How to Get Out of a Bible Reading Rut

How to get out of a Bible reading rut

Routines can help us establish good habits. Half the battle in establishing a regular quiet time or devotional time is staking out a workable, regular time and place. Some days—and some seasons of life—upend our schedules, and all we can do is watch for any available minutes. But we usually do better when we plan to work Bible reading into our day.

But a routine can become—routine. A rut, even.

How can we keep our Bible reading from becoming routine—or dig it out of the rut if it’s already there?

Pray. Ask God to remind us of the treasure His Word is. Sometimes I pray Psalm 119:18 just before starting my Bible reading: “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” Or Psalm 119:25: “My soul clings to the dust; Revive me according to Your word” (NKJV).

Remember. Perhaps make a list of reasons to read the Bible or read Psalm 119 to renew our appreciation of it.

Don’t expect high excitement every time. A Thanksgiving feast is wonderful and memorable. But the monthly tuna casserole and everyday peanut butter sandwiches nourish us as well. Some devotional times leave us overflowing with joy or conviction or inspiration. Most quiet times don’t end that way, yet the Word feeds us every time we partake of it.

Remember the purpose of time in the Word: not just to get through a certain number of chapters or a certain amount of time, but to meet with the Lord and get to know Him better.

Change your plan. If you usually read the Bible through in a year, maybe switch to a two-year plan or a five-year plan—or a 90-day plan. Or a biographical plan or a chronological plan. Bible Gateway lists 18 different plans. Near the end of the year you’ll see a number of posts and articles about ways to read the Bible in the New Year (though you don’t have to wait til then to start).

Change your style. We benefit from both reading and studying the Bible, but most of us are inclined one way or the other. If you usually read large chunks for an overview, perhaps study a particular book in more detail. If you like to camp out in one passage for days, maybe get the bigger picture by reading several chapters or a whole book at one sitting.

Add aids. I’ve only had a study Bible the last few years. The background information and notes help so much in comprehending more of the passage. One year I used Warren Wiersbe’s With the Word as a companion. This year I am using his “Be” commentaries.

Have a Bible reading project. Once I read through the gospels looking particularly for claims Jesus made about Himself. I put a “C” in the margin beside every verse of Jesus’ claims and then put them all together. Doing so provided a valuable resource plus woke me up from falling into familiar patterns from familiar passages. I’d love to read through the Bible noting every reference to God as Creator and what the passage shares about Him (His greatness, His power, etc.) I’d love to do the same thing with every passage where God promises to be with someone. Mardi Collier started reading the Psalms, jotting down every truth about God that she came across. As she came to a new truth, she’d write it across the top of a notebook page, and then list verses underneath as she found them. Some of the page titles focused on what kind of Person God is: My God is holy, My God is good, etc. Others shared God’s actions: My God hears me, My God is in control, and so on. Her study ended up covering the whole Bible and eventually became a book, What Do I Know About My God?

Ask different questions. When I first started reading the Bible on my own, I was instructed to look for a command to follow, a warning to heed, a promise to claim. I underlined them in different colors as I found them. Later I heard of asking the old journalism questions of a passage: who, what, when, where, why, and how. Those are great questions, but If you’ve asked them several times, chances are you already know the answers. Maybe ask, instead or along with those, what does this passage show me about God? Or, how does this person change over the course of his story? For example, the first few times I read Genesis, I missed the transition of Judah from Genesis 37-50. Now, reading in Exodus, I am noticing Moses’ change from arguing with God that he couldn’t fulfill His calling in Exodus 3 and 4 to becoming a great leader over the rest of the book. The changes in people in the Bible come about as God works in them and enables them through the circumstances He puts them in. That can inspire us that He is doing th same in our lives.

Try a different translation. I used the KJV for some 25 years. When I read the NASB and ESV, I saw passages with new eyes. I prefer to stay with the translations that are as close to word-for-word as possible rather than paraphrases. But sometimes I look up the paraphrases as commentaries.

Remove the references. Before we could cut and paste from the Internet, one of our former Sunday School teachers suggested that we type out some of the epistles as the actual letters they are without the verse numbers and headings. The chapter and verse numbers weren’t in the original text, but they do help us find and discuss passages. Sometimes, however, they are not well placed. One sentence can be broken up into several verses. So sometimes reading without the verse numbers can help us not to fragment the verse. Now you can buy Bibles printed without chapter and verse numbers.

