It’s that time of year where people are renewing their commitment to read the Bible. Plans abound that will guide readers through the Bible in a year or through a certain portion of Scripture in a set number of months. Just about any plan that will get us into the word is beneficial. Any attempt to meditate on the law of Lord will yield a blessing to those who follow through (Josh. 1:8; Psa. 1:2).
I hope you read the Bible this year and more than simply read it I hope you practice what you read (James 1:22-25). As you consider various approaches to Bible study and Bible reading plans allow me to offer some helpful ways to read the Bible this year.
Read It Big
When I say read the Bible big, I mean take the Bible in big chunks as you read it this year. There is a time to crawl through a chapter at a time, but there is also a time to gulp down larger sections of the Bible and see the big picture. Both the Old and New Testament encourages readers to read larger sections or entire books of the Bible straight through (Josh. 8:34-35; Neh. 8:6-8; 9:3; Col. 4:16; 1 Thess. 5:27; Rev. 1:3). Take a Saturday or Sunday afternoon and plow straight through several of Paul’s epistles or read 1 Samuel in one day in two separate sittings if necessary.
Reading the Bible “big” means that you may miss some of the details and not have a precise recall of every single event, but that’s not the point. Reading entire books and larger sections will give a sense of the major thrust of Bible books and help the main concepts more easily rise to the surface. Sometimes the things we argue over or quibble over in certain books can be cleared up by reading further into the book and allowing the inspired author to clarify what he meant.
Make use of the various audio Bibles available and listen through larger sections as you walk, exercise, drive to work, or get ready in the morning. Read the Bible in larger sections than you have before and see the scheme of redemption being worked out in grand fashion as you gain a deeper appreciation for the providence and sovereignty of God. This practice will keep you from seeing the Bible as a self-help book filled with good moral stories. You will see God working his plan to bring the Messiah into the world and then how we are to respond in faith to the Messiah once he arrives (Lk. 24:44; Jn. 5:39-40).
Read It Small
When you read the Bible this year make sure to read it “small.” There is benefit to be derived from zeroing in on one book like Romans or Genesis and getting deeply acquainted with the details of the book in a way you haven’t before. Find time to drill down into certain books and sections of scripture and work on memorizing verses and chapters in books. Read the Bible with the whole in mind, but also take up 1 Corinthians and try to get a good handle on it by reading it at different paces for three months or so throughout the year.
Jesus, in discussing the Old Testament during his earthly ministry, would sometimes make arguments based on verb tenses or other small details learned only through a slow and close reading of the text (Matt. 22:29-32; 22:41-46; see Gal. 3:16).
Do not let your chosen Bible plan push you along so fast that you don’t make time to slow down and catch some of the rich details that can be seen through reading smaller chunks. Read the same chapter of a book every day for a week and then do the same thing with the next chapter until you finish this book. This practice works well with New Testament epistles that are five chapters or less. You’ll be amazed at how much you retain, the connections you make, and what you will see that you missed the day before.
Read the same book through in several different English translations (ESV, NIV, NLT, NASB, NKJV) and catch some of the nuances of the translations that highlight different aspects of arguments being made. Read the Bible “small” and reap big results.
Read for Yourself
While it is true that we are reading someone else’s mail when we read the Bible, don’t forget to read it for yourself. There’s been push back against this in a lot of circles in recent years. The heavy focus on the original context of the Bible has been helpful as it has made many of us more responsible readers of the text, but let’s not forget the Bible was always meant to be copied, preserved, and applied to generations beyond its immediate audience (1 Thess. 5:27; Heb. 4:12).
Beware of reading the Bible and learning a lot of historical information but failing to make the modern-day application to yourself. We should not think the Bible is primarily about us because the hero of the Bible is Jesus, but the Bible is written to us and for us (Jn. 17:17; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:3). Read for yourself and resolve to be a doer who continues in what he or she reads (James 1:21-25) and you’ll grow as a result (1 Pet. 2:2).
Avoid making your Bible reading a mere academic pursuit that fills your head with knowledge without filling you with a sense of duty (1 Jn. 2:3-5). Read the Bible and see what it said then, but realize it is still speaking to us now. The things written before were never written for their sakes’ alone, but also for us and we should read it like that’s the case (Rom. 4:23; 15:4).
The promises, warnings, blessings, hopes, and admonitions are not locked in the ancient near eastern culture of Palestine or the first century world of the Roman Empire. While the writings were written during that time originally, they apply to us today. Read for yourself.
Read Looking for God’s Glory
Read the Bible and see how the text magnifies God. The Bible is meant to introduce us to who God is and how he wants us to know him (Exod. 34:6-7). Read the Bible and notice his love, his patience, his severity, his justice, and his compassion. Let the Bible inform you about God’s character. Let him show you through his self-revelation what he thinks about worship, treatment of the poor, love for neighbor, and the purpose of humanity’s existence.
See God glorified as he shows himself to be the primary hero in every narrative in every era. Fall in love with the Bible as you fall in love with its Author (2 Pet. 1:20-21). Allow your view of God to be enhanced as you encounter God through Scripture and see him as higher and holier than you previously realized.
Read Looking for Jesus
Jesus said the Old Testament points to him (Jn. 5:39-40). Jesus also said the Old Testament is properly read when one sees him as the fulfillment of it (Lk. 24:44). As you read the Old Testament, look for what it teaches about Jesus and then read the New Testament and see Jesus as the fulfillment of everything God has promised to the world (Matt. 1:1; 18-25; Heb. 1:1-3; 10:7).
The Bible details the life of Jesus in the four Gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), but the entire Bible points to him. The Old Testament alerts us to his coming through shadows, types, allusions, prophecies, and echoes. The New Testament epistles encourage disciples to live Spirit-led lives that reflect his character in the world. When you read the Bible, let it turn you into a follower of Jesus as you look for him in the text and then examine your life and look for the text in you (Jn. 15:1-8; Gal. 5:22-26).
Read the Bible in 2024 because we cannot truly live without it (Matt. 4:4). Read the Bible in large chunks; gulp it. Read the Bible in smaller chunks and sip it. Read the Bible like it was written to you and for you because it was. Read the Bible looking for the glory of the triune God and be sure to read it with an eye toward the Savior.
Bible reading is a means to an end. God communicates with us through the Bible. When we read the message we internalize and show we respect and appreciate it by putting it into practice in our lives. We must not be simply readers; we must also be doers. But before we can practice, we must ponder. Let’s read and then resolve to live for Jesus!