Most Christians are aware of the importance of personal reading of God’s word. After all, the Bible is the only final and absolute authority for our faith and practice, since it is the very revelation of God himself. Here is where we go to truly know who God is and how life is to be lived. How wise is the person who is committed to a diligent input of Scripture, and how great are the derived benefits.
But just how should our daily Bible reading be done? Are there any guidelines for making the best used of our time and gaining the most from our reading of God’s word? Here, then, are five guidelines that have helped me much over many years of reading Scripture. May God grant you wisdom as you approach a new year, and may your time in God’s word bear much fruit.
1. Commit yourself to consistent Bible reading.
Since the word of God written (Scripture) is the main instrument God has provided his people to know his character, to know his plans and purposes, to know his work in creation and redemption, to know ourselves, and to know how we are to live before him and others, it only stands to reason that we need regular time in God’s word for that word to impact our lives.
We are changed by grace not merely in what we know, but in what we love and hate, what we cherish or despise.
Consistency, rather than haphazardness, should mark our reading of God’s work. Of course, we all know that emergencies arise and life’s messes interrupt. But it is one thing to have a few pauses in an otherwise consistent Bible reading plan, and another simply to read only when it is convenient to do so. Because it is hard to exaggerate the importance of God’s word to the formation of our minds, hearts, and lives (2 Timothy 3:16–17), and because that word will only have its greatest potential impact as we read it regularly, please consider making consistency a mark of your Bible reading this year.
2. Engage in both fast-paced and slow-paced reading.
I’m convinced that Christians would benefit much more from their reading of God’s word if they would train themselves in two different forms of reading the Bible. Fast-paced reading is necessary if we are to cover the whole of the Scriptures at some kind of regular interval. It doesn’t have to be a “read the Bible in a year” program, necessarily, but I would hope each of us would commit to reading every single book and chapter of the Bible at least every two or three years. Even at that pace, it requires that we keep moving and not get too bogged down. You might consider listening to the Bible read to you.
Slow-paced reading, on the other hand, is necessary if we are to soak in and glory in the beauty and texture of so many passages of Scripture. If you only read, say, the book of Isaiah in a fast-paced manner, how much time will you devote to thinking about the substance of Isaiah 40, for example? About three minutes total, maybe in a year, or two, or three. But Isaiah 40 is rich with glorious teaching about God — about his work in creation and providence and redemption — and rich with implications for the ways we should live our lives.
These riches can only be seen and felt and marveled at when we read it slowly, prayerfully, meditatively, over and over and over. So, in addition to fast-paced Bible reading, I would recommend that you consider taking some key portions of Scripture to meditate upon over and over for a period of weeks, until you are confident you have seen more of the intricacies and beauty and wonder of those passages.
Often, the most life-transforming aspects of the truth of God’s word comes in details that will only be seen as we stop long enough to find them for ourselves. Perhaps you could plan to read your fast readings four days each week, and then meditate over small units of Scripture the other two or three days. Both types of reading are important, and each yields a different kind of fruit for the Christian’s life and heart.
3. Notice the who as much as, or more than, the what as you read.
Strive as much as possible not to walk away from God’s word without having at least one truth move your affections.
Never forget that there is one Author of Scripture who stands over and above all of the human authors of all of the various books. Paul says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 3:16). And Peter says, “Men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). Since the Scriptures are the self-revelation of God himself, our main focus when reading them should be to encounter the Author laboring to express something of his character and work through every page.
Since the God of Scripture is none other than the triune God of the Christian faith, pay special attention to what is revealed about the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit as you read. While it is important to learn what the Bible teaches each step along the way, even more important is coming to a clearer and brighter and richer and deeper understanding of who the true and living God is who stands behind and in all of Scripture.
Grow in knowing not just more about God, but grow in knowing God himself as you read your Bibles. Focus on his attributes, his actions, his stated plans and purposes, his commandments and warnings, his promises and his assurances. Knowing God is the great good for which we were created (Jeremiah 9:23–24; John 17:3), and so intend every day, as you read your Bibles, to know God better in every passage you read.
4. Seek informed minds and stirred affections.
God intends the truth of his word to travel first into our minds, but then from our minds to our hearts. God intends for us to know the truth of his word. But he also wants us to see its beauty, and marvel at the richness of the word. In short, we must grow, through our reading of Scripture, in knowing (mind) and loving (heart) the glorious truths we encounter along the way.
Consider pledging yourself to praying each time before your read your Bible, “Lord, in your mercy and kindness, open your word to me, and open me to your word.” The first request has mostly to do with our minds, as we ask for Spirit-given illumination to know accurately what God’s word teaches. The second part of this simple prayer aims at our hearts, as we seek that same Spirit to awaken within us an appropriate, affective response to his word, where we feel the challenge, and see the wonder, and respond to the glory of the truth we’ve seen.
It’s a dangerous pattern to read God’s word consistently without having our hearts stirred by what we have read.
It’s a dangerous pattern for Christians to read God’s word consistently without having their hearts stirred by what they have read. As much as it is in your power, strive not to walk away from God’s word without having at least one truth move your affections. If you finish your reading for the day, and nothing has moved you, pray and ask God to show you one little thing from what you’ve read that might have an impact on your affections. Stop and pray over that truth or reality. Slow down enough for it to convict, or encourage, or correct, or strengthen hope, or embolden action. Seek, with the Lord’s help, at least one truth that will engage your affections. Since changed hearts are the key to changed lives, may we prayerfully seek not only knowledge of God’s word, but also love for the beauty, wonder, and glory of that word.
5. Commit yourself to hear and heed, understand and obey, what you encounter in the Bible.
James’s powerful reminder that we are to be doers, and not merely hearers, of God’s word (James 1:22) must be central in our thinking every day as we read the Scriptures. Since we are not our own, since we’ve been bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:19–20), we must acknowledge we are under the lordship of our Savior Jesus every day, in every way possible.
Therefore, to read the word of God is to submit ourselves to that which declares how we are to live day by day. Let’s resist the temptation to have minds growing in the knowledge of God’s word that nonetheless fail to live out the truth of what we have come to know. Again, we are changed in our behavior not merely in what we know, but in what we love and hate, in what we cherish or despise. God intends his truth to travel first into our heads, then to our hearts, and then, from our hearts through our hands. We are called by God to hear and heed, to understand and then to obey, the glorious, life-giving word he’s given to us.