Stop and think. Paul tells Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:7: “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.” It’s easy to sail through a familiar passage. In the narrative portions, we see how everything turned out just a few pages later. Remember the people in those situations—David hiding in caves from Saul, Joseph in prison, Daniel facing the lion’s den, etc.—didn’t know how everything would turn out. If we put ourselves in their situations the passage opens up to us more.

Make notes. I stopped journaling during my quiet time when I found I was spending more time writing than reading. But recently I’ve gone back to just writing a few notes both to reinforce what I just read or to remind myself later. My notes are usually just a short summary, but thinking about how I’d describe the passage helps me not gloss over it. Some people like to draw charts and diagrams and arrows and circles to engage the Scriptures more.

Don’t compartmentalize. Often we read for so many chapters or minutes and then pray, or vice versa. But we don’t have to separate prayer and reading. If we’re in a section of praise, we can stop and praise God. If a passage convicts us about something we’re doing wrong, we can stop and confess it to God right then.

How about you? What ways have you found to avoid or get out of a Bible reading rut?

I delight in God's Word

(Sharing with Hearth and Soul, Sunday Scripture Blessings, Selah, Scripture and a Snapshot), Inspire Me Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Grace and Truth, Faith on Fire)

39 thoughts on “How to Get Out of a Bible Reading Rut

  1. All wonderful suggestions, Barbara. I read my Bible usually right before bedtime. I am reading through the OT now and am currently in Jeremiah. I don’t feel like I am in a rut. I like the routine. My problem is that I tend to skim over verses and not see the true message I should be getting. Then a day or 2 later, I read a post about the very same passages, along with some insightful commentary, and I wonder why I didn’t think about the words in a more meaningful way.

  2. I know many people like to read the Bible cover to cover, but it can get overwhelming. I serve in a denomination that uses the lectionary for worship. Although I tend to do series preaching, I use the lectionary readings for my devotional time. I love the Old Testament/The Hebrew Scriptures, so I don’t shy away from them. I am still planning to read Isaiah starting in January or a little before. I may do a chapter a day or just see how it goes. Are you familiar with the Biblica (International Bible Society) The Books of the Bible? We did it as a several church study a few years ago. Some people loved it and some reacted viscerally. It places the books of the NT in a different order, there are book names but no chapter numbers or subheadings. Part of the idea is to simply read and absorb. Most people don’t realize that the original texts did not even contain punctuation; but depending on where you are in life, change like that can be upsetting. Good post and thanks for suggesting so many possibilities.

    • I have a friend who felt totally lost in trying to read a passage that was written in paragraphs, even with the verse numbers. The version she was used to listed verses individually. We talked about how they weren’t originally written like that, and she understood, but she felt she got more from it like that. And that’s fine–as long as we read and learn and grow from it. Some people like major shake-ups from what they normally do; others prefer baby steps; others like the routine they have.

  3. I loved this post, thank you for these great tips Barbara – some I hadn’t thought of at all (for example, I didn’t know you could get Bibles without chapter and verses – intriguing) but I’d been thinking of ways to revitalise my bible study as we go into the new year; this is timely. I’ve shared and bookmarked this article. x

  4. Great ideas. When I first began reading in earnest…I did with a group to read through in a year, but it took longer and we didn’t read but a chapter or two. So, I like your suggestion to change to more than a year or however suits each person, but main object is to read some each day and spend time in the word. Thanks for visiting me.

    • I used to read the Bible in a year, too. I benefited from it, but then realized I needed to slow down and not feel pressured to get through a certain number of chapters at once. I don’t know how long it takes me now to finish the whole Bible. I read a chapter each weekday, but also Bible study notes and a commentary.

    • I like to look up individual verses on Bible Hub, where they list all the translations. It does help in getting a clearer understanding of the verse. I haven’t tried it with longer passages, though.

  5. Barbara,
    These are ALL wonderful suggestions. I liked the one about observing how a character changes throughout scripture. It encourages me that if God did that for them, He can change, grow, and mold me as well. Scripture helps or aids also help me dig deeper into the text. Thanks for sharing all of these!
    Bev xx

  6. Excellent suggestions and especially at this time of year, when many of us are considering how to read the Bible for 2021. I have a new study Bible I’m looking forward to using — probably starting in Genesis and, rather than trying to specifically make it through in a year (since that is pretty overwhelming, especially with the added info in this particular Bible), just doing a bit each day.

