If you were welcoming in the New Year in Spain, you might be eating a cluster of grapes as the clock chimes twelve. Why? Spanish farmers in the late 1800s had a surplus of grapes when they came up with a successful marketing campaign – convince Spaniards everywhere that the formula to success in the New Year was to eat twelve grapes. Even today, my 85 plus year old grandmother tries to convince me that I must eat sauerkraut on New Year’s Day to have good fortune. Whatever the idea, many of our minds turn toward the new year and begin to make serious resolutions for a better life. Many of us begin considering new habits. For some, it is losing weight while others think of going back to school to sharpen job skills.
Of all the resolutions you will consider in 2014, one of the best you can make is to read the Bible. (You were expecting that from a pastor, right?) No matter if you are an experienced believer or brand new to the Bible, reading the Bible is among the most rewarding things you can do to turbo charge your spiritual growth. Yet, less than twenty percent of all Americans read their Bibles on a daily basis. More than sixty percent of those surveyed wished they read their Bibles more.
While Bible sales are consistently high, Bible reading has proven difficult for many. I want to suggest a couple of avenues for you to gain traction in reading your Bible in 2014.
1. Get a Bible. When you go to purchase a Bible, the amount of choices are overwhelming. There are study Bibles and reference Bibles. There teen Bibles, couple’s Bibles, and there are plain, old Holy Bibles. Despite the wide-range of choices, the task of choosing a Bible becomes much more simplified when you know what you are looking for.
First, find a Bible that is reliable and readable. I like the English Standard Version and nearly everyone who speaks during our church’s worship services uses this translation. I chose it because it was reliable. I also find it readable for most Americans.
But there are other good choices including the New American Standard Bible, New King James Version, and the Holman Christian Standard Bible. All of these translations are “word for word” translations from the original languages where the Bible was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. That is, the translators took special care to translate all the words of the Bible accurately for modern English readers.
While I have a few study Bibles, I generally prefer to read a Bible that is virtually note-free. Newer believers may value the notes that are included in study Bibles and there are many to consider. If interested, check out the ESV Study Bible.
You will want to consider reading the Bible electronically as well. I love reading the Bible on my iPad because it is backlit, making it easier to see. I consistently use the ESV Bible App because it is easy to read, free to download, and it doesn’t require my iPhone or iPad to constantly query the Internet to read additional Scriptures. Another advantage of reading the Bible electronically is that I can increase the font to make it easier on my eyes. Plus, the Bible can be easily searched when reading it on a Tablet. Lastly, YouVersion is another great option as it provides a ton of great free resources for reading your Bible as well. YouVersion also allows you to take sermon notes as our church offers this option in each of our weekend services.
2. Get to know your Bible. The Bible is long as it contains more 31,000 verses and 800,000 words all enclosed in sixty-six books. The Bible’s length comes into focus when you consider the Qur’an is a mere four-fifths of the length of the New Testament. Indeed, compared side by side, the Bible is five times bigger than the Qur’an.
Admittedly, the Bible also has a strange culture for contemporary Americans. Unfortunately, many have written books in a satirical effort of the Bible’s strange culture. Even as a pastor, I am puzzled by some of the cultural habits of the Hebrew people when I read the Old Testament. But if you know something of the Bible’s nature, you can avoid some pitfalls. There is a broad chronology to the Bible, but it has so many separate pieces to it that it is difficult to hold it all in your mind at once.
Here are a couple of helpful tips when trying to read your Bible.
1. The four Gospels are the place where you can learn most directly about Jesus and His saving work.
2. The book of Psalms, a collection of poems, gives expression to the emotional side of the Christian life, as well as teaching how to pray and worship.
3. The book of Genesis informs you about how the world and basic human institutions, such as the family, began.
4. The letters toward the end of the New Testament explain the doctrinal and ethical principles of the Christian faith and teach what it means to belong to the church of Jesus Christ.
5. The book of Revelation is the most complete (although not the only) place to find information about the end times.
The overall shape of the Bible’s story is like a “U” in which events begin in perfection, fall into corruption, and painfully wind their way back to the final defeat of evil and the triumph of good. The crucial turning point is the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
3. Set aside time for Bible reading. Purposefully and intentionally set aside time each day to read your Bible. Again, the Bible is a long book and the thought of reading it is daunting. Create a habit of consistently reading the Bible by doing these three things.
1) Find a particular room in your apartment or home to read God’s Word;
2) Read about the same time each day (e.g., morning or evening);
3) Read even when you don’t feel like it.
If you are a believer, then know this: Bible engagement is directly related to spiritual growth. Become a self-feeder as meditating and studying on the Word of God are the heartbeat of the Christian life. You can’t sustain a practice of Christianity without the Word of God.
4. Identify with a reading plan. Because of the challenges in reading your Bible, you must develop a reading plan and you must stick to it. For many, they start in Genesis and lose interest by the time they reach Leviticus. To counter this, you must develop a plan.
Each year, publisher and blogger Justin Taylor puts together a host of reading options you can choose to follow. There is even a site developed where you even can tailor your Bible reading to the amount of time you have available. Ligonier Ministries also offers various plans for reading through the Bible. And there is even a children’s reading plan. Personally, I have found it more rewarding to read through the Bible on a two-year plan than a one-year plan. Others are different and there are a multitude of options.
Note: If you follow a reading plan through the YouVersion app, you can set up “reminders” on your phone or tablet.