A one-year Bible reading plan generally requires you to read 3-4 Chapters everyday without missing a single day. This is a recipe for disaster.
In this post I share with you a Bible reading plan that is flexible and easy, perfect for anyone with (almost) no time to spare or has really struggled to make Bible reading a daily habit.
This Bible reading plan really works and, best of all, you can start using it right now.
Part 1: The John MacArthur Bible Reading Plan
How many times have you tried a one-year Bible reading plan, only to miss a couple days, quickly falling so far behind that you give up?
I can relate.
My wife and I used to read the Bible together, every day; now we have three kids.
I love them to death, but daily Bible readings quickly felt like hauling water out of a leaky boat, with a leaky bucket.
My wife and I get up at different times and evenings are difficult because they’re so inconsistent.
Eventually they dissolved altogether – the reading sessions, not the kids.
I needed a Bible reading plan I could do on my own, and I wanted to find the easiest way possible.
My half-hearted attempt began with lugging out my massive John MacArthur study Bible, spending the first ten minutes of the day reading the Bible.
One morning, amidst a haze of tiredness, under the warm light of my reading lamp, I discovered the John MacArthur reading plan (because I’m a nerd who reads the stuff at the beginning of the Bible).
Here it is in a nutshell:
- Read through the entire OT about once per year, which is less than 3 chapters per day.
- For the New Testament 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 every day for 30 days, and so on.
The plan amounts to 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!
Ridiculous! Insane! Who could possibly do that!?
I thought so too at first. Then I thought about it a little more and realised that it might not be so bad.
In fact I saw at least three big advantages to the MacArthur reading plan which set it apart from your garden variety reading plans:
1. Remembering and understanding
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).
It sounds simple, but having a plan to Read the Bible in a year with a rigid schedule 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, and you’ll almost certainly give up.
Reading a portion of the New Testament ‘every day’ for a month is, actually, 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
- You could even skip a month if you needed to. You can take breaks when you go on vacation, and pick right up where you left off
- 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, and reading the OT should always be part of your Bible study plan. Absolutely.
However, the OT is substantially historical narrative, and prophecy. It contains many complex, broad theological themes, often summarised and clarified in the NT.
The OT, if we’re being honest, is also huge and besides Genesis the OT is often times dry and challenging to read even for the most enthusiastic and qualified scholar.
By contrast, the majority of the New Testament is interesting, 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.
Hopefully you can see now the benefits of the JMc Reading plan.
Does it still sound overwhelmingly difficult? Here’s where I think I can help.
Part 2: Transforming the seemingly impossible into the possibly doable
I know what you’re thinking…
Geoff are you kidding me? You said this would be easy!
I know, I know.
So let’s break it down.
Here’s what we’re going to do:
Firstly, we’re going to crunch some numbers:
- I’ve taken the liberty of putting together a bar chart of the New Testament with books ordered by relative length and included the approximate reading time in minutes per book
- We talk about how you can tackle the Old Testament, how it’s actually easier than it sounds, and how to do it
Secondly, I go through some really simple, really actionable tips for how to incorporate this reading into your life in a way that starts slowly, and builds up over time as you get used to it.
Time to get practical.
1. The Battle Plan
Maybe the most daunting aspect of a Bible reading plan, is just how BIG the Bible is. So the next section well help to show you that when you break it down, and work your way up over time, it’s actually more doable than you think.
Not only that, but the JMc Reading plan is particularly doable, if you go about it the right way.
Take a look at the bar plot below:
The New Testament
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!
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 fifteen 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 key is reading length grows over time. It starts with something you can finish by the time the kettle has boiled, to something you can do on a lunch break, or before breakfast.
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 over a year (365 days) 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
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). FYI you can increase the speed of playback up to 2x.
I listen to it at 1.5, which will soar through 3 chapters in about 15 minutes or less.
For best results combine audio with reading to keep you focused, and get the visual and auditory input together.
2. The Action Plan
Here’s the part where we put this reading plan into action.
The most important thing to understand about any daily reading habit, is that it is a habit.
Of course the most ‘important’ thing is to get deep into God’s Word, and understand it (‘miright?). But the implicit goal is to make the activity of reading daily an automatic habit, an integral part of our daily routine.
Creating a habit out of anything requires a few crucial ingredients:
Let’s dive deep into each of these.
First and foremost, a habit needs to be given some priority. The question is not ‘do I have time for this?’ but ‘how can I make time for this?’
Before you do any reading, you need a special block of time to read. You’ll never read the Bible every day unless you have a specific time of day for reading.
This needs to be time that you can pretty much guarantee will never be interrupted by other obligations.
This is why I highly recommend you plan to read first thing in the morning.
This ensures waking to your alarm also serves as a cue, to kickstart your reading routine.