    • I received a chronological Bible that I’ve been itching to start, but it’s hard to do on top of the reading our church is doing together–like you said, particularly with study notes or commentary as well. But someday, though, I want to go through it.

  7. One of the sweetest seasons I had was reading the chronological bible in a year – I intentionally paused myself in the repetitious areas – and it so blessed and enriched my daily! Thank you for such good suggestions. I just ordered Matthew Henry’s commentary and look forward to reading along with the bible this next year!

  8. Great suggestions! I love reading the Word & don’t feel I’m in a rut but like to get a subject of interest & do all the readings in the Word related to that subject. It’s like going on a treasure hunt through the Word. So many exciting treasures are revealed along the way!

  9. These are all such good suggestions. I like having a routine and find such peace in starting my mornings with reading my Bible and coffee. Every few years I purchase a new Bible so it is not marked up and written in so that familiarity doesn’t occur. There are so many precious truths waiting to be discovered.

    • That’s a good suggestion, too. I’ve enjoyed reading Bible with many years’ accumulations of notes written in the margins. But I have also enjoyed a fresh, clean new Bible as well, where I am looking at the passage anew rather than through the lens of former studies.

  10. I love your suggestions. I do a lot of reading plans on my YouVersion Bible app. I’ve found a bunch of wonderful new authors who have nourished my spirit with their words and wisdom. I like doing my Bible reading while I eat breakfast. I’m feeding my body and my soul at the same time.

    • I’ve always read straight through, but our church Bible reading plan goes back and forth from Old to New Testament. That has been helpful. I enjoy other people’s insights, too–there is so much food in every passage.

  11. Wonderful suggestions, Barbara! I am planning to start up with my two-year plan again in January, this time with a new study Bible. One Bible-reading project that I found to be enormously helpful was underlining every name of God or way that God was described as I read through the scriptures. I can’t remember how long my list ended up … much longer than I expected, though!

  12. Such great ideas Barbara! I have used several of these over different study seasons, and some are brand new ideas. I’ve really benefited from asking questions or reading with a focus, as well as changing my style. I’ve actually never read a full different translation (only pieces) or read without the references. Prayer and intently inviting the Spirit and then paying attention to promptings are a powerful way for me to decide how to study and get the most from my study time. Thank you for sharing this!

  13. Lots of great ideas here, Barbara. “A Thanksgiving feast is wonderful and memorable. But the monthly tuna casserole and everyday peanut butter sandwiches nourish us as well.” And a great analogy. 🙂 I’ve recently started listening to my daily “reading”, which is something I’ve never really done except on rare occasions. I’m not sure it’s the best way for me to absorb it overall (I’m more visual than auditory) but it’s working for now.

  14. Oh, I love many of these ideas for changing the way to read and study God’s Word. I am a “word” person and love to dive into one word looking up meaning in Hebrew or Greek, and then other verses with that word in it. But I am looking at you wonderful list of ideas and do some rethinking here. Thanks so much.

  15. excellent suggestions! I am starting a bible reading community in January and am going to share your post on my fb for those who are joining in to be encouraged and glean from your words. Thank you for sharing this!

  16. I love all these practical suggestions for getting out of a rut. I tend to focus alot on which bible reading plan to choose, but I think most any plan would work well with these ideas. I’m filing this post away for the next time I’m in a rut.

  17. Awesome post. I like how you said not to compartmentalize. I tend to separate prayer and Bible reading. You are saying they don’t have to be separate and that helps me out 🙂 Also, I am going to read a Bible In A Year plan for the 1st time and I am excited about it. I’ve had this Bible for years. It’s a NLT. Thanks and God bless.

  18. Great suggestions, Barbara, I have noted several to implement as I have been a bit sluggish in my reading. I read morning and evening, but just feel like I’m in a bit of a rut. This is refreshing!

  19. Very thoughtful post. I been trying to read the Bible more often especially with Christmas coming close. I remember how I always used to read the Bible back in middle school. I was able to finish the entire book of genesis. But somewhere along the way, I lost the passion. But I am trying to pick it back up now that I am much older and wiser. I been starting with the gospels and trying to reading it in reverse order to understand the works of Jesus.

  20. Pingback: Bible Reading Plans (Eek!) | Sara's Musings

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