7 Tips for Effective Bible Reading
You know how to read but do you really? Reading God’s Word should be a daily activity of God’s people, especially since we have access and really no good excuses not to. We read not to check off the box on our plan, but for the purpose of believing meditation on what we have read.
To help us toward that end, I offer you seven tips for impactful Bible reading.
7 Tips for Effective Bible Reading
1. Read all of it. A whole Bible makes a whole Christian. All of it is inspired and all of it is profitable. Not equally profitable, but profitable nonetheless. You will likely get more out of Romans than Obadiah, but Obadiah is still profitable.
Adopt a plan to read all the Bible using a quality, current translation. I recommend NASB, ESV, CSB or the NKJV for more mature readers. I’m good with the NLT for children or even brand new Christians who might not have a lot of education or who don’t read a lot. The NIRV isn’t a bad option for kids either.
Many plans exist to read through the whole Bible. Most are on an annual schedule. If that works for you, great. If not, no worries. It’s a man-made schedule. The 11th Commandment isn’t, “Thou shalt read thy Bible in one year.”
Some can read it thru in six months; others make take two years. Who cares? The main thing is to not stop. Just keep reading and when you finish, start again.
Reading the whole Bible gives you a balanced meal. Some of it is hearty steak. You will have to chew for a while before swallowing. Other parts are like fresh vegetables – easier to eat and good for you. Yet other sections are like your favorite bread with butter and honey. Fulfilling and sweet to the taste.
Read all of it is because its all connected and interwoven. Because of progressive revelation, each writer builds upon and advances the truth and theology of the previous writers without ever contradicting them. Or to say it another way, the Bible of Jesus, John the Baptist and the Apostles was Genesis to Malachi. They were saturated in it and so their writings and speaking reflect this saturation. Two thirds of our biblical text is the Old Testament. A better description is our older testament, for it too is living and active, sharper than any sword or scalpel.
2. Read using repetition. After all this is the price of knowledge. Repetition is how we humans master anything in life, from three-foot putts to frying bacon.
Steph Curry has mastered the three-point shot for several reasons, the most important one being the hundreds and thousands of practice shots he’s taken over his lifetime. No amount of natural ability or wishful thinking takes the place of putting in the work.
Pick a shorter book of the Bible like Colossians or Philippians and read it every day for ten days or twenty or even an entire month. The impact will blow your mind! Actually, it will renew your mind like nothing you’ve ever done before.
I like to challenge our church members to pick one book of the Bible and seek to master it in their lifetime. This will involve reading it over and over again until it becomes part of you.
How many soldiers in WW II would get a love letter from their wife or girl friend back home and read it over and over again until the letter was worn out and the phrases were memorized? We have such letters from the Lover of our souls.
3. Read with consistency. I think it’s very helpful to read from the same physical Bible, in the same place at about the same time each day. After my early morning 15-minute walk and breakfast, I retreat to my home office, close the door, turn toward the wall not the window, and I read for a while from the OT using my I pad and then from the NT using my preaching Bible. Today was Daniel 1-3 and Matthew 12. It’s a habit. I’m not distracted by the room, what’s happening outside my window, or a screen. There’s no TV in this room, I leave my phone somewhere else and I leave the computer screen off so emails can’t pull me away. The only day that I vary the routine is Sunday because that’s church and preaching prep time.
Many popular books have been written about successful people and effective leaders. One common trait you will find over and over, whether its Nick Saban or Stephen King or Thomas Kinkade, is routine. Routine isn’t enslaving, it’s liberating. It’s because of routine that the Olympic ice skater is free to soar. It’s because of routine that your church pianist is free to worship while she plays. So many of us are ineffective in our Bible reading simply because we don’t stick to a routine. We give up too soon. We make excuses. We don’t discipline ourselves for the purpose of routine, godly, daily habits.
4. Read Slowly. I’ve always had a bad habit of eating too fast. I mean really fast. This goes way back when my older brother and cousins would threaten to take my food. I think they actually did. I may be scarred for life. Anyway, I’ve always loved to eat. I’ve been known to stuff more food in my mouth while chewing what’s already there. French fries are really good for this operation. I would feed French fries in like a tree crew feeds that chipper with branches! Keep ‘em coming!
