Resolutions come and go but habits define who we are and how we live our lives. A habit is something we build our routine around. A habit is a set block in our daily schedule. Like brushing your teeth, or walking to work, or reading the news on the subway – a habit is something you can’t not do. It’s not just part of your day, it’s part of our identity.
Therefore Christians choose their habits wisely – and one of the wisest habits you can choose is the habit of daily Bible reading.
I’ve been reading through the whole Bible every year since 2012. I’ve also been helping other people read through the Bible since 2014. Here are a few hints and helps that I’ve gathered over the years that may be of benefit to you in beginning and maintaining a Bible reading habit in 2020.
Pick a plan that works for you
A number of years ago a friend of mine lost about 35 pounds in a relatively short amount of time. I was about 15 pounds overweight myself at the time so I immediately asked him: “What plan did you use? Did you use the Atkins Diet? The South Beach Diet? The Makers Diet?” His answer stuck with me over the years. He said, “It doesn’t really matter what plan you use. What matters is having a plan and using it.”
Losing weight isn’t rocket science: you have to eat less and move more. However, having a plan is often the difference between failure and success.
The same holds true when it comes to reading the Bible.
Reading the Bible isn’t rocket science. There are 1189 chapters in the Bible and 365 days in a year. Therefore you need to read roughly 3.25 chapters a day in order to make it through. However, a good plan can make that task a little more manageable. If you just start out at Genesis 1 and try to do your 3-4 chapters a day you will find yourself a little spiritually dry come February 1st (trust me). It will also be a very long time until you get to Jesus (October 12th, to be exact). That may not be the wisest or most edifying way to do it.
That’s where a good Reading Plan comes in.
I like the Robert Murray M’Cheyne (or RMM) Plan. I’ve been using it since 2012 and have found it very useful. If you want to read a full article about the benefits and advantages of the RMM plan see here. The short version is this: you get to read 4 chapters every day from different parts of the Bible. The selections are intentional such that when you are working your way through Leviticus (which is inspired and helpful but not quite as immediately edifying and encouraging as some other books) you are also working your way through the Psalms and parts of the New Testament. You will also get to read the Psalms and the New Testament twice every year which is an added bonus. I also find it useful to be in multiple parts of the Bible simultaneously as it reminds me of the many promises and anticipations that are climactically fulfilled in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.
However, the RMM plan is not for everyone.
Some people find it a little too heavy. As I mentioned above it does take you through the whole Old Testament once and the New Testament and Psalms TWICE – so that’s a slightly larger commitment than with other plans.
Many people enjoy the Discipleship Journal Bible Reading Plan. This plan was developed by the Navigators and is laid out similarly to the RMM Plan with its four column approach. What people like about this plan is that it you get 5 days off a month which you can use to rest or catch up if you’ve fallen behind. Also, unlike the RMM plan, it does not double up on the Psalms and New Testament – that buys you the 5 days off a month and makes the plan feel a little bit more manageable than the RMM. You can find a version of that plan here.
Probably the third most popular plan, in terms of the folks I journey with, would be The Chronological Bible Reading Plan. This one is put out by the folks at ESV but, obviously, would work just as well with any version of the Bible. It bounces you around a little bit, which I find disorienting, as it tries to fit the readings into a harmonized timeline – so for example you will find yourself reading the Book of Job inside the Book of Genesis based on the assumption that Job was a chronological contemporary of Abraham – or at least the sons of Abraham. This is not my favourite way to read the Bible, but it might be useful for people trying to get a sense of the Biblical storyline as a whole. You can find a version of that plan here.
As I stated earlier, as with dieting, so with Bible reading – the secret is not finding a magic plan. The secret is picking a plan and sticking with it.
Make good use of the available tools and resources
We are living in a Golden Age when it comes to reading and studying the Bible. Ten years ago when I started talking about this the only real “tools” that were available were actual printed Bibles. I used to have a briefcase filled with CD’s that had the NKJV version of the Bible on it but it was so cumbersome and so linear that it didn’t really help me with my Bible reading plan. I would have had to switch out 4 different CD’s in order to do my Bible reading on my commute which would have likely ushered me immediately into the sweet presence of the Lord.
