Four days into the New Year and if my estimations are correct, we’re somewhere near Genesis 12 – 20 in our Bible reading program? (Maybe even read the first 3 or 4 chapters of Proverbs?) That’s great. Keep up the great work. Reading through the Bible every year is an excellent endeavor we should all commit to and do. I love reading His Word. Over the years, I’ve learned some lessons. I’m sure you have too. In fact, feel free to add your own wisdom and insights in the comments. :)
I want our Bible reading to be productive. Productive means, “I learned about the Triune God who saved me, how to honor Him, and worship Him.” Here are six quick tips to make our reading more productive. These are not in ranking order.
First, before reading a book (Genesis, Exodus, Hebrews, etc) grab a good Study Bible or Bible Introduction book and read the introduction to the book. So before reading Genesis, read the Study Bible’s commentary on Genesis. The MacArthur Study Bible will help with historical context, issues, themes, outline, authorship, audience, and date. All of which aids interpretation.
Second, know this is a history book too. The Bible teaches us theology. God reveals Himself through His Word. God intervenes and interacts with His creation. David was an actual king. Abraham walked, Jacob’s wife stole her father’s household idols, and Jesus really died, buried, and resurrected. This is history too. Kitchen’s On the Reliability of the Old Testament contains a vast amount of historical information confirming these stories. Jacob’s household idols had everything to do with inheritance. These are real events God intervened in for His glory and our instruction. These are real people. Someday we’ll meet them in heaven.
Third, read to know the Triune God. Last year I published an article explaining why you shouldn’t read through your Bible this year. I still stand behind those words (here). My point? Don’t read to say you read. Read to know the Lord better. It’s His Word revealing Himself to us, making the simple wise. Read to know Him
Fourth, take notes. We’re students of Him. His Word reveals. Therefore take notes. Write them out, use Evernote, or whatever works for you. Plain and simple, be a student of Him and do what you need to to learn.
Fifth, try to outline the book on your own. Who cares if it isn’t perfect, build on it each year. Write down key themes and observations. We’re trying to know Him better. Each book has a purpose to a specific people. I want to know each book’s purpose, argument, how it flows, and context. This helps every paragraph make more sense. Do not get so bogged down in a lineage and lose sight of how the lineage fits into the larger story. Expositional preaching is slow, methodical, and can lead us to think every word needs to be mined in depth for hours on end. This is not true. Context governs meaning. Know the context of a book, each paragraph, and each sentence. Outlining the book helps us think of both macro and micro structures in the book and interpret verses rightfully.
Sixth, be flexible and be willing to adjust your plan. Get derailed? Don’t worry, pick Bible back up and begin to read. The great news is this: It was your Bible reading plan. You do not have to follow mine, Challies, or anyone else. Do what works best for you. If something happens, keep going. Remember, the point isn’t I finished the entire Word in 365 days, but I learned and grew in my knowledge of Christ.
Seventh (the bonus level), you don’t have to spend as much time in every book or section of a book as you did in another. I read through the Exodus temple chapters in about 5 minutes. I skim it fast. I also read through Leviticus in one sitting. It’s not that these are less important, its more that I can get the gist of what is going on, relate it to the big picture, and come back and study the details later. Remember, the point is to learn and keep moving.
Finally, check out these resources: The Bible Project composed (and still working) on a series of videos explaining each book. Watch those videos. Their work on Hebrews is AWESOME! Also check out my friend Nate Pickowicz’s work on each book of the Bible in these short blogs. Both are works in progress, but you’ll be blessed by them.