Wednesday, December 31, 2008

from the archives: Bible reading aids

It's New Year's Eve, and many of us are making resolutions to do better at Bible reading during the coming year. Here are some ideas I came up with for how to read the Bible regularly: perhaps they will inspire you as you make your plans for 2009.

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.

- 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.

- Use the "highlight the box" method. One of my stationary loving friends enjoys this approach. She prints out every chapter of the Bible in order in a table (she uses a funky font, being that kind of girl). 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 and loved it).

- Study a book of the Bible as you would while 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.

- 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!

- 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 this book 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 there'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.

- Make sure you don't forget creative ideas which fit well into a busy life: listen to sermons on CD or MP3, 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 dear friend Jenny who wrote a study on this topic years ago, which I have borrowed from liberally.



Valori said...

Happy New Year Jean! I love the D.A. Carson For the Love of God books and am on my third time through the Bible with them. However, one of the things that has helped me be successful at this is that I take my time and actually IGNORE the dates! It usually takes me about three years to get through the Bible once. This way I feel no pressure, and I can put it aside whenever I want or need to study something else for a period of time. Then I just pick up where I left off. Or maybe I just read one or two of the sections of Scripture each day. I also kind of like the surprise of finding out which passage he will comment on :). I think one of the main things I love about it is that I am very edified by reading 4 different sections of the Bible at once and seeing the common thread of the gospel throughout.

Also, thanks for the Matthias Media daily Bible readings suggestion. That looks like it may be what I have been looking for for my son.

Jean said...

Thanks, Valori, and it's good to know you enjoy the way he jumps around! Just goes to show that different things suit different peoople. Hope the MM Bible readings work well for your son.

Jean said...

And, Valori, I like your suggestion to take it more slowly - an excellent one for many of those comprehensive reading plans.

Deb L said...

Oh how helpful to have a search function on your blog so I can find gems like this when I need them! Thank you, Jean. You are a wealth of gracious and helpful information.