Things are much better now.
The YouVersion app allows you to pre-load your preferred version and plan and it will use push notifications to send you the audio or print files that you need to stay on track with your readings.
Crossway also has a very popular app that will read to you from the ESV version of the Bible.
If you are a commuter and if you make use of either of these resources it will only take you about 25 minutes of ride time to listen to your 3.25-4 chapters per day. That’s an incredible gift for the modern day follower of Christ!
Of course it isn’t just commuters who may wish to make use of these tools. Busy parents washing dishes and folding laundry may also find them useful. They can also be a boon to those trying to master the English language. If you have a print copy of the Bible in the same version that you have programmed into your Bible reading app then you will be able to improve your pronunciation and comprehension simultaneously.
The good folks at TGC USA are also releasing some new resources this year to assist you in the development and maintenance of a Bible reading habit. They are developing a devotional podcast based on the absolutely fabulous 2 volume work by D.A. Carson known as “For The Love Of God”. This devotional is based on the RMM Bible Reading Plan but would be useful as a supplement to any Bible reading plan as it provides brief reflections upon selected passages. To learn more about what TGC USA has planned on this front see here.
I host a radio and on-line program called Into The Word that may also be helpful. We release new episodes on the TGC Canada webpage and we are also in the process of developing a new app which should be available in January or February of 2020. We work our way through whole books of the Bible, chapter by chapter and verse by verse. We read the whole text and provide a basic devotional commentary. We’ve covered about 300 chapters so far with another 90 or so set to release in 2020. While we follow the RMM plan for new releases, the single chapter episodes will obviously work as a supplement to just about any Bible reading plan. You can also find that on iTunes.
Assemble a team and hold each other accountable
Everything is easier in team. As with exercise – as with anything – so with reading the Bible. Therefore do everything you can to build community into your Bible reading routine. Find out if your church has any Small Groups that support and supplement a Bible reading plan. If they don’t – start one. Get a group of people together who want to do this and pick a plan, share resources and agree to meet one Sunday night a month to encourage each other and to work through one particularly difficult passage.
It’s not rocket science.
Everything is easier in team.
That’s one of the reasons we started the Into The Word Facebook page. We had a number of people ask us if there could be a place where they could talk to other Bible readers. We designed the page to be a community bulletin board for people using the RMM Bible Reading Plan. I post a couple of encouragements based on the daily readings and then people take it from there.
If you are using the RMM plan – please join us! If you are using a different plan, consider starting a page and inviting some friends to join.
Doing something in a group is always easier than doing it on your own.
Don’t work it in – work around it
Generally speaking it is extraordinarily difficult to “find time” to do hard things, so don’t bother trying. The word “habit” implies something that is intentionally established within your daily routine. I can tell you that when it comes to Bible reading, this is really the only way to do it.
Decide in advance when and where you will establish this new practice in your daily schedule.
Are you going to wake up 15 minutes earlier and read 2 chapters and then listen to the next 2 in the car?
Alright – then set your alarm and plan your routines accordingly.
If you don’t do it the same way, at the same time every day, it is highly unlikely that you will do it at all.
I do my Bible readings in the morning. I have 5 kids so my house is noisy and I have a short commute so I use podcasts as a supplement – not as part of my daily routine. I wake up and I shave and shower first – otherwise I am just not alert enough for the process to have maximum value. I make coffee and I sit at my desk and I carve out the time before I begin the rest of my day.
I can honestly tell you that I have followed this practice probably for 363 days out of every 365 day year since 2012. Christmas morning is a little squirrely in my house – and usually I am sick as a dog at least one day a year – but other than that – this is how my day begins. Every day. It is a habit. It is a lifestyle. It is a choice.
Track and celebrate your progress
Most people are motivated by indications of progress. When I first started jogging I was motivated by being able to keep track of my times. When I began I was quite happy to complete 3 kilometers in 20 minutes. However after a while I was motivated by seeing those times change. 3 kilometers in 16 minutes gave way to 5 kilometers in 30 minutes and finally 10 kilometers in 50 minutes. Tracking that progress motivated me to carry on.
