Practical Advice on Daily Bible Reading

This is Part 2 of a response that I gave to a parishioner when I was asked for some advice on daily Bible reading.  In Part 1 I had some preliminary thoughts.  Here I try to give some practical advice.

Part 2: Practical Advice on Daily Bible Reading:
There are three occasions for which Bible meditation is good and a Biblical practice: private worship, family worship and public worship.  You ask about private worship.  Here is my advice in summary: be in prayer, be simple, be humble, be creative, be consistent, be realistic, be thankful.

1. Be in Prayer–Pray that God would give you a desire to study his Word and to increase that desire as you go.  Pray before and after you read God’s Word.  I usually start with a simple prayer that usually isn’t much more than “Dear Heavenly Father, I ask that you would nurture my faith in this time.  By your Holy Spirit, help me to see where I have fallen short of your glory.  Help me to see the glories of Christ my mediator.  Help me to live in thankful obedience for the grace I have received in Christ.  In Jesus name I pray, Amen.”  Then for my closing prayer, I often like to pray the Word’s of Scripture that I just read.  This I believe is one of the key’s of meditating on God’s Word.  It is a movement from reading to meditative prayer.  If you have read something that expresses God’s moral law, pray for forgiveness for that specific sin, e.g. “Do all things without grumbling and complaining”. . .”Dear Father please forgive me of all the times I have grumbled and complained against you and others this day (perhaps even specific sins will come to mind).”  Thank God then in your prayer for the gift of Christ and his salvation (he never grumbled or complained but always took delight in doing his Father’s will).  Then ask him to give you an attitude free from this sin and eager to delight in serving others as Christ did.

2. Be Simple–By this I mean start with a simple plan.  Many like to try to read the Bible in a year.  This is a worthy goal, but I find that the majority of people fizzle out with these plans (usually when they get to books like Leviticus, Numbers, 1&2Chronicles, etc.).  That doesn’t mean that it should never be attempted.  Just start with something more simple, basic and short.  Start with Mark’s Gospel (the shortest one) and any of the shorter New Testament epistles.  You need to just get in the groove.  It’s like working out at the gym.  You don’t start with the heavy lifting the first day back.  With the short epistles, I recommend reading the book all in one sitting as a letter should be read.  Then going back through it chapter by chapter.

3. Be Humble–A lot of these points could overlap, but here is what I mean by be humble.  Be humble enough to know that you need the help of others to understand the Bible better.  God gave us each other for a reason.  We need the various gifts of one another.  He even gave us pastors and teachers whose calling in life is to study God’s Word and to teach it.  It is good and wise to use Biblical resources like study Bibles, commentaries, etc.  If I were to recommend a study Bible it would be the ESV Study Bible or The Reformation Study Bible.  I could recommend other resources as well if you ever want more recommendations.  Also, once I get them to you, study our Creeds and Confessions (Heidelberg Catechism, Belgic Confession of Faith, Canons of Dort).  They’ll help you to see the forest from the trees, the main things that the Scriptures teach us.  Read them and look up the Scripture references.  Resources like these are like maps that help us on our journey through the Scriptures.  Peter even said that some of the things that Paul wrote were difficult to understand (2Pet. 3:16).

4. Be Creative–In other words switch things up.  Sometimes read through a whole epistle, then read through it chapter by chapter.  Sometimes sing God’s Word.  We have a few Psalters in our home that we use for singing the Psalms (I can always help you get something like this).  Or even listen to a choir sing God’s Word.  At other times listen to the Bible read.  I highly recommend The Listener’s Bible by Max Maclean.  I can loan you the mp3’s (which are on a CD in my church study) if you want to try it out on your iPod or computer.  Remember that the Bible was originally something that was primarily heard rather than seen and read in private.  Because of this the author’s often used devices which made it more conducive for listening to.  I am sure that there are other creative ways that you can come up with for meditating on God’s Word.

5. Be Consistent–By this I mean be consistent to the day and not the minute or hour.  So what if you missed your 7AM Scripture reading.  Find another time in the day to meditate on God’s Word.  It is good to have a set time, but there is no law that it has to be at that time or not at all. And if you miss a day, don’t get too discouraged, just pick up where you left off, and look forward to the Lord’s Day where a whole day is set apart as an opportunity to meditate on God’s Word.

6. Be Realistic–No matter what you are going to fail to a certain extent (even I as a pastor do).  Our sanctification will never be perfect in this life.  We are already perfect in Christ in our justification.  However, our sanctification is progressive and awaits perfection when Christ returns and we are made like him forever in glory.  So press on without looking back. This was Paul’s attitude:

Phil. 3:12   Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.  13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,  14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

7. Be Thankful–If you do look back, look back to Jesus Christ living and dying for you and be thankful.  The Gospel is what fuels the Christian life.  It is the wind in our sails.  We need to hear it over and over again.  So in all of your failures be thankful for Christ’s perfect life and sacrificial death.  Be thankful for John’s words in 1 John 2:1-2: My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins.  And let this grace motivate you to read God’s Word in thankfulness and with a hunger for more of Christ in the Word.

