Next to having the discipline to consistently spend time in God’s Word everyday, this is the most difficult obstacle I run into with Bible reading:
“What should I read?”
After all, there is no perfect formula; no step-by-step program for everyone to follow when it comes to a daily “quiet time.” Once you get the ball rolling here, it no longer becomes an issue—at least until whatever you’re reading comes to completion, then you’re back at square one asking that very same question again.
Since there is no perfect answer to this question for all people, at all times, in all circumstances, I simply want to offer some guidance to help direct you in getting started (or for many of you, to pick back up and continue). First, a couple of ground rules:
Read the Bible.
It may seem obvious, but for some, devotional time consists of reading the great classic writers, or some Christian authors’ well articulated thoughts. As supplemental reading, this can certainly enhance our understanding of Scripture, but the reality is we must continually immerse ourselves in the Truth of God’s Word more than anything.
It can be difficult, at times uncomfortable, and maybe even a little confusing, but there is a danger when we would rather read books about the Bible than read the Bible itself. Only God’s Word is “living and active” (Heb. 4:12), breathed-out by God and useful for “teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness” (1 Tim. 3:16), and only God’s Word will not “return empty” (Is. 55:11).
Have a plan and stick to it.
This isn’t a daily horoscope for random instruction on making it through the day. This is an investment in your relationship with God the Father which takes time, consistency, putting pieces of a larger story together, looking at context, and simply being present—ready to learn.
If we open our Bible to the passages we think we need everyday, then we’re trying to feed ourselves rather than allowing God to offer us the “daily bread” He knows we actually need. Have you ever let a child pick their meals? They’ll go for the candy and ice cream every time—it’s not healthy.
And there’s real danger to opening your Bible to a random page, blinding pointing to a verse, and taking it out of context to apply in your own life. What happens when you’re in a tight spot and happen across a passage like Proverbs 31:6: “Give strong drink to the one who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress;”? I highly doubt alcohol will solve the problem.
So what should I read?
If you’ve never had a regular quiet time before, I’d encourage you to start with a resource like “Our Daily Bread.” The benefit to something like this is you get a solid variety of Scripture passages and there’s no longer a reason to ask, “What should I read today?” They give you a passage to read, some additional thoughts or commentary on that passage, even other references to dig deeper. For a beginner, or even someone who feels they need to go back to the basics, this is a great resource and you can subscribe to a print booklet in the mail (or get them in bulk for your church), daily emails, or download their mobile app.
Once you’re ready for something a little deeper, there’s a million options. The default everyone seems to jump to, and the one the internet seems to think you’re looking for when you search Google for help, is to read the Bible in a year. Personally, I’d hold-off on this one. It’s a serious challenge and takes some radical discipline. I believe everyone needs to hammer through the entire Bible at some point, but the “Bible in a year” is such a tall order I think most end up biting-off more than they can chew. When you’re ready, come back to this one… And even then, you may want to consider another alternative (I’ll revisit this one in a future post).
If a basic devotional isn’t what you’re looking for, and you’re not at a point where you want to read the Bible in a year, here’s a few options to try next:
Read through entire books of the Bible, a section or chapter at a time.
This is my current method. It sets you up to look at everything in context of the passages around it, and it’s pretty easy to know what to read from day to day. The downside is once you finish whatever book you’re on, you’re back to the question, “What do I read now?” Here’s how I deal with it:
Begin praying and asking God to direct you in what to read next. Do a little research on books of the Bible:
What topics/themes do they cover?
Who were they written to?
What’s the overarching message of a particular book?
Often, your Bible will have introductions to each book which cover these questions, or there’s a fantastic, free video resource called “The Bible Project,” which offers brief video illustrations of this type of thing. Then ask yourself:
What haven’t I read recently?
What themes or stories do I wish to know more about?
What’s something I’ve come across in my current reading that another book of the Bible can shed more light on?”
What do I sense God may be trying to tell me?