So it is with reading the Bible.
If you start with a clean Bible you can track your progress with a highlighter and a pen. Each day when you complete a chapter simply highlight what you perceive to be the important verses in each section of the text. Use your pen to make notes in the margin or to star things for further thought and reflection. Over time, your Bible will change in appearance. You will be able to watch it “fill up” with highlights, notes and reflections. This will motivate you to continue! You will be “bothered” by those blank pages in 1 Chronicles and determined to find something to highlight and appreciate. This will make you a more attentive and motivated Bible reader.
I use an ESV Journalling Bible from Crossway – there are a number of versions of this – some prefer the single column, I use the double column – but whatever version you use there is a lot of space for notes and it is motivating to watch it fill up – slowly but surely over time. And then when you are done you can add a few personal notes and maybe some art work and give it to one of your kids or grandkids as a family heirloom. I did that at the end of 2018 and have begun a new Bible now that I hope to be able to give to another of my children in 2022. If you want to learn more about how to do that see here.
What If I Fall Off The Wagon?
Failure is part of the process. Nothing of value is achieved without a certain measure of perseverance. This will be hard. You will have to make adjustments. You will miss a day here and there.
Get over it.
And get on with it.
Here are 3 quick tips for getting back on track with your Bible Reading Plan.
1. Do not try to catch up
If you miss 2-3 days in a week it will be nearly impossible to catch that up on a weekend. The Discipleship Journal plan leaves 5 days a month for catch up, but even still, if you miss 2-3 days a week over the course of a month you are going to be spending all day Saturday burning through chapters in order to keep on top of your plan.
Remember that the goal here is knowing, loving, trusting and following Christ – not merely ticking off 365 tiny boxes.
So what if you miss a couple of readings?
You’ll get them next year.
Over the course of 2-3 years, even if you do miss a day here or there, you will eventually cover all the bases.
Just read the readings for today. That will allow you to track with your group and to feel as though you are making progress.
2. Don’t give up – adjust!
If you start falling behind do not quit the program entirely. It may be that you have bitten off more than you can chew. It is better to adjust than to abandon. If you are using the RMM plan you can gear down and decide to cover only 2 of the 4 daily columns. This will result in your completing the plan over 2 years as opposed to 1 but it is better than giving up the project altogether.
You may also need to adjust your timing. Maybe night time isn’t the right time for you. Or maybe you need better tools. Try reading two chapters and listening to two chapters while you walk or ride the subway. Or maybe comprehension is the issue. Maybe you stop reading because you don’t understand. That’s where a podcast like Into The Word or For The Love Of God can be helpful.
You have to do those things in order to accomplish any difficult, but worthy goal.
3. Reach out
Let your team know that you are struggling. If you don’t have a team revisit suggestion #3 above. You are human after all, and humans respond positively to encouragement. Some of your friends might know of tools that I’ve overlooked. They may have figured out some life hacks that neither you nor I have yet considered.
A simple Facebook comment or post could make a real difference: “Hey team, I’m 32 chapters behind and fading fast – any suggestions? Prayers appreciated.”
Lots of things in life can only be accomplished through the prayers and encouragement of the Body of Christ. Parenting comes immediately to mind, and right after that would be all of the Spiritual Disciplines – this one first and foremost.
If I were God (and I’m not!!) I wouldn’t allow you to do this in your own strength. I would make it so hard that you had to lean on friends. I would make it so hard that you had to admit your weakness and ask me (God!!) for help.
So get with the program.
Reach out and reach up.
Ask your friends for help and ask the Lord for grace – and watch as he generously provides.
All the best to you and to your team as you read through the Bible together in 2020!
And may God alone be glorified!
Pastor Paul Carter
To listen to the most recent episodes of Pastor Paul’s Into The Word devotional podcast on the TGC Canada website see here. You can also find it on iTunes. To access the entire library of available episodes see here.