easier?” he asked. “I know what you mean when you say that, but it’s kind of like the low-carb thing – it just needs to become part of your regular make-up. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing. We need to quit trying to make it easier. Nothing worth achieving ever comes easy.”
Hmmm. When did little brother get so smart?
So, if you’ve always promised yourself you were going to read the Bible more, but didn’t know how to begin, here are some suggestions.
1. Start with a reasonable goal. Most plans that take you through the Bible in a year require you to read FOUR chapters a day to stay on target. That’s a lot for someone who hasn’t worked up to it. So forget that. I’d suggest ONE chapter a day, at least in the beginning.
2. Read something that makes sense to you. For goodness sake, DON’T start in Genesis. It’s okay in the beginning, but once you get into the geneaologies of the various clans, you’ll be bored. Instead start with James, in the New Testament. It’s extremely practical, and only five chapters long. One chapter a day, and now in less than a week, and you’ve read all the way through a book in the Bible! Then go to Mark – sixteen chapters, lots of action, a fast-moving story. Now suddenly, in less than a month, you’ve read through TWO books!
3. Get a translation you can understand. Unless you’re an Elizabethan literary scholar who loves Shakespeare, this probably means the King James Version is NOT what you need. Personally, I prefer the NIV, but there are many good choices. If you want a fresh perspective, you might try “The Message.” It’s a paraphrase, rather than a literal translation, but it has some good insights.
4. Have a definite time and place for your reading. It can be over coffee at your kitchen table, on your back porch, or first thing when you get to work, but you need to cultivate the habit of doing this at the same time every day. That helps make it automatic for you. And no whining about not having time – every one gets the same 24 hours a day. Drag your butt out of bed 15 minutes earlier in the morning if you need to, just like you would for any important appointment.
5. Get an accountability partner. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!” If you and a friend are encouraging each other, you stand a much better chance of succeeding.
Some other thoughts –
Don’t forget to pray. I don’t mean close your eyes; I mean be in a prayerful attitude. Ask the Father to reveal His heart to you through the pages of His word.
Don’t substitute devotional books for the Bible. Devotional books are good, and certainly, they’re better than nothing when it comes to personal reading, but they are not a substitute for scripture. Before you read what Max Lucado or Chuck Swindoll says about God’s Word, spend some time in it for yourself.
Don’t let it become something just to check off a list. There’s very little benefit in that. Psalm 119 is a meditation by someone who is simply in love with God’s Word. Learn to hear God’s Spirit speaking to your spirit.
In Isaiah 55:11, God promises that His word will not return void – that is, empty, without effect – but will instead accomplish the purpose for which He sends it out. But we have to do our part, to “hide it in our hearts,” and to “meditate on it day and night.” So let me encourage you to make it part of your daily life, or if it already is, let me encourage you to continue. It’s an investment of your time that will pay eternal dividends.