Let me guess, your New Years resolution was to start reading the Bible everyday. Be honest, that was your resolution last year too (and the year before)?
You start off so well. You were really motivated and you read happily for the first few days, you even enjoyed it.
Then you skip a day and snap, like a balloon popping, your inner hunger comes to a screeching stop.
You were more interested in being a ‘daily bible reader’, than simply reading the Bible everyday. You went too hard too early and you burned out.
The problem is daily bible reading is a habit, and just like all habits it must be built up over time.
So I’ve hacked together a short, simple, but effective guide to transform the seemingly impossible into the possibly doable.
If you’re interested in finally building a sustainable habit of reading the bible, and not just read but understand and remember, then you’ve come to the right place.
The Challenge of Daily Bible Readings
When my wife and I became parents our bible readings quickly became a chore, and eventually dissolved.
So I decided I needed to get into the habit of reading the bible on my own.
My half-hearted attempt began when I lugged out my massive John MacArthur study Bible and committed to spending the first ten minutes of the day reading the Bible.
Through a haze of tiredness, under the warm light of my reading lamp, I discovered the John MacArthur reading plan.
The plan is simple, but ambitious.
You can find in MacArthur’s own words a detailed version of the plan here:
In summary, the idea is to read through the entire OT about once per year, which is about 3 chapters per day.
But for the New Testament it’s more challenging. You select one short book, or one portion of a larger book, and read that book/section every day for 30 days. Then you select another section, and read that for 30 days, and so on.
This way you’ll be reading the same small section of the New Testament 30 times in a row. After about 3 years you’ll have read the whole New Testament 30 times!
The problem is that for all but the most avid Bible reading enthusiasts, this is no mean feat.
So why would anyone put themselves through this you ask?
I see at least three advantages to embarking on the MacArthur reading plan which set it apart from your garden variety reading plans:
1# Remembering and understanding
MacArthur’s reading plan includes advice about taking notes inside margins (or using notes boxes on a digital Bible I suppose), and distinguishing between notes for passages you particularly want to memorize, and notes for passages you want to better understand.
Combing through the same section of Scripture 30 days in a row is going to entrench the broad theme of the passage in your mind, and build a solid working memory of large portions of the scripture.
The same passage of scripture will be rolling around your subconscious over a period of a month. Your understanding of the passage and its insights will grow over that time too, being expanded and reinforced with each reading (esp with the aid of a good commentary).
Having a plan to Read the Bible in a year with a rigid reading plan is a mammoth task. Even if you only have to read 3-4 chapters a day.
Missing a day here and there can quickly snowball. Before you know it you’re so far behind you can’t catch up. This is very discouraging, making you more likely to give up.
By contrast, reading the same section of the New Testament ‘every day’ for a month is flexible enough that you can miss a day here and there, and the over all plan will remain in tact.
- Reading a section of the Bible 25 times in a month, is still a ton of repetition, and you’re not much worse off than someone who has read the same passage every day
- It can take as long as it takes. So long as you commit to a single section, month to month, you can skip a few days here and there. You could even skip a month if you needed to. You can take breaks when you go on vacation (or take the opportunity to read a little more often)
- You can vary the method of delivery to reduce fatigue and create some variety. If time is an issue, or you’re a slow reader (like me), consider using an audio book, or alternating between an audiobook and the old-fashioned method to keep it fresh, and engage multiple senses in the process of memorizing
3# A healthy distinction between the New and the Old Testament
The whole Bible is valuable, profitable, and educational. The whole Bible is God’s Word after all. However, the OT is substantially historical narrative, and prophecy. the OT contains many complex, broad theological themes, often summarised, and clarified by the apostles and by Jesus Christ himself in the NT.
The OT is also huge. It contains multiple literary genres and innumerable teachings, but can be thought of as an overarching narrative pointing ultimately to Christ.
Let’s be honest. The OT is often times dry and challenging to read even for the most enthusiastic and qualified scholar.
The New Testament details the fulfilment of the OT’s broad themes, fully realised in the Gospels, and subsequent teachings in the epistles. Furthermore, the majority of the New Testament is interesting and engaging enough to be quite readable and enjoyable in its own right.
The MacArthur study plan sees the NT not as more important, but as most profitable and relevant to Christians today. It contains both the essential message of the Gospel, and timeless advice about how to live the Christian life.
Making the seemingly impossible, doable
At this point you might be thinking this is a nigh impossible feat. I admit it’s nothing less than challenging.
