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).
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?