This is the first in my series of posts about reading the Bible, particularly the Old Testament. Today, I discuss two strategies that I have found successful in maintaining your reading momentum.
So many Christians I talk to have not read much of the Old Testament. I was included in that list until this year. 10 months ago I resolved to read the entire Bible. At this point, I have only 5 books left – 3 in the OT and 2 in the NT. When I think back on my previous attempts and why I stopped reading I come to one conclusion. Whether it was the endless genealogy sections, non-applicable rules or innumerable kings and endless fighting, it all boiled down to one thing – I was bored, so I stopped.
This time I have used two strategies that have worked in keeping me reading – I call them “skim and skip” and “change of scenery”. Really, this is not rocket science, but I had not figured it out until now so maybe they will help you as well.
Skim and Skip – Sacrificing the Genealogy and the Laws
Maybe 5 times in my life I have picked up the Bible with the intent to start seriously reading it. Like so many others, I would start in Genesis (AWESOME!), move to Exodus (STILL GOOD!) and then stall out in Leviticus (Burnt Offerings?!?) or maybe, if I was really making a serious attempt, Numbers (By GAD that’s a lot of names). A few times this effort would roll over into the New Testament, which was awesome, but really a death blow to any future chance of my getting through the OT.
What I didn’t initially realize is that I didn’t have to find the significance for my life in every Biblical passage. I was reading the Bible like I might miss something if I skipped the verses about “Eating Fat and Blood”, “Purification after Childbirth” or “Cleansing after Defiling Skin Diseases”. I would think, “KEEP READING! – The Holy Spirit might have words for me in the ‘Defiling Molds’ section”! Um…No, those things are in the Bible for a reason, but at this point, it’s better to skim over them than to just get burned out and stop.
Let me give you a recent example of the effect of skimming and skipping. For this illustration, I am going to connect the amount of my underlining in a book to the amount of skimming and skipping in that book. Now, I underline a lot. My wife laughs at how much. I’m not to the “Bible Art” level like Scribbling Grace (https://www.scribblinggrace.com), but I underline more than most. So, here is one example – The Book of James is less than 4 pages in my Bible and I have 23 separate things underlined. I love that book. In the 28 page book of Leviticus I have underlined – nothing. I skimmed through a bunch of it, there were things to read, but just not as much was directly applicable to me as in James.
Here is the deal. It’s OK to skim. It’s OK to SKIP! Your ignorance about the offspring of Issachar or Zebulun is probably not going to be pivotal in your personal relationship with Jesus Christ at this moment. Don’t get caught up in those details. Skim the parts that you need to skim – understand the point, think about why these things might be in the Bible and MOVE ON! Use your best judgement to skim and skip through the parts that might stop you from reading the parts that are really awesome. I have recently posted my thoughts on stories found in 1 Samuel, Daniel, Jeremiah and Lamentations – stories that have provided me great insight which the Holy Spirit has used to mature me as a Christian. I would have never gotten there if I had bogged down in another book.
Change of Scenery – Genphesians
So the second strategy that has helped me immensely is the realization that I don’t need to start at Genesis and end in Revelation – I can jump around. Duh, right? Well, OK, I knew this before I started, but what I did differently this time was, I put together a plan for my reading. A plan that fit my personality and kept up my momentum.
I am sure that you have seen a “Read the Bible in a Year” plan before. I didn’t like most of these because they encourage you to read just parts of a book most days of the week. I needed something a little less structured because I knew that I would get behind, get discouraged and feel like quitting. I also wanted to take the opportunities to keep reading if I had the time. These plans are simple, but personally, I needed something even simpler so that at any point, I could jump into my Bible and start reading. My Change of Scenery strategy was two-fold.
First, I picked two books of the Bible to read at one time – typically one Old Testament and one New. For instance, I would pick Genesis and Ephesians. I wanted two books that would offer me different flavors and topics so that I always had a choice based on my mood. Tired of Noah? Well, go read Paul’s Instructions for Christian Living. No idea what the heck John was talking about in Revelation? Check out Ruth. I also tried to pick a short book and a long book so that I always felt like I was making progress rather than just stuck in one place for too long. I did, however, try to maintain the chronological aspects of the first part of the Old Testament because the storylines continued from book to book.
Secondly, I committed to read through an entire book before moving on to another one. I might only read from that book every other day or so, but I kept at each book until I was done with one and started another. I really feel that context in the Bible is important. Too many times, we can ready a passage or a story and miss the point because we don’t know the context. Knowing what is going on before and after the piece you just read is very important to understanding.
Admittedly, I broke this “read the entire book” rule a few times, but for the most part it worked well – particularly because I was seeing progress in the 4 pages of one while reading the 28 of the other. I will say, however, that because of the richness of James and the scarcity in Leviticus, they probably took about the same amount of time to read.
Finally, I will mention one more thing that I found to be very useful. I always had the Moody Bible Commentary ready if I had a question. Almost every time I read, I would find myself looking something up. Whether it was learning about a specific verse or story or getting background on a book I was about to start, I found it invaluable. It was another important factor for me getting as far as I have.
Hopefully these strategies will help you make it further into the Bible. There are some really wonderful parts that many people don’t get to and once you do, you will thank the Lord you did.