Spiritual Discipline Series
This year, Expository Files will features 12 articles on Spiritual Disciplines For Every Christian. Our writers will convey to us from the Bible, the simple disciplines that need our attention, to please God and be effective, disciplined people.
By “spiritual discipline” we mean those things God has given us to do. When done consistently, we not only glorify God and serve others well, we build discipline and long-term strength into our lives.
Productive Bible Reading
My childhood summers included a week or two with my grandparents in their home. I have fond memories of those days on the farm in Alma, Texas. A day’s routine might include getting up early to help Granddad milk the cows, and eating Nannie’s delicious biscuits for breakfast. There was time to play in the hayloft or to play a game of dominoes. The most memorable moment of the day was just before bedtime. All in the house would gather in the living room for daily Bible reading. A chapter of Scripture was read, and prayers said before we went to bed.
I don't remember anything that was read, however I learned a valuable lesson. Life's most important activity is seeking God. It impressed me that my grandparents had such a faith and commitment they would allow God to talk to them each day. I learned about a sense of security and a renewing faith that comes from taking the time to listen to God. If you are not a daily Bible reader, I hope I can encourage you to start the habit. If you have already started that journey, perhaps we can help you to hone in your reading skills.
If we were deserted in a wilderness, but had a manual that listed rules of survival, would we read it? Absolutely! Reality: we are in the middle of a wilderness. We are in a battle for the survival of our soul. So why is it so difficult to get folks to devote some time each day to reading, meditation, and prayer? Maybe, it is because we fail to see the seriousness of the battle.
The Bible is our most prized possession. It is more precious than gold and it's words sweeter than honey. (Psalm 19:10) A habit of daily Bible reading can provide us with answers to life's most important questions. Who is God? Who is man? Why are we here? Where are we going?
The Bible tells the story of the greatest life to ever live. It holds the solution to man’s most dreaded disease, sin. It is a story of a loving God whose son lived on earth. He ministered to the suffering and died for the sinner.
One of man's greatest fears is of the future. Yet, the Bible holds the answer to the destiny of man. It promises that one day God’s son will return to right all of the wrongs. It holds the key to our destiny. God has daily treasures for us to discover in this marvelous book.
For the Christian daily Bible reading can be a means of daily encouragement and warning. “Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You.” (Psalm 119 :11) It is a means of spiritual revival. “My soul clings to the dust; revive me according to Your word.” (Psalm 119:25) And, it provides spiritual guidance “The entrance of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.” (Psalm 119:130)
Our spiritual lives are molded first by thoughts. Thoughts have power over our lives. Right living begins with right thinking. Regular, frequent reading of the Bible will help us to center our thoughts and lives on God's will. This will not happen if the Bible remains a furniture ornament.
I've heard a good friend of mine say, ”I read the newspaper every day to see what the devil is up to, and the Bible every day to see what God is up to”. Why do we spend so much time in the Devils camp? Besides, we will educate ourselves about everything. We will pursue college degrees to improve our life on earth. We read novels and magazines, and listen to radio. Did you know the average American will spend six hours a day watching TV? Can we not shut out the world long enough to listen to God?
Let's face it, the biggest hindrance to daily Bible reading is self. Some may think they already know it all. Others rely on their preacher for Bible knowledge. Some are comfortable with their current status. Others may struggle with developing the habit and finally give up. The author of Hebrews has a word that describes most of these excuses – "dullness". (Hebrews 5:11) The author reminds them that they need to be taught. Such is not possible until we get our heads in the book. Let us put away the excuses and give diligence to daily Bible reading.
Here are some strategies that may help our Bible reading to be productive.
Plan for it. Christians are expected to develop the habit of regular giving (1 Corinthians 16:1,2), taking the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:26), praying (1 Thessalonians 5:16), and assembling (Hebrews 10:24.25). Like most virtues, regular Bible reading grows out of developing the habit. To be a safe driver one must concentrate on rules of safe driving. This ideally takes place one mile at a time. This takes determination and concentration. In the same fashion, to be a successful Bible reader we must be determined to develop the discipline. We must purpose this routine in our heart. (2 Corinthians 9:7)
Follow a disciplined schedule. Daniel prayed to God three times a day. It was non-negotiable. (Daniel 6:6-10) If we don't have a designated time for reading, we will be prone to neglect it. Choose a time of the day when there are the least distractions. Early in the morning is the best time for me. Set aside at least 15 to 20 minutes a day. Make this plan a routine and try to make it non-negotiable.
Find a reading plan that best fits you. There are numerous good reading schedules that are available. Mark Roberts has a five day reading plan at www.Bibleclassmaterial.com. Some of the Bible apps for your phone or tablet offer good reading plans. If you wish to customize your own plan, you can do so at MyBibleplans.com. They will even send an email to your mobile device each day that also includes an MP3 audio file of the day’s reading. Bibleplan.org is also a good source for daily Bible reading. The main thing is to find a plan that fits you and stick to it! If you miss a day skip it and move on. But don't beat yourself up because you missed a day of reading.
Find a good readable translation. Experts say that the New International Version Bible was written on a seventh grade reading level, whereas the King James Version was written at a twelfth grade level. The point: some translations will be easier to read than others. If this is your first time to read the Bible all the way through, I recommend F. Lagard Smith's “The Daily Bible”. It's easy to read translation coupled with its chronological arrangement is a good place to start for first time Bible readers. After that you might want to vary translations from year to year. I would recommend the ESV “One Year Bible”, or you may prefer to use your own personal study Bible. Find a translation you feel comfortable with and stick to it.
Read the Bible to get the big picture. Try not to get bogged down in details. Specifics should be reserved to a time when we can devote more effort to study. During your reading, questions may arise or thoughts arise that you may wish to explore further. Keep a pen and pad handy. Write those things down for later reflection. Remember the purpose of daily reading is to capture the overall Bible story.
Read the Bible to change your life. The benefit of regular reading is to bring us closer to God. "I will praise You with uprightness of heart, when I learn Your righteous judgments” (Psalm 119:7). The Bible should leave us with a feeling of awe, respect, and praise for its author. It was written to convict us and warn us. "I thought about my ways, and turned my feet to Your testimonies.” (Psalm 119:59) The Bible will instruct us in the right way to follow. You are near, O Lord, and all Your commandments are truth. (Psalm 119:151) Read it with an open heart to learn Gods’s way, and not to prove your preconceived notions. Finally, God’s word can encourage us, and give a us sense of peace and comfort. "Your words were found, and I ate them, and Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart; for I am called by Your name, O Lord God of hosts.” (Jeremiah 15:16)
Start a reading group. I highly recommend reading the Bible together as a family. Start a regular reading group with members of your congregation. The accountability and encouragement of a group can help us to stay on a disciplined schedule. Group readings on college campuses, coffee shops, and bookstores may also be an excellent tool for evangelism. Or, simply share with others what you have learned in your personal, private reading.
For many years I personally struggled with the discipline of daily devotion and Bible reading. With perseverance, God has helped me win the battle. My time with God has become my favorite time of the day. I have learned much about needed improvements in my life. I have grown in my appreciation of the Lord. I have two wonderful grandparents to thank for showing me the value of this daily activity.
Smith, F. LaGard, The Daily Bible; Harvest House Publishers; Eugene, Oregon ,1984
The One Year Bible, English Standard Version; Good News Publishers; Wheaton, Illinois, 2001
Rhodes, Ron, The Complete Guide to Bible Translations; Harvest House Publishers;
Eugene Oregon, 2009
By George Slover
From Expository Files 23.2; February 2016