Most one-year Bible reading plans require you to read 3-4 Chapters everyday without missing a single day. This is a recipe for disaster.
In this post I share how I successfully baked a Bible reading plan into my daily routine that’s much easier and more effective.
For the record, I am a full-time PhD student, I have a part-time job, I run this blog all by myself and I have two toddlers and a new born.
In short I’m really busy.
This Bible reading plan really works and, best of all, you can start using it right now.
The Challenge of Daily Bible Reading Plans
My wife and I used to read the Bible together, every day.
As I said I have three kids. I love them to death, but… Trying to read the Bible everyday felt like hauling water out of a leaky boat, with a leaky bucket.
Our kids tend to get up pretty early, and evenings are difficult, because it only takes 1-2 social events per fortnight to get your reading plan quickly out of sync (and don’t even get me started on missing sleep!).
Eventually they dissolved altogether – the reading sessions… not the kids.
So I decided I needed to get into the habit of reading the bible on my own, and I wanted to find the easiest way possible.
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.
One morning, through 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 about 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.
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!
At first I thought that was ridiculous.
Who could possibly do that!?
Then I thought about it a little more and realised that it might not be so bad, plus I saw some obvious benefits too.
In fact I saw at least three big 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 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.
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, and reading the OT should always be part of your Bible study plan. I definitely agree with this.
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. Besides Genesis, 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, 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.
The next question is, how do you do it?
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 it looks quite daunting.
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 in parentheses also.
I’ve also got 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.
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 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.
Warning: 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 for you.
Building the daily Bible reading habit
Here’s the part where I show you how I put this reading plan into action.
The most important thing about a daily reading habit, is that it’s a habit.
Of course I know the most ‘important’ thing 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, an integral part of our daily routine.
FWIW, I know there’s plenty of holier-than-thou‘s who can wax lyrical about how much of a joy it is to ‘get into the Word’. If you’re one of those ‘real’ Christians who can sit down and really sink their teeth into something like Leviticus Chapter 1 no problems, then whoop-dee-doo. This next bit is for us ordinary humans, so you should probably just share this post on FaceBook, and move on.
First and foremost, a habit needs its own block of time, that doesn’t get in the way of other obligations like work, or generally relaxing.
Secondly, you need to start small. I’m talking micro small. You see those books at the start? 2 John… it takes 2 minutes to read.
That’s your meal ticket.
Before we can crank out 30-60 minutes a day of reading, 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.
Here’s how you do it:
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.
This ensures 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 absolutely been the most beneficial to me, so here’s some bonus tips to help you become an early riser:
Bonus tip #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 crush it. Don’t hold back.
Here’s a few more ideas:
- Wash your hands and splash your face with warm water
- Cook a nice big breakfast
- 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!
Bonus tip #2: Dramatically lower your expectations
Getting out of bed early, purely by choice, is a challenge in itself. I know we’re trying to bake a Bible reading plan into 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.
Bonus tip #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!
- And don’t forget that delicious cup of Joe
Of course 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.
For the record, you don’t have to get up at 5am. I do. But you don’t. 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, 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.
2# Baby Steps
So I’ve already mentioned starting small. But this point is so important, it gets a whole section.
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.
Using this strategy, combined with the John MacArthur reading plan gives you a solid six months, where you need a paltry 5 minutes per day 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 Bible 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 a holier-than-thou daily bible reader? What’s your secret sauce?
Leave a comment below and share your tips with everyone.