Some Tips for Daily Reading
In my own daily Bible reading, I’ve found that a handful of simple things can really make a difference in my enjoyment of the experience and my ability to keep it going. Perhaps they’ll be helpful to you as well:
Find a good translation
My basic definition of a good translation is one you find easy to read. A translation should be something that helps you read the Bible, rather than getting in the way. For what it’s worth, I usually read the TNIV (Today’s New International Version). I find it to be a clear, modern translation. It also maintains just a smidgen of formality, which I mostly like. But if you prefer your Bible translation to be more on the casual side, I’d recommend the New Living Translation; it’s an easy-to-read, high-quality translation. Of course, there are any number of other translations that might suit your taste better than either of them; in my opinion, the most important thing is that you find what works for you.
Don’t go back
If you miss a day, don’t go back and try to make up for what you missed; it could be pretty easy to build up quite a backlog that way. Sustainability will probably serve us better over the long haul than comprehensiveness. Think of each day as a new opportunity to read the Bible together, regardless of what happened the day before.
Trust the schedule
If you’re the kind of person who likes things to be neat and orderly,the reading schedule will almost always be very satisfying for you — and it will on occasion be quite irritating. The schedule sometimes makes editorial choices, either to make the story more concise or to match the season better. We won’t read every single word of the Bible, and we won’t read it all exactly in order. While I’m initially slightly jarred by these disruptions, I usually end up appreciating them. They’ve been honing these reading schedules for quite a while, and their choices almost always seem thoughtful. That being said, if I discover that something’s being skipped altogether, and I find that I have the time and inclination, I sometimes do a little extra reading to fill the gap. That doesn’t seem to hurt anything either.
It won’t always be clear what, if anything, we’ve really gained from a single day’s passage, but that’s okay. In many ways, the value of the experience is cumulative, as we get a more and more complete picture of the Bible as a whole. So, we’re doing quick reads of the day’s passages, not in-depth studies. But I find it’s helpful to take a brief moment to log what was interesting to me in the day’s reading. What drew my attention? What did I learn? What questions were provoked? If I do that, I find I mull on the passage a little during the day, I’m more likely to talk about it, and I remember those thoughts and questions when I read the next day’s passages.
Find what works for you
Even while going with the flow of the schedule, you might be helped by creating something of a personalized approach. I know some people who prefer doing their reading in larger chunks; so rather than doing all four readings each day, they read a week’s worth of the Old Testament one day, a week’s worth of New Testament the next, and a week’s worth of the Gospels the next. That way, they’re getting those larger chunks they prefer, but they’re still reading roughly the same passages at roughly the same time as everyone else. I’ve heard of others who, in order to focus more on the remaining passages, simply drop one of the readings for a while; it’s easy enough to pick it back up again when a new book begins.
Discuss it with a friend
We won’t get the chance to discuss every day’s passage with someone else. But as I’ve discussed quite a bit, I think taking the opportunities as they arise is one of the most powerful parts of reading the Bible together. Perhaps your small group will serve as a good place to check in on a regular basis. Or you could use the buddy system. Choose a partner; then you’d have someone to encourage you to keep up with the readings, and someone you know you could talk about the various readings with. I find that e-mail works well as a way to keep in touch with my partner. I’m always in front of my computer, and it’s really easy to drop a quick note to a friend.
Pray the Psalms
The Psalms are really meant to be prayed — sung even — rather than just read. They’re the Bible’s model prayers. I find that I get the most out of them when I adopt them as my own, praying them as my own prayers. I tend to pray them verbatim — doing so aloud and with gusto whenever possible seems to improve the experience immensely — but I know other people who use them as jumping off points into further prayer in their own words. If you’re like me, praying two common types of psalms might initially make you a bit uncomfortable:
Extravagant claims of righteousness
Occasionally, I find myself gulping when, aloud and with gusto, I end up praying something like, ‘I have led a blameless life; I have trusted in the Lord and have not faltered’ (Psalm 26:1). I wonder if the proverbial lightning will strike me down. Despite the fears of divine punishment, a few things have kept me praying these absurd boasts:
- First of all, I’ve noticed that my praying of these psalms take on a tone of aspiration: it makes me want to be the kind of person who can pray those things without blushing. That seems like a pretty good result to me.
- Secondly, I get the feeling that the psalmist doesn’t mean here that he has never made any mistakes. I think what he’s saying is that he has never abandoned God. That’s still a pretty gutsy thing to say, but it’s not quite a claim to perfection. While the ‘not faltering’ thing still kind of trips me up, I think I can honestly say that ever since I met God I’ve taken my relationship with God seriously.
- Thirdly, I have a growing suspicion that these extravagant claims to righteousness have less to do with my moral report card, as it were, and more to do with how God sees me. I noticed that sometimes in the same psalm the author will ask for God’s forgiveness and will make one of these audacious claims to utter blamelessness. Once he’s confessed and been forgiven, it’s as if he never even took a mis-step. Perhaps these psalms are saying that, because of God’s goodness, we can be certain that God likes us, sees the best in us, and wants the best for us. If that’s the case — and I’m beginning to believe it is — then we can pray those crazy things with confidence and excitement.
Calls for violent retribution
Some of the psalms seem like they’re more suited to a Quentin Tarantino movie than to the Bible. While I sometimes still find myself a little squeamish at the sheer bloodthirstiness of some of these ‘crush my enemy’ psalms, I’ve been surprised to find them among the most helpful psalms to pray, for a few reasons:
- They help me prepare for the difficulties of the day — if I start the day with one of these psalms, it reminds me that not everything is going to go my way. I can prepare myself, and also ask for God’s help in facing those difficulties that are sure to come;
- It’s a faithful and non-violent way to vent — it’s extremely liberating to unabashedly express just how I feel about the people who treat me poorly and unfairly. But in the end, it’s harmless. I’m expressing it to God, not letting it leak out in my interactions with people. I express my anger and my desire for revenge; then I leave it in God’s hands to protect me and to vindicate me when appropriate. Once I’ve expressed my feelings and left action in God’s hands, I can much more easily let it go;
- I primarily focus the prayers on my true enemies — the New Testament author Paul tells us that our real enemies aren’t other people, but destructive spiritual forces whose entire purpose is to do us harm (Ephesians 6:12). I have no problem praying that these enemies die a gruesome death.
I have one final recommendation for your Bible reading: it might be helpful to pick up How to Read the Bible Book by Book, by Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart — you can find it in our lending library. In just a few pages per book, it gives the most important basic information about each book of the Bible and some helpful advice about where to focus your attention when you read. It’s an excellent way to orient yourself as you begin each new book of the Bible. I’ll also be offering my own brief introductions to each book of the Bible as we read it.