So I’ve put together a bar chart showing the NT testament books, ordered by relative length, and included the approximate reading time in minutes per book for each in parentheses also.
Note: I based the reading time on my own reading speed which is, I suspect, slower than average actually. So hopefully you can do it even faster!
The New Testament
You can see actually that well over half the books in the New Testament can be read completely in less than half an hour each, and most of them take ten or less minutes to read fully.
Well isn’t that good news.
The longest book, the Gospel of Luke, comes in at 1151 verses, and reading slowish, but without stopping takes just under 2 hours. Which means it can be easily consumed in three 40 minute blocks, at one month per piece (or four 30 minute blocks).
The Old Testament
Another benefit to the MacArthur reading plan, is that reading the Old Testament in one year is a lot easier than reading the whole Bible in one year. There are only 929 Chapters in the Old Testament.
At three chapters per day, this requires a total of 310 days. Which means you have over 55 extra days in a year up your sleeve.
This is the equivalent of:
- About one day per week
- Almost two months
- Just over seven weeks
There is a multitude of plans to read through the bible in one year.
My advice, especially if this is your first time, is to just focus on getting through 3 chapters per day, in order from Genesis to Malachi.
This is less than half an hour of reading per day.
Or you can listen to it via audio which can be done completely for free on your bible app or from the website (no affiliation). You can increase the speed of playback up to double speed.
I listen to it at 1.5, which will soar through 3 chapters in about 15 minutes or less.
Note: If you find that you’re listening to the audio, but not really paying attention, then consider that this may not be the most effective method.
Building the daily reading habit
The first thing we need to understand about a daily reading habit, is that it’s a habit. The goal is to get deep into God’s Word, and understand it, but the implicit goal is to make the activity of reading daily an automatic habit, a necessary part of our routine.
Just as important, a habit needs its own block of time, that doesn’t get in the way of other obligations like work, or generally relaxing. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you can just cut out important RnR time. Of course if you’re spending 2-3 hours everyday glued to Netflix, Facebook, YouTube, whatever, then God help you, you can probably shave some of that off. But what I really mean is, you can’t hope to work every waking minute, and reading and concentrating on the bible, is work. It takes considerable mental strain and concentration, even the easy stuff.
We need to get used to reading being a normal part of our life. We need to do it until it feels weird not to, that’s when we know we’re really making progress.
I’ve also got some bad news. There is no two ways about it. Building hard, valuable habits, is hard.
“Change might not be fast and it isn’t always easy. But with time and effort, almost any habit can be reshaped.” – Charles Duhigg
Author of the New York Times and Amazon bestseller – The Power of Habit (no affiliation)
Fortunately there are things you can do to smooth out the process, and eliminate as many barriers as possible. Just know that, like it or not, there are inevitably times when you really just have to push yourself, and in my experience the only way to get good at pushing back is practise. Every small victory. Every yes builds confidence. And yes, it does get easier.
Now it’s time to get down to it. We’re going to learn how to build up a consistent daily habit of reading the Bible, that works.
Let’s dive in.
1# A schedule
Before you do any reading, you need a special block of time to read. You can’t hope to read the Bible everyday, unless you have a single, specific block of time that you can pretty much guarantee yourself will never be cut out or interrupted by other obligations.
This is why I highly recommend you plan to read first thing in the morning.
As Duhigg explains, there is a three-fold cycle associated with habits – cue, routine, reward.
Thus waking to your alarm also serves as an exceptional cue, to kickstart your reading routine.
There are a million and one blog posts and YouTube videos about how to become an early riser. But I can tell you as someone who has built up (over many years, with many failures) a habit of getting up consistently between 4:30-5 daily for the last few years, there are just a few things which have been the most beneficial to me, and here they are:
1.1# Treat yourself
Getting up early is damn hard. Possibly the best and most useful thing you can do for yourself is to promise yourself something nearly irresistible. This was absolutely the most effective strategy that finally worked for me. Knowing that I had a nice big hot cup of coffee with milk and sugar gave me something to look forward to. This is invaluable. Remember we’re just trying to get ourselves out of bed for the moment. That’s our only goal. Promise yourself a coffee, some chocolate, a hot shower in a steamy bathroom, anything.
Do you live somewhere cold? Buy yourself a big fluffy dressing gown and some good sheepskin slippers, whatever excuse keeps you in bed, find a way to destroy it. Don’t hold back on this.
Here’s a few more ideas:
- Wash your hands and splash your face with warm water
- Go to your favourite cafe
- Make it a hot chocolate if you’re not a coffee drinker
- Sit in your favourite spot
- Put on your jam (or eat a piece of toast with jam)
- Watch an episode of your favourite show (just one!)
