Is it 2014 already? That didn’t take long! As you look ahead with anticipation, I hope you’re setting some reading goals to enrich your Christian life through the Scriptures and other Christian books. Tony Reinke very accurately explains, “Reading is a difficult pleasure because it requires discipline, diligence, and focus. But like in any pleasure, it is a pleasure that can be done for God’s glory.”  As someone who loves to read, I can admit that it’s not always easy, particularly in our day with so many other distractions clamoring for our attention. However, it’s essential to Christian growth and a discipline every one of us should seek to cultivate and grow in through the years. Don’t have time? Consider these numbers, also from Reinke:
First, most people can find sixty minutes each day to read. It sounds like a lot, but it really isn’t: fifteen minutes in the morning, fifteen minutes at lunchtime, and another thirty minutes in the evening. No problem. At this pace, you can devote seven hours to reading each week (or 420 minutes). The average reader moves through a book at a pace of about 250 words per minute. So 420 minutes of reading per week translates into 105,000 words per week. This book is roughly 55,000 words. Assuming that you can read for one hour each day, and that you read at around 250 words per minute, you can complete more than one book per week, or about seventy books per year.
I would be elated to know that the average Christian read even 12 books per year along with the Bible! So what’s your plan? Why not consider one of the books I listed a few weeks ago to get you started?
Bible Reading. Many Christians begin the year with a plan to get through the entire Bible. It’s a good plan, and certainly something to strive for at some point, however it doesn’t need to be the way we all go about reading our Bibles each year. Quite frankly, for most it becomes a rather burdensome task which doesn’t provide the fruit that is intended. Nevertheless, reading the Bible in a year is profitable on many levels, so don’t not do it because it seems difficult (I promise, it is!). So here are a few Bible reading plans to help you get started: (this list was mostly generated by Justin Taylor):
- Stephen Witmer’s two-year plan to get through the entire Bible.
- The Gospel Coalition’s For the Love of God Blog takes you through the M’Cheyne reading plan, with a meditation each day by D. A. Carson related to one of the readings. In one year, you will read through the New Testament twice, the Psalms twice and the rest of the Old Testament once.
- George Guthrie’s Chronological Bible Reading Plan. Guthrie has also made a a booklet version of the Read the Bible for Life 4+1 Reading Plan. In this plan, you read four different places in the Scriptures and a psalm a day, thus cycling through the psalms twice in the year. This plan is semi-chronological, placing the prophets and the NT letters in rough chronological order.
- The Bible Reading Plan for Shirkers and Slackers – A good starting place for someone who has been inconsistent in their Scripture reading.
- Don Whitney has a simple but surprisingly effective tool: A Bible Reading Record. It’s a list of every chapter in the Bible, and you can check them off as you read them at whatever pace you want.
- For the highly motivated and disciplined, Grant Horner’s plan has you reading each day a chapter from ten different places in the Bible.
- Joe Carter and Fred Sanders explain James Gray’s method of “How to Master the English Bible” (This is my personal favorite way to read the Bible devotionally).
- There are 10 Reading Plans for ESV Editions, and the nice things is the way in which Crossway has made them accessible in multiple formats (web, RSS, Podcast, iCal, Mobile, pdf).
- The ESV study Bible has a reading plan in the back – you can also find it here.
- The discipleship journal reading plan will get you through the entire Bible in a year, and allows 5 days each month to “catch up” if you’ve gotten behind.
Bible Companions. It’s a good and important thing to read your Bible, but having a companion to help you through the Scriptures is important as well. I would suggest using a good commentary along the way and/or a confession of faith to help you theologically. We are arrogant and naive if we think we can figure the Bible out on our own – we need helpful resources.
- If you don’t have a good commentary set or Bible resources on your computer or bookshelf, consider starting with Matthew Henry’s complete commentary of the Bible. It’s available for free online.
- I highly recommend reading Scripture with a confession of faith in hand. The Bible is theological, and sometimes we need help sorting out the theology behind it lest we fall into error. Check out the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith.
Devotionals. What about devotionals? Devotionals are very helpful, and give us good things to think on throughout each day in addition to the Scripture we’ve read. Admittedly, many devotionals are shallow at best, but there are some that I have found to be helpful, meaty, and worth my reading time. Here are a few of my suggestions:
While not necessarily written as a devotional, I have read Note to Self as a devotional and found it to be full of good thoughts to ponder throughout the day in small chunks. In other words, I would typically read a shorter book like this one in a sitting or two – this book is better consumed a chapter per day. And they are only a few pages each, making this an excellent choice for devotional reading.
Winslow was a very well known reformed pastor in the 1800s. His writings are deeply devotional and have proven to be a wonderful balm to my soul on countless occasions.
- Morning and Evening by C.H. Spurgeon
Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening is a classic devotional read. As with all of Spurgeon’s works, it is highly readable and enjoyable, just as much today as it was in the 1800s. This is also available free online.
- Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin
Two years ago I followed a daily reading schedule to get through Calvin’s Institutes. It was highly rewarding, and I think something every Christian should consider doing do at some point. Many people talk about Calvinism or claim to have an understanding of what Calvin taught without ever actually reading him. Here’s a great way to get through his magnum opus in one year.
- Whiter Than Snow: Meditations on Sin and Mercy by Paul Tripp
Tripp wrote 52 short chapters, mainly working through Psalm 51, to address our sin and God’s mercy. Whiter Than Snow is a very rewarding read, and each chapter comes in at 3 pages or less, making it perfect for a devotional.
- Tabletalk Magazine by Ligonier Ministries
Ligonier Ministries has published Tabletalk Magazine for many years, and has proven to be an excellent daily devotional for Christians. Tabletalk provides 5, 1-page readings for each week, and lengthy articles on a specific monthly topic to read on the weekends. It is well worth the subscription price – I, and many members of Ephesus Church have relied on Tabletalk for quite some time.
- Operation World by Jason Mandryk
I’ve said many times, I believe Operation World should be in every Christian home. While not devotional reading, it is the most helpful guide available to walk Christians through praying for every country in the world every year. We have a mandate to pray for the nations and to do all that we can to see the advance of the gospel to the nations. Operation World will be very helpful to you and your family to accomplish that great task. I would also recommend looking up the Joshua Project app for your smartphone so that you can pray for the people group of the day.
Lastly, I want to provide a few things for you to consider as you read your Bible. Are you asking questions of the text to develop a greater understanding of what the writers are conveying? Remember, our goal is to know what the text means, not “what does it mean to me?” Quite frankly, what it means to you is of no value. When reading the Bible, we must know what the text is communicating to us because we are learning what God is communicating to us. One of the most effective ways to understand the Bible is by asking questions while you read. Here are a few suggestions:
- Who is involved? Who is speaking? Who is acting?
- When did this event take place (what day of week, what hour of the day, relationship to some other event)?
- Where did the action take place (what city, what specific location such as a home or on a mountain, etc.)?
- What took place?
- What sin is presented that I should forsake?
- What command is given that I should obey?
- What promise has God made?
- Why did this event take place?
- How did the event occur?
- How do I put the principles taught in the passage into practice?
If you like to journal, or would like to start journaling through your Bible reading, why not use these questions to get started? I guarantee you’ll immediately find yourself enjoying and understanding the Scriptures more than you ever have before.
(By: Nick Kennicott)