Four Practical Suggestions for More Productive Bible Reading
Note: The following is taken from Mercy Hill's Next Steps Booklet entitled Walk the Sacred Path. If you want more of what you see here, be sure to check it out!
“Help! I want to read my Bible but I don’t know where to start!” If that’s where you’re at, this article is for you! Let me quickly give you four suggestions that might get things moving in the right direction . . .
Suggestion #1: Get a Good Bible
For this, I’d recommend in particular that you check out the ESV Study Bible.
The Bible is an intimidating read, no doubt. It’s not a book you’d think to take along on your summer vacation for perusing while you lounge at the beach. It’s long; it’s complex; it’s confusing; it’s a few thousand years removed from our context. We need help. For goodness sake, I went to seminary full-time for four years, I’ve devoted my life to studying this book . . . and I still, like you, need help.
A good study Bible like the ESV Study Bible can be a tremendous asset in all of this. As you’re reading through and come to places were you’re just scratching your head, of course you pray, of course you ask God for help and the gift of illumination in the Spirit, but you also humbly receive help from those who are a few steps ahead of you. You can look at the cross-references and maybe make connections that grant you a bit more understanding. You can read the included commentary on the verses and find your bearings once more in matters of interpretation.
For me to simply hand you a Bible and tell you to read it from cover to cover would be like me trying to teach you how to swim by taking you out on a boat to the middle of the ocean and just dropping you in. Even if you somehow learned to swim in all of this, I think we can agree this isn’t the right approach. You need floaties. You need lessons. You need help.
And it’s no different with our Bible reading. The ESV Study Bible is a great resource for this. I commend it to you.
Suggestion #2: Get a Good Plan
Before I put forward a suggestion on this, let me just give you a few quick stats to help you see what we’re dealing with when it comes to reading the Bible:
- First, I wonder if you know that it takes about seventy-five hours to read the Bible cover to cover. Now, at first that may sound like an awful lot. But do you realize that if you divide seventy-five hours by the 365 days that are in a year we are talking about reading for somewhere around fifteen minutes a day to get through the entire Bible in a year. That puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?
- Second, to help you see this from another angle, I wonder if you realize that there are 1,189 chapters in the Bible. Again, this may sound at first like an overwhelming number. But when you divide 1,189 chapters by the 365 days that are in a year, we come to find that we would only need to read about three chapters a day to read it all the way through in twelve months. Not so hard, right?
So let’s imagine you want to try to read through the Bible in something like a year. Now you know we’re talking about reading around three chapters for fifteen minutes or so each day. But how exactly are you going to go about this? What’s going to be your plan? Do you just attempt to read from start to finish, from Genesis on to Revelation? Some may find that works well for them. Personally, I have heard of too many starting this way only to die out by Leviticus (just a few books in!). The book of Leviticus, admittedly, is hard to understand. The content doesn’t seem immediately edifying. And, in the back of your mind, you’re a bit concerned about the fact that Jesus isn’t going to show up for almost another eight months of reading! This is why so many people tap out early. It seems too daunting of a task.
But here’s where the various Bible reading plans can really come in and help us. Because it’s understood that just reading the Bible through can be a lot for people to attempt, these plans will often divide up the material so that we are reading in various places of Scripture all at the same time.
Now, there are many helpful plans at this point, but the one I like best is quite simple. I call it the 3x3 Plan (three books and three chapters). You begin reading simultaneously in three books—Genesis, Job, and Matthew—and then you progress reading a chapter or so a day from each starting point. This essentially divides the Bible into thirds and, assuming a relatively even pace, you will finish each section at approximately the same time.
The two major benefits to this that I’ve experienced are: first, it’s balanced—you get to read from various places in Scripture; and, second, it teaches you to read Scripture towards Jesus. The tensions and struggles and promises and shadows you see in your Old Testament reading take on new meaning and find their fulfillment in Jesus as you come to your New Testament reading. It’s amazing. And it’s really the way Jesus would have us come to understand things (cf. Luke 24:27, 44-45).
