One of the most popular, most high-potential, most unsuccessful new year’s resolutions is to read more Bible in the coming year.
Like pretty much anything worth doing, it’s not easy, and most people fail at it. But you can do it with the help of these five hacks.
Like most resolutions, deciding to read more of the Bible is exciting for approximately 14 minutes (or about the time you reach Genesis chapter 5). The Bible is not for the faint of heart. It’s confusing. And most of all, it’s really freaking long. It’s a marathon. Just like distance running, it’s more mental than anything—the more miles you get under your belt, the more comfortable you’ll feel with the miles that still lay ahead. I want you to see the finish line. I want you to ingest more of the Bible this year. I want it to change your life like it changed mine.
You’re setting off on an adventure. But unless you’re a hobbit caught in the affairs of wizards, you don’t just walk out your front door and into battle. You prepare. If you want to ingest more of the Bible this year—be it the whole thing or just more than you read last year—practice these five Bible-hacks. They regularly keep my nose in the Good Book, and they can do the same for you.
GET A MAP
Every other book you’ve ever read started on page 1, and progressed, one page at a time, until the end. But the Bible isn’t most books—and starting on page 1 with your eyes on the prize isn’t your only option.
The Internet is full of Bible reading plans. Do a quick search and find one that fits your Bible reading goal and lifestyle. Want a plan on the life of Jesus? You can find it. Want to read through the Bible is historical order? There’s a plan for that. Want to just pick up the major stories and leave behind the fine details about animal sacrifices and ridding ancient dwellings of mold… there’s a plan for that too.
You can find plans that take you through the entire Bible in one year, and plans that take you through half the Bible in two years. You can find plans with built-in flex days, plans that mix the Old Testament and the New Testament, and plans that focus on topics. The plan isn’t important. It’s actually reading the book that matters. But the power of the plan is in providing a trail for you to follow. Lost in the woods isn’t good in fairytales. And it’s not good in trying to reach any goal.
If you’re a techie, find loads of plans in the free Youversion Bible app and check those digital boxes.
FIND A RHYTHM
The only place syncopation works is in jazz music. If you want to make traction on a discipline, you need a regular rhythm of time, place, and procedure.
For me, that rhythm is 6:00AM, in my green chair, with a hot coffee and the desk lamp on. I get up early because I have three kids that, while they love Jesus, really distract me from making any progress in reading the Bible. Coffee because I’m still sleepy that early in the morning. And my green chair because it’s comfortable. It’s as simple as that.
There’s really nothing magical about my rhythm. It just happens to be a place and space that works for me—one I actually look forward to. If you want to read more of the Bible this year, find a time and space you actually enjoy, and sticking to it won’t be nearly as difficult as you might think.
My friend Eric says the Bible is the most hyperlinked document in the history of the world. What he means is, nearly every passage in the Bible builds off knowledge established in another section. In many ways, the Bible assumes you’ve already read the entire thing. It’s incredibly engaging for a seasoned reader and a big hill to overcome if you’re not. On top of all that, it would also serve you well if you could download a working knowledge of archaic agricultural practices, ancient Hebraic languages, and Jewish customs. But since that’s unlikely without a BIble college degree (don’t worry, I don’t have one either), you’re going to have to make peace with asking for help.
Case in point: I was reading an obscure passage a few days ago. It mentioned a goat demon. My first response was something in the ballpark of “What the f—?” (Sorry, Jesus.) My next step? I took it to Google. It led me to a myriad of resources. And I was able to figure out the ancient cultural context for a passage that, when viewed through a modern lens, was a head-scratcher.
The Bible will get confusing. When it does, don’t give up and walk away. Get help. You can find it on Google. You can find it from friends who have studied the Bible in the past. There’s even a whole genre of book, Biblical Commentaries, which exist solely to expound upon all 31,000+ verses in the Good Book—and many are free online.
Not understanding the Bible isn’t a good excuse for giving up. Flex some muscles, dig in, and fight for understanding. It will be worth it.
DON’T DO IT ALONE
You know what completely sucks? Beginning a new discipline alone. Know what sucks marginally less? Pulling someone else into it with you. It works for getting you to the gym. And it will work to keep you reading. Have a friend who would also like a dose of life-changing ancient wisdom? Have them read the Bible with you. Do the same reading-plan. Talk about it. Make it a reason to see them regularly. Do it over beer and chicken wings after work or over donuts and coffee before. Figure out the confusing passages together. Talk about what is challenging. Share your encouragement.
Make the Bible a team sport, and you’ll go much farther. One does not simply walk into Mordor. You gotta be smart enough to at least take Sam with you. Who else is going to cook the po-tay-toes?
WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS, CHEAT
Dear friends, even if you do all the above, there will be days when it all falls apart. You’ll oversleep your alarm, your reading friend will cancel your donut date, or you’ll take a holiday weekend off and realize you’re suddenly 50 chapters behind on your plan. Take a deep breath. This a long game. And in this one, cheating is encouraged.
My preferred cheating method is listening to it. There are loads of free audiobook versions of the Bible. When I find myself struggling to engage with a difficult section, or way behind on my plan, I listen to it instead. Listening to the Bible has always proven a much better use of my 30 minute morning commute than those true-crime podcasts anyway (Dang you, Payne Lindsey).
If free is a magic word to you, then look no further than the YouVersion Bible App, which has built-in audiobook features for many of its most popular Bible translations. If you fancy yourself more of a craft beer Bible reader, there are audiobook versions on Audible by Johnny Cash and Mr. Darth Vader himself, James Earl Jones. More of a drama kid? Find a dramatized version of the Bible, with voice actors portraying the different characters in an engaging radio theater-style. Is hip-hop your thing? Check out the free Streetlights app, which pairs scripture with original music and beats for a completely engrossing experience. Audio Bibles are a deep well. Find the flavor you like and listen away.
Another cheat method? Embrace the screen because your perfect time and space won’t always work out. You can judge if you want, but whenever I have downtime, the phone is open, and I’m reading the Bible. At Starbucks, standing in line at the grocery store, waiting for a meeting to start at work—these are all perfect times to turn off Facebook and read a chapter or two instead. Short bursts of the Bible throughout the day can add up to big gains.
Finally, and most difficult of all, breathe. It’s going to be OK. If you pick a plan and find yourself six months behind—keep going. If your reading friend bails on you in the throes of the prophets… keep going. If you find the perfect time and space and it gets hijacked six out of seven days by crying babies… keep going. Hold everything loosely except your desire to get more of the Bible into your head and heart. It’s all going to be OK. Just keep swimming. I mean, reading.
One of the places I’ve been able to find many of these hacks coalescing is in the Crossroads Anywhere App. Everyday, there is a new passage of scripture (get a plan) that thousands of users are reading together (don’t do it alone). After reading, users are able to post their thoughts, reflections, questions, and encouragement (get help). The app also allows me to access troves of teachings, podcasts and articles for when I need a cheat day. It’s a brilliant and helpful tool that’s worth checking out.
No matter how you choose to access scripture, it won’t be easy. But the easy button never changed anyone’s life. Ingesting more of the Bible this year is going to be hard. But you can do it. I believe in you, and with these five hacks, you’ve got much more than a snowball’s chance in Sheol of finishing. (That’s a Bible joke. Keep your nose in the book, and you’ll get it.) Happy reading!