I’ve found after praying & digging, the Holy Spirit usually brings a particular book or section of books to mind again and again—this is probably what you should focus on. Be sure whatever book of the Bible you choose (whether reading a chapter a day, or a section from heading to heading each day) will at least give you a good chunk of time without having to ask “What do I read, now?” Then, as you find yourself approaching the end of your plan, take the last few days to pray, research, and go through this process again so you’ve got a plan in place for what comes next before your current plan ends.
Some options to get you started:
Read one of the 4 Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. Since they all cover the life of Jesus, I find it’s good to keep coming back to these after reading something else for a while. Anytime I read the book of Luke, I tend to follow it up with the Book of Acts, since it’s a continuation to the story written by the same author.
Read a Psalm everyday. There’s 150 chapters, so this will get you through almost half the year and there’s a great mix of themes geared at who God is, praising Him, and calling out to Him in times of trouble.
Read a Proverb everyday. There’s 31 of these, so they match up really well with the calendar. Simply figure out what day it is, and then read the corresponding chapter of Proverbs. There’s a ton of wisdom here, and no matter how many times you read it, something new always manages stand out.
Read letters from the New Testament. Some are longer, but most are short so consider combining a few in your plan if you need to.
Read one of the first 5 books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, or Deuteronomy. These are the books of the Law that get referenced again & again throughout the entire rest of the Bible, so it’s good to keep coming back to these.
Read a particular major prophet or piece of wisdom literature. Books like Job, Ecclesiastes, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, or Daniel. There may be a lot of judgement or doom & gloom here, but there’s also some very powerful truth that’s still relevant to us today.
Read a minor prophet. These are the ones we typically skip over or their names are hard to pronounce, but like the major prophets there’s still truth here we shouldn’t ignore. Again, some are long & some are short so consider combining a few, especially if they deal with similar parts or places of history.
Read what your church is studying
Week after week your pastors have been hard at work compiling a message they believe God desires those in their community need to hear. There’s nothing wrong with digging deeper or reflecting on what you’ve already been told, and there are huge benefits for your local church body when everyone is studying the same stuff, together.
So this Sunday, take note of the passages your pastor teaches on, and throughout your week spend time reading them again or dig into the cross-references of other related passages. I can’t tell you how often my pastor says, “We don’t have time to look at this today, but over in this passage of Scripture…” write that passage down or text yourself so you can go back and look at it later in the week. Some of your churches will put the teaching audio or videos online, offer study guides for more in-depth digging, or possibly even a bible reading plan—use these!
Theres a ton of pre-made plans for just about anything at Bible.com/reading-plans (formerly, the YouVersion Bible app). Some come with additional commentary, some have videos that go with them, and some are literally just the passages of Scripture. There are so many available, and many are put together by solid Biblical teachers or popular churches. If you download the mobile app and sign-up for a log-in you can track where you are in each reading, reschedule if you miss a few days, and when you finish one simply go find another. You’ll probably be asking “What should I read?” pretty regularly doing it this way, but there’s always plenty of good stuff to pick-up and keep going. I find this beneficial when I’m between my own readings and haven’t quite landed on where to go next.
Quit stalling and get reading!
There’s so many other options available, and soon Flectio will even have some of our own reading plans to offer you. The biggest thing is to simply get started! If whatever you’re doing isn’t working, shift gears and try something else. Go to the people in your church or small group and find out what others are reading—better yet, invite someone to join you and go through it together so you can talk about what God is showing you.
Whatever you do, as you’re spending time in God’s Word I encourage you to write down what God is showing you each day. You’ll be able to see your spiritual progress, look back at God’s faithfulness, and never forget what you’ve learned. Any notebook or journal will do but if you’re one of those people who wants something specific, check out one of our Flectio Journals.
*All resources listed in this post are simply things I’ve used or come across and found to be helpful. Neither Flectio nor myself have been paid to endorse these other brands, websites, or products. It’s just old-school, word-of-mouth sharing.
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