Anyway, I know that’s a lot, but I hope it helps.  If you want I can give you more thoughts on what to read daily, or a few simple resources to help you study a book of the Bible.  I’ll pray that God gives you the desire and diligence to be in his Word.

Blessings in Christ,

Preliminary Thoughts on Daily Bible Reading

My former Pastor, Rev. Danny Hyde, recently said in an interview in Christian Renewal magazine to use everything twice (he learned this himself from Joel Beeke).  This is how he has pumped out so many books in the last four years.  With this advice on my mind I thought I would post something on my blog that I wrote in response to a parishioner who asked me recently for advice on daily Bible reading.  Because it is a fairly lengthy response, I’ll break it up into two parts: preliminary thoughts and practical advice.

Part 1: Preliminary Thoughts on Daily Bible Reading:

Dear _________,

Now that I have time, let’s tackle your question about suggestions for daily Bible reading.  To begin with this is something that is a daily battle for all Christians.  Some struggle just to have some daily time in God’s Word to begin with.  Others who are consistent at reading it every day battle with their own sins of doing it simply as a routine that never really impacts their faith and the way they live.  In other words they just read it, without meditating on it and without responding in thankful obedience.  The words of James come to mind:

James 1:22   But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.  23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror.  24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.  25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

In other words, better to read God’s Word once a week on the Lord’s Day, meditating deeply on it and being refreshed by God’s grace so that it issues forth in good works done in gratitude than to read it every single day of the year and never be moved by God’s Word.  The goal of reading God’s Word is to receive God’s grace through faith and to be transformed more into the image of Christ by the Spirit.

And as you mention, the ideal is that we are drawn into God’s Word because we want to.  However, there are times when we don’t want to read God’s Word but we do it anyway knowing that God has promised to meet us in his Word.  I have experienced many times where I am not in the mood to read God’s Word or lead my family in reading God’s Word, and yet I do it anyway in faith knowing that God will change my heart as I fulfill my calling as a Christian and as a husband/father.  i.e. Don’t always wait until you feel like it.  Love is more than an emotion, even love for God.  Emotions may come before during, or after.  And so, pray that God would give you the desire, and read God’s Word even when  you don’t feel like it, your heart might be changed in the process.

I would also recommend that you continue to attend to the means of grace on Sunday’s.  It has been an encouragement to see you and your family in the service.  God in his wisdom and grace has given us a day that is to be set apart for rest, worship and fellowship with God’s people.  It is a special day that he has promised to feed his flock through his ministers (Christ’s gift to the church; Eph. 4:11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ).  And the reason we have two services in Reformed churches is because we believe that two meals are better than one.

There is also something special about receiving God’s Word through preaching.  This is why the New Testament emphasizes preaching so much (Rom. 10:14-17; 1Cor. 1:21-23; 2Tim. 4:2; et. al.). We need someone outside of ourselves to draw us out of our natural tendency to look within ourselves for a righteousness and strength of our own.  We need someone to point us to Jesus Christ and his righteous life and death in our place received by faith alone and to call us to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit becoming who we already are in Him.  This is why I myself try to listen to audio sermons from other preachers and greatly value the times that I get a break to sit under another minister’s preaching.  Here is how the Westminster Larger Catechism beautifully puts it:

Q. 155. How is the word made effectual to salvation?
A. The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching of the word, an effectual means of enlightening, convincing, and humbling sinners; of driving them out of themselves, and drawing them unto Christ; of conforming them to his image, and subduing them to his will; of strengthening them against temptations and corruptions; or building them up in grace, and establishing their hearts in holiness and comfort through faith unto salvation.

So that said, yes, I want to encourage people to read their Bible daily, but never to the neglect of the preached Word on the Lord’s Day.  Remember that before the invention of the printing press in the 1500’s hardly anyone had a Bible on their shelf except ministers and a few wealthy people who could afford it.  We often forget this and make daily Bible reading the standard for whether or not one is a mature Christian or even a Christian at all, when for the majority of the church’s history people didn’t even have a Bible to read daily (having to rely on their minister and memory instead).  That said it is a great privilege to have the Bible in our own language on our shelf, and many died for that cause.  It shouldn’t be taken for granted. It is something to be treasured.  I simply mention this fact to relieve some of the burden of guilt that people have come under from the “quiet time” movement that I grew up with.

So I do want to encourage you and every Christian to read their Bible daily.  But I want it to be done motivated by gratitude and not guilt.  Remember that Christ already bore our guilt.  Christ is the blessed man of Psalm 1 whose delight is in the law (instruction) of the LORD, and on his law (instruction) he meditates day and night.  This is who we are already in Christ and God accepts us because of Him.  Now how can we become more like our Savior and Lord as we behold his glory and the Spirit transforms us more into his image? To Be Continued. . .