Getting up early, and reading every day, is damn hard. In order to do it regularly, you need a strong incentive.
There are a million and one blog posts and YouTube videos about how to become an early riser.
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 several years, there are just a few things which have absolutely been the most beneficial to me, and I’m going to share with you my best tips for getting up early consistently (and not hating it!)
incentive take two forms.
- incentive to get up
- incentive not to stay in bed
The first incentive is to promise yourself something irresistible, like coffee. 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 to look forward to was enormously helpful. This is invaluable.
It doesn’t have to be coffee. Remember we’re just trying to get ourselves out of bed for the moment. That’s our only goal. Pick your flavour.
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 crush it. Don’t hold back.
Here’s a few more ideas:
- Go to your favourite cafe (or park)
- Make it a hot chocolate if you’re not a coffee drinker
- Sit in your favourite couch
- Listen to your favourite music
- Take a nice hot (or cold) shower
- Watch a YouTube video first (I submit this with caution!)
Getting up early (voluntarily) is a challenge in itself. Be willing to give yourself a pat on the back just for getting up.
Giving yourself a special treat can make an enormous difference in building this habit. It’s probably the most important tip for ensuring you don’t come to resent it over time. However, it may not be quite enough to get you out of bed in the first place. This is why the second incentive is necessary.
The second incentive is to make it extremely inconvenient (or impossible) to stay in bed. This can vary in severity, depending on how much you love your sleep.
Here’s a few quick tips:
- 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, even better, 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 you have a friend who gets up early? Ask them to call you everyday to make sure you’re up
- Do whatever it takes!
- And don’t forget that delicious cup of Joe
For the record, you don’t have to get up at the crack of dawn. You just need to push your alarm back far enough, to have time to do that reading. Start with 15 minutes earlier than usual, and then work your way back from there.
You also don’t have to read first thing in the morning. But you do need a particular time of day which is the most likely to afford you the least interruptions. Maybe it’s right after breakfast, or over your lunch break. I don’t know.
All I know is in all my time of being a student, and now a husband and father in grad school, who is just a little bit obsessed with time management, I’ve found that before the sun comes up, is the only time of my day that I can guarantee is my time.
Reading for long periods is a difficult skill, just like any other. Especially if you’re not already a big reader in general (and no, reading FaceBook posts and tweets does not count).
If we want any hope of making it a long term habit, we need to ensure the goal is achievable.
When building a brand new habit, this step is utterly crucial! This goes for any skill or habit by the way.
Achievability has two components:
- progressive overload
Before we talk about how to build this habit, first we’ll talk about how not to.
Don’t go ham!
New Years Resolutions almost universally fail.
Almost anything you try to do is going to be hard (otherwise you wouldn’t have to make it a resolution!).
The single biggest trap almost everyone falls into turning over a new leaf, is jumping in head first, and going completely ham.
What happens is you introduce a massive interruption to your daily life and established routines, with something extremely challenging.
The minute you lose that first spark of motivation, something will give. What’s that thing going to be? Most likely it will be that thing which is the least familiar, most difficult, and most disruptive.
Progressive overload (baby steps)
The key to success, is to start small, and go slow.
In gym circles, this strategy is known as ‘progressive overload’. Start with the habit, make it as easy as possible to implement, and build it up over time.
As far as building a habit of Bible reading goes, this is where MacArthur’s reading plan really shines.
You can start with the smallest book (2 John), and get through in less than two minutes a day. This is just perfect.
You might be tempted to chunk the smaller books together and read 2 or three at once. This is a BIG mistake.
Resist the temptation to read more than one, or read it twice. You will finish a book and be left feeling almost unsatisfied, like it wasn’t enough. Let this feeling fuel your fire.
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.
Remember, we’re in this for the long game. All we want for now is to be gently coaxed out of bed with something irresistible, spend two minutes reading 2 John, and be done. If you can do this everyday for a month, you’re well on your way already, to making this a normal daily habit.
Using this strategy with the John MacArthur reading plan gives you a solid six months, where you need no more than 5 minutes per day spare to read a whole book.
The really nice graduation down the list of NT books is so alluring too 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.
I cannot overemphasise enough the importance of this step.
If you try to do anything new, too hard and fast, when you’ve never done that thing before you will almost certainly fail (no offence).
Baby steps, are crucial steps.
Finally, what you need to understand is that you are human. You’re going to miss days here and there.
Don’t be too hard on yourself, and don’t give up.
The MacArthur reading plan shines again here.
I’ve already explained the beauty of this Bible reading plan is that 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.
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.
Allow your habit to accomodate the natural flow of real life. We are all humans.
Thanks so much for reading. I hope I have inspired you give Bible reading a go.
Remember that, really you can adopt any Bible 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?)
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?
Do you already read the Bible everyday? What’s your secret sauce?
Leave a comment below and share your tips with everyone.