Over the years different people have encouraged me to slow down in my eating, especially my wife. To actually taste and chew my food. Who knew you could sit your fork down during a meal?
Too often our Bible reading is like this bad habit. We rush thru today’s planned reading like we are scarfing down a double cheeseburger from the drive thru while speeding off to the next thing on the schedule. Whether food or the Word, rushing is bad for you. It really fouls up the whole digestion process. Rushing thru the Bible means we don’t taste it. No taste means no believing meditation. No meditation means no profit.
Slow down. Is the point to finish or is the point to take God’s Word into your life and heart? Take a deep breath and slow down your reading. Speed read and scan and peruse everything else you read if you want, but not the Bible. This book is different. And that leads to what might be the most impactful tip of all …
5. Read out loud. Much of the Bible is the spoken or sung word written down. It is sermons in written form, meant to be read out loud and heard. The Psalms were sung, Proverbs were the sayings of a father for his teenage son. The Scriptures are full of dialogue, monologue, speeches and this phrase hundreds of times: “Thus says the Lord”.
Reading out loud helps tremendously with attention, retention and understanding. You will not believe what this adds.
By the way, did you know that in ancient times all reading was done out loud? Maybe they weren’t so dumb back then after all.
I have found it’s much harder to daydream or have mental drift while reading the Bible if I’m reading out loud. It simply forces more attention to the task. Now my eyes see it, my mouth is saying it, my hears are hearing it.
Reading out loud also helps me to slow down. Reading every word helps me not to scan. Reading outloud, every word, creates the discipline of care and precision and attention to detail in my life, all good disciplines.
Like education theory. Some subjects, like Latin or higher math, aren’t studied because you will necessarily use these later in life. You have some subjects in a good education so that you learn to pay attention to details, to solve problems carefully and so forth. It’s part of the discipline of learning.
6. Read Prayerfully Pray before, during and after. When you come across a promise, claim it in prayer. When you are slapped down with a warning, ask God for grace to heed it. When the Spirit convicts you of sin, stop right then and confess, repent, receive forgiveness to move forward. When the text points your soul to the greatness of God, stop and worship Him. Join the Biblical writer in his exaltation.
I will never forget back in about 1992 in seminary, reading Romans in one sitting for the third time. This was required for my NT survey class. Thank you Professor Essex! On that third reading, late one night, I came to Romans 11:33-36 and prayerfully, joyfully entered into something of Paul’s own worship. It was one of those God-wrought moments of adoration and humbling that the redeemed soul never forgets.
Let the Bible fuel prayers. Pray the Bible back to God. Pray before, during and after your Bible reading. Let what you read be turned into adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication.
7. Read selfishly Though we might not agree with all of his theology, Dietrich Bonhoeffer is a good example of this. Eric Metaxes relays in his biography how Bonhoeffer would go to God’s Word each day looking for and expected God to speak to him personally thru the Scriptures. This godly, devoted man saw those moments as God’s living word just for him, just for his soul.
What I mean by reading selfishly is to care about your soul, which is a good kind of selfish. Jesus rebukes those who don’t, who only care about material goods or their physical bodies. My personal Bible reading is my soul care time. I have an appointment with my Counselor, my Teacher, my Rabbi, my Soul Doctor. This appointment is for me at that moment. I don’t read my Bible to tell others that I read my Bible. I don’t read it each morning to blog about it or post to my favorite version of social media (which would be hard because I’m not on social media). If any of this happens as a side benefit to others, that’s fine but it’s not our goal or purpose.
I want to be like Mary. I want to ponder these things in my heart.
Each morning my attitude should be, “O God, I’m your needy child. Your word is my food. Speak O Lord!”
Expect God’s word to speak to you. Listen, it’s not wrong to care for your own soul. It’s wrong not to! It’s not wrong to say – I’m of no good to anyone until God feeds me with His word.