- Leave a comment at the end with your favourite thing!
1.2# Dramatically lower your expectations
Getting out of bed early, purely by choice, is a challenge in itself. I know we’re trying to read the Bible everyday, but if we don’t get out bed, we won’t be reading anything.
If you wake up at 5am, and your first thought is “I have to read the Bible for 40 mins straight”, that’s going to crush any motivation you have to do it. So you need to be willing to give yourself a pat on the back just for getting up. Fortunately the MacArthur reading plan has got our back on this one.
1.3# Make it impossible to stay in bed
- Set two alarms, or three (don’t rely on snooze, because you’ll just turn it off)
- Put your phone on the other side of the room, or in another room… and hide it in a drawer… blasting at full volume… with a super irritating alarm tone
- Fill the kettle the night before and put your phone next to your kettle, or sitting on top of your neatly folded dressing gown
- If you’re still struggling, make it even harder. Buy a digital alarm clock too.
- Buy a rooster!
- Do whatever it takes!
There are many other strategies for dragging yourself out of bed, but the three tips above are the ones that I have found absolutely the most successful, easiest to implement, and least crazy, to make sure that even when my eyes hurt, I am still consistently getting out bed early, almost everyday, even weekends.
2# Baby Steps
One of the big mistakes most people make when trying to turn over a new leaf, is they go too hard too fast. This just isn’t going to work for the vast majority of people.
Reading for long periods is a skill, just like any other. Especially if you’re not a big reader in general (and no, reading FaceBook posts and tweets does not count).
Remember again, our goal is not to become a hard-core daily bible reading enthusiast. It’s to develop a consistent, sustainable habit of reading the bible everyday. It’s not a competition. Start with the habit, make it as easy as possible to implement, and build it up over time.
Here’s where MacArthur’s reading plan really shines.
If you went into this all gung-ho, you might be tempted to chunk the smaller books together and read 2 or three at once. But this would be a mistake.
The best thing about choosing a book, and reading that book everyday for a month, is that you can start with the smallest book (2 John), and get through in less than two minutes a day. This is just perfect.
Not only are you reading a whole book of the bible every day, but it’s so short and easy, you have virtually no excuse not to do it.
Resist the temptation to read another, or read it twice. You’ll finish it and be left feeling almost unsatisfied, like it wasn’t enough. Let this feeling fuel your fire.
Right now all we want is to be gently coaxed out of bed with something irresistible, to spend two minutes reading 2 John. If you can do this everyday for a month, you’re well on your way already, to making this normal.
This strategy gives you a solid six months, where you need a paltry 5 minutes spare to read a whole book.
The really nice graduation down the list of NT books is so alluring. Because honestly, if you’ve got 5 minutes to read 2nd Thessalonians, then you’ve got 7 minutes to read 2nd Peter, it’s only two minutes more, and by this stage you’ve already been reading the bible everyday for 6 months.
3# Be Flexible
Finally, the last thing you need to understand is you’re human, you’re going to miss days here and there. I’ve already explained that the beauty of this reading plan is losing a day or two isn’t detrimental to your goal. So don’t let it kill your motivation either.
Remember to keep your expectations manageable, especially at first.
Start with the habit, and allow the bible reading and understanding to flow naturally from this.
Remember also that any bible reading plan you use, is only meant to be a guide. Personally I would love to memorize the proverbs just as much as any book in the NT. They’re so moorish. So it’s likely that I’ll include them in my plan to read as I would the NT books.
If you successfully get through 18 months of reading books that only take 15 minutes, then you find that reading for a half hour straight is just to difficult, for whatever reason, then don’t be too hard on yourself. Break the half hour book into two.
Really you can adopt any reading plan you want. If your only real goal is to just get into the Word everyday, the only thing that really matters is to build that habit. Hopefully the tips I’ve provided will go a long way to helping you get there.
I know they’ve worked for me (and I’m no will power machine by any means… did I mention the big cup of hot coffee?)
That’s about all there is to it.
Remember if you really want to start reading the bible daily, remember that habit is the first step. some people find this harder than others. I only hope I’ve offered some advice to help anyone get started.
Hopefully you can see that even if you’re not a Christian, at less than two minutes per day, it’s not a huge time suck just to entertain your curiosity about this whole Christianity thing.
So what are you waiting for?
Are you already a daily bible reader? What’s your secret sauce?
Leave a comment below and share your tips with everyone.
Thanks so much for reading.