Suggestion #3: Get a Good Method
So you’ve got a good Bible. And you’ve got a good plan to keep you going. Now you need a good method. What I mean here is you need to know what to do with the Bible as you read it.
For this I commend to you what I’ve come to call the DNA Method of Bible study. We must not read the Word of God and let it run in one ear and out the other as water runs through a pipe. We must instead draw God’s Word down into our hearts as rain percolates into soil. Take it into the deepest parts of you and let God satisfy you there and bring transformation out from it. The DNA Method has been designed to aid you in this process.
Now, since this method is described in great detail elsewhere (e.g. here and here and here) I won’t reiterate it again now. Instead, let me give you one other piece to consider. While the DNA Method helps you go deeper with the particular chapters and verses read, we must also remember the value of getting up and above the trees, as it were, where we can catch a glimpse of the whole forest itself. What I mean is, as you come in your reading to a new book in the Bible, before you launch right into it, you might consider first orienting yourself by seeking out some introduction to the book as whole.
If you’ve ever hiked in the backcountry, you know that before you haul off into the woods, you first spend time poring over topography maps in effort to get a sense of the “lay of the land.” Such work may seem at first less exciting and unfulfilling, but when once you get in and amongst the trees, you’re always glad you did it. Now you have a better idea of what you’re looking for and where you’re headed. The journey is less stressful and more enjoyable.
Engaging Bible book introductions is somewhat like this.
So when you come to a new book in the Bible, here are a few of my suggestions you might consider:
- In your ESV Study Bible, read the introduction they provide for that book. This may seem a bit academic and boring at first, but it will pay dividends later.
- Watch the Bible Project’s overview video for that book. These are always masterfully compact, stimulating, and insightful.
- Listen to Mark Dever’s “book-level overview sermon” for that book. He manages to preach a single sermon on each book of the Bible. You can listen to it during your commute or while doing your daily chores.
If you take me up on even just one of these suggestions, I trust you will find it immensely helpful.
Suggestion #4: Get A Good Friend
This cannot go unsaid. A good friend is a great help in the journey. What if we were a church that read the Scriptures together?! We need accountability, prayer, and support if we are to make it through in this.
- Perhaps you tap someone to simply check in with you occasionally to ask how your times with God are going.
- Maybe you commit to getting together with the person on a regular basis to discuss what you’ve each been getting out of your own devotions.
- Maybe you even decide to read one of the books in the 3x3 Plan together, chapter by chapter, and you engage the DNA Method questions over a cup of coffee.
Whatever you do, the bottom line is this: God wants to meet with us in his Word. We cannot, we must not, excuse ourselves saying that the matter is too complicated for us. There’s much we can still do to press in towards him. We can get a good Bible. We can get a good plan. We can get a good method. And we can get a good friend. May God bless you as you go!
 For example, ESV audio Bibles online run for about seventy-five hours in total.
 Ligonier Ministries has put out an extensive list of plans for you to consider
(https://www.ligonier.org/blog/bible-reading-plans/). One other plan I’d recommend would be the one put out by The Bible Project (https://bibleproject.com/reading-plans/). The fact that this plan coincides with their profoundly helpful videos makes it an especially attractive option.
 The astute observer will notice that the New Testament section of the 3x3 Plan does not have quite as many chapters as the other two sections. Therefore, if you’re not all that concerned with reading the whole Bible within a year, you might consider reading a little less from the New Testament books each day, giving yourself instead more time to meditate on the contents therein.
 Full disclosure: I personally don’t even attempt to read the Bible in a year. Often, I make my way at the pace of about a chapter a day, reading from one of the three sections for a few days and then moving on to another. Sometimes, I’ll read a chapter from two of the sections. Other times, I’ll do the whole 3x3. It just depends. Remember, we don’t read our Bibles so we can check off some box as if it were a mere task on a list. No! We read our Bibles to meet with God. So find what works best for you in all of this and press in towards him. That’s the point!
 You can find them online at https://www.capitolhillbaptist.org/resources/sermons/.