One of the barriers, I think, that prevents people from getting into a daily Bible reading habit is that they don’t understand what they are reading. And since they don’t understand they don’t benefit from it. And not benefitting from it they stop doing it entirely. This is unfortunate because I think it can be avoided completely. This post will discuss some ways to break down this barrier.
Make sure you are in the right headspace
First, make sure that you don’t have any underlying medical conditions that will affect your ability to concentrate. A common condition that can interfere with concentration is burnout. I have personally experienced this and I can tell you that concentrating and understanding books and even concepts in general is difficult when in such a state. These conditions should be either cured or managed as best they can.
Now, assuming that there is no medical condition affecting your ability to concentrate there are a couple of things that need to be coordinated, specifically when you have time to devote to reading and when you are alert. You don’t want to rush through your reading and you also want to be alert when you do it. A potential problem might arise when these two time periods do not align.
If you’re a morning person, that is, you (literally) jump out of bed in the morning (usually quite early) coordinating when you are alert and when you have enough time might not be much of an issue. Many of the morning people I know are up around 5a with a ton of energy. Most of them don’t seem to have any issue doing some reading early in the morning.
If you’re a night owl, like me, coordinating alertness with available time might be a little more difficult. I am rarely alert first thing in the morning. In fact, it usually takes me several hours before the fogginess of sleep wears off. Since most jobs require you to work 9a-5p doing any sort of reading in the morning before work is likely to be a less than ideal experience. I am much more alert in the evening, but there are usually all sorts of activities happening in the evening demanding my attention. Neither situation is really ideal.
I don’t really have a good solution to this. I think the ideal (for a night owl) would be to build it into your bedtime routine. So, an hour before bed you take maybe 20-30 minutes and do some Bible reading, prayer, journaling, and whatever else you might want to do. However, you also risk not doing it due to being tired and/or getting caught up in evening activities.
Alternatively, you can try doing it on your lunch break (assuming you get an actual lunch break at work) and are able to silence communication for that time period. However, this doesn’t work for everyone.
Find an easy translation
Bible translations have varying reading levels. If you read at a 9th grade level a translation at the 12th grade level is not appropriate for you. You will not understand what is being said and you will give up on reading it. God does not give you bonus points for reading a more difficult translation. Now, there is a purpose to these more difficult translations, which I will discuss next week Read a translation that is on your level. So, here’s my quick guide for finding an appropriate translation:
The easiest to understand. If you’ve tried to get into a regular Bible reading program before and failed I would try again with one of these:
In this work Eugene Peterson is basically summarizing the thought of either a verse or several verses. To be sure, it is not technically a translation or even a paraphrase really. According to Peterson (from the preface):
The Message is a reading Bible. It is not intended to replace the excellent study Bibles that are available. My intent here (as it was earlier in my congregation and community) is simply to get people reading it who don’t know that the Bible is read-able at all, at least by them, and to get people who long ago lost interest in the Bible to read it again. But I haven’t tried to make it easy—there is much in the Bible that is hard to understand. So at some point along the way, soon or late, it will be important to get a standard study Bible to facilitate further study. Meanwhile, read in order to live, praying as you read, “God, let it be with me just as you say.”
The Message does have a lot of critics. However, I think, that if you realize what Peterson is intending to do (get you interested in reading the Bible) and what he is not intending to do (offer an acutal translation) I don’t think there is an issue reading The Message. Use The Message to spark your interest in reading the Bible. Do not use it as a substitute for the Bible.
The New Living Translation (NLT)
Unlike The Message this is an actual translation. The basic goal of this translation was to be faithful to the original text, but also produce something that was readable and understandable by most English speakers. One important thing to be aware of regarding this translation is that it attempts to clarify difficult terms or metaphors. So, for example, in Acts 2.42 the NLT reads “sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper)…” Many other English translations just read “and the breaking of bread…” There is a footnote for this particular example that tells you what the Greek literally says here, so make sure you check these while reading the NLT.
The New English Translation (NET)
I could put this at every single level of difficulty, but I’m including it here because the translation itself is, I think, quite easy to understand. The NET is supposed to be “accurate, readable, and elegant.” In my personal opinion it is both accurate and readable, but I wouldn’t consider it elegant. It is by no means crude, just a little short of elegant in my opinion. It also has 60,000 translators notes and is available for free online (netbible.org). I often consult this translation myself when doing research on a particular verse or passage.
Set a time goal not a reading goal
One of the mistakes, I think, that people make when trying to read the Bible is that they set a reading goal instead of a time goal. That is, they try to do something like read through the Bible in a year rather than just try to read it period. Usually, they end up failing to read through in a year and then never try again.
Instead, set a time goal. The quality of time spent reading the Bible and meditating on it matters more than the quantity. If you budgeted 20 minutes for your Bible reading time and the first verse you read really stands out to you and you spend 20 minutes thinking and praying about it then end your time after those 20 minutes. The goal here is to get you into the habit of spending at least a little time each day reading the Bible. Eventually you will be able to complete something like a Bible-in-a-year program, but don’t start there.
You want to set yourself up for success when it comes to reading the Bible. You want that time to be profitable and beneficial so that you will be more motivated to keep it and continue doing it. First, get yourself in the right headspace where you are free from distractions and can concentrate. Second, find a translation that is easy to read. You don’t get bonus points for reading the King James Version. Pick something you can understand. Third, set a time goal not a reading goal. Bible reading is about quality, not quantity. I think following these 3 basic principles will set you up for a profitable and beneficial time of Bible reading.