Thursday, January 24, 2008

Bible reading ideas for mums and other busy people

Today we continue the theme of Bible reading ideas for mums, or for anyone else who's busy and distracted.

Here are some approaches my fellow mums have tried and found helpful:

- my own personal favourite, as you know if you read yesterday's post, is The Daily Reading Bible, also found in the "Bible Brief" at the back of The Briefing. These studies are deliberately kept short so they can be done easily during a busy life. They are theologically insightful and question based, encouraging you to read the Bible closely. The readings are mercifully free from guilt-producing dates which leave you reading July 3rd's reading on December 22nd.

- update (18 months later!) I have a new favourite - Explore Bible notes by The Good Book Co (see sample) which work through the Bible systematically over a 5 year period using 28 undated readings per month. These follow a fairly traditional format for subscription Bible notes with a passage to read, some comments on the text, and a few questions. The theology is generally excellent, the comments are readable and encouraging, and it's really helpful to have questions for reflection (not all Bible study notes have these). This is a great way to read the Bible in small, manageable bites that still get you thinking.

- from memory (I did it long ago) Search the Scriptures was a similarly helpful guide, with an introduction to each book, and 2 or 3 questions (with notes) on each passage. This gets you through the Bible in 3 years, so it's not too ambitious for busy mums. It uses a similar format to The Daily Reading Bible, but covers the whole Bible systematically, although the questions are quite complex, and the language formal and old-fashioned.

- the "highlight the box" method. One of my stationary loving friends uses this approach. She prints out every chapter of the Bible in order in a table (she uses a funky font, being that kind of gal). When you read a chapter, you get to colour in the box. This works best if you have just bought a new pack of good-quality coloured pens and want to use them - an excellent use of money if it motivates you to read the Bible! She has successfully used this method off and on through many years of child-rearing, and since she's one of the more consistent Bible reading mums I know, it obviously works well.

- you can combine this with reading introductions to each book before you study them e.g. Fee and Stewart's How to read the Bible book by book (I haven't read this one) or William Dumbrell's The faith of Israel (I read it, I loved it).

- study a book of the Bible as you would when preparing a Bible study, perhaps a chapter a week (e.g. read it once through quickly, once to divide up the passage, once to work out major themes, once for application, and once with a commentary). A very energetic older mum told me she has done this for many years. But her children have grown up, so maybe she's forgetting how hard it is to do this when you have young children, or maybe she's just got more energy than me (well, that's true, she does). I find this intimidating, but inspiring.

- use the 3-year Bible reading plan from La Haye's How to study the Bible for youself. This will get you through the Bible 3 times in 3 years at the rate of about 4 chapters a day, so it's not for the faint-hearted, and probably not for most mums, unless you're unusually dedicated! But it's a great way for new Christians to get to know the Bible (the first year focusses on the gospels and epistles, the second on wisdom literature and epistles, and the third covers the whole Bible) and it has introduced more than one person I know to the habit of reading the Bible daily.

- and while we're on the subject of 4 chapters a day, there's the well-known M'Cheyne Bible reading schedule . This will get you through the New Testament and the Psalms twice, and the rest of the Bible once in a year. M'Cheyne believed you should read chapters from different parts of the Bible each day, in order to link various passages in your mind, and to carry you through some of the harder-to-read bits of the Bible. Like LaHaye, it's probably too ambitious for most mums. If you successfully complete it, I am truly impressed!

- alternate Bible reading plans (including lots of printables with boxes to tick!) include Tim Chester's Edge Network Bible Reading Plan, 10 ESV Bible Reading Plans including the ESV Study Bible Daily Reading Plan, the Daily Reading Bible, The Discipleship Journal Bible Reading Plan, and the Book-at-a-Time Bible Reading Plan (there's a helpful introduction to these plans at Justin Taylor's Bible reading plans)

- Don Carson's For the Love of God is based on the M'Cheyne readings, accompanied each day with a thoughtful discussion of 1 of the chapters. I'm a great fan of Carson - one of our sons is burdened with Carson as a middle name - but I became a little frustrated that he only comments on 1 chapter of the 4, and not necessarily the one I was most curious about. Did I read this as a mum? I can't remember, but I doubt it. If so, I did pretty well, didn't I?!

- I was encouraged by Barbara Hughes' Devotions for ministry wives during a time last year when I lost energy for close Bible reading.

- pick a book, read a chapter, find something which strikes you as inspiring, write it in a journal. (LaHaye encourages you to find a promise, a command, and a "timeless principle" in each chapter.) While this has the benefit of being achievable, it's not very thorough, easily leads to taking verses out of context, and encourages a focus on your own hobby horses. You wouldn't want to do it without a good grasp of the Bible from more careful inductive study. Still, it has worked well for me at times.

- memorise, memorise, memorise! Now here's a forgotten spiritual discipline that is incredibly suitable for mums. Learn individual verses using a topical memory system, verses related to particular struggles (e.g. over-spending, worry, envy - God's Spirit still brings verses to mind I learned 10 years ago), or whole passages and books (I find this easiest, oddly enough). Between children I printed out Philippians and Ephesians, folded them small, and took them with me on walks, where I could be seen muttering to myself like a demented woman while I plodded along and peeked at them occasionally. Can't say I remember them word-for-word, but they inspire many meditations and prayers when I'm finding regular Bible reading difficult.

- and make sure you don't forget creative ideas like these suggestions from a mum, which fit well into a busy life: listen to sermons on CD or iPod, use visual aids like maps, read alongside a sermon series at church, or listen to Sons of Korah CDs while reading the Psalms.

- no doubt there are many other great Bible study resources out there, please add your own ideas to the comments! I just came across these free downloadable NavPress Bible studies and Bible reading plans which I've only glanced at briefly, but which look promising. There are 3 reading plans to suit different understandings and energy levels, and boxes to colour in. Get out those coloured pens!

I feel so inspired by all these different ideas that I might try some of them myself.

This blog is dedicated to my Bible reading fellow mums, especially my friend who wrote a study on this topic years ago, which I have borrowed from liberally. You know who you are.


Nicole said...

Thanks for such an exhaustive list. Really helpful (I've been linking o these posts from my blog).

I couldn't get the last link to work. Not sure what's going on but am interested in what it was!

Jean said...

I think I've got the links to NavPress right now, sorry. They can be a bit fiddly, those links, can't they?!

Nicole said...

Thanks! And yes, they can be fiddly. :)

Dannii said...

One thing I can suggest, is to do it with friends! A uni friend of mine started a Bible in 2008 group, and we're using a plan to read through the OT and NT once each in a year. A challenge yes, but I think it's worth it, especially when you're not alone.

Jean said...

Great idea!