You Ask, I Answer – What books and steps might help to build a consistent Bible study life?

To best serve this community I recently posed the following question to a very engaged and loyal member:

What topics would you find encouraging for me to address on my blog?

She responded with three amazing topics I will address in the weeks ahead.

And here is topic number 1:

What books and steps might help to build a consistent Bible study life?

Before I dive into the topic of a consistent Bible study life, I think we need to start with one word – GRACEReading the Bible is not about checking a box every day.  Or adding one more thing to our endless “To-Do” list that makes us feel guilty at the end of the day when we forgot to check it.  Nobody has time for that!

Which leads me to my #1 recommendation that will make us successful in a consistent Bible study life:

#1 Be Realistic

We will never follow through with a plan that is unrealistic.  In everything there are seasons of life.  Each season brings with it different freedoms and restrictions.  Some seasons allow for in-depth Bible study.  Others only allow for a quick read and a short prayer.  All are good.  

The most important part is that we make time based on a realistic plan.  Commit to follow through.  And we give ourselves lots of grace.  Because at the end of the day it’s not about checking a box, it’s about deepening our relationship and understanding of God.  

#2 – Pick a Time that Works with Your Schedule

There is an emphasis in the church community to read the Bible first thing in the morning. If this works with your schedule, great. But just like being realistic with our available time we need to be realistic with the time of day we choose to read our Bible. If reading our Bible first thing in the morning will set us up for success and consistent Bible study, then do this.

However, maybe a different time of day is more realistic with our current schedule. When I had small babies who napped, I found doing my Bible study during afternoon naptime worked best. Now that all three of my kids are in school, I find that first thing when I get home after the rush of morning drop-offs works best and minimizes interruptions. The key here again is to pick a time that sets us up for the highest possible rate of success.

#3 – Be Accountable

Having an accountability partner increases our odds of success when we set goals.  Studies by The American Society of Training and Development (ASTD) have shown that our chance of reaching a goal with an accountability partner is 65%.  That number increases to 95% if we establish regularly scheduled meetings to check in on our progress with our accountability partners. 

This explains why we are much more likely to finish a Bible Study or a book when we do it with a group.  So, let’s find a friend and hold each other accountable.  Or join a weekly Bible study with the expectation that we are reading and complete assignments outside meetings.

#4 – The Role of Bible Study & Prayer

Reading the Bible is about taking time to build and deepen relationship.  To know and understand God more.  And Bible study is not our only tool to accomplish this.  We have two tools – the Bible and Prayer. 

Think of it this way, the Bible is God’s love letter to us.  The Bible allows God to speak to us.  It is complete and represents what God feels we need in this lifetime to know him better.  If we devote our lives, hang our hopes, trust God with our salvation, and eternal state shouldn’t we want to know as much as possible about this book?  We don’t need anything else, just the Bible.

Conversely prayer is our opportunity to talk to God.  Like any relationship, it won’t deepen if it is only one-sided.  Prayer is our tool to talk to God.  And prayer is also another opportunity for God to speak to us.

I recently heard this analogy of the importance of prayer and Bible study in our faith by Melissa Spoelstra – Think of paddling a canoe.  One paddle represents prayer, and the other paddle represents reading the Bible.  If we only row with one paddle, we will spin in circles.  However, when we use both paddles together – prayer and Bible study, we will move the canoe toward our destination.

Bible study and prayer go together, even if both are short, we cannot abandon one and solely focus upon the other.  Before we sit down to read the Bible pray.  It can be simple.  I like to pray – 

“God, I want to know you more.  Reveal more of you to me in your word.”  

Sometimes I add to that, depending upon what I need, for instance: 

“Quiet my mind from all distractions and allow me to focus on your word.”  

And if we have time afterward, pray again.  Pray for what we learned.  Pray for wisdom and direction to apply what we learned in our life.  

If we have time, write in a journal.  Write prayer requests.  Write what stood out to us.  We can write out a verse that really encouraged or spoke to us.

Suggestions from Least to Greatest Commitment:

There is no one way to study the Bible, but here are a few suggestions based upon level of commitment and/or availability:

Strapped for time (5 minutes or less):

  • Pick a book of the Bible and commit to reading it.  Whenever I do this, I like to read it by section.  Most translations break each chapter up into smaller portions with headings.  Read 1 or 2 of these depending upon your time. 
  • Amy Seiffert’s Grace Looks Amazing on You is one of my favorite short devotionals.  It is short, insightful, and super encouraging.  And we could all use an extra helping of grace with ourselves and in life.
  • The free e-devotional, Falling for Freedom, I co-wrote with my friend Sarah Nichols is a great short devotional written for busy women who long to experience greater freedom in their life. Each week has 3 days of short devotionals with application questions and a prayer, a Bible verse coloring sheet for reflection and/or memorization for day 4, and a fall recipe.

A Small Window (10-15 minutes):

  • Building upon reading 1 or 2 sections in the Bible, but have a five to ten more minutes to dig deeper:
  • If you are using a Study Bible, read the notes on the passage or look up the passage in a commentary.
  • Read the same portion of scripture in a different translation.  This is super simple if you are using a Bible App where you can change translations at the click of a button.  A few suggestions – try comparing the Amplified Bible, English Standard Version, the New International Version, or The Message. 

Remember, the Bible was written in Hebrew and Greek.  Each translation translates the scriptures a little differently.  The Message is not a direct translation, but a paraphrase.  I enjoy reading this translation to understand the general idea of a passage.

  • The First 5 App from Proverbs 31 Ministries.  A free App with daily Bible reading and an explanation that helps us apply the scripture to our everyday life.  Typically, this app walks through one book of the Bible with an overlying theme.  Super practical and insightful.  Plus, a few of my favorite Bible teachers are  contributors, including my friend Erica Wiggenhorn.

Digging Deeper (15 or 20 minutes):

Every Bible teacher has their own personality and approach to explaining scripture.  For instance, Angie Smith inserts a lot of humor and sarcasm.  Many of these workbooks have accompanying video teachings for each week as well.  If you have time, check them out.  The videos typically build upon what was covered during the week and are not repetitive.  

Even when you dig deeper, be realistic.  The daily work might be too much for you.  Most workbooks provide 5 days of work.  If that’s too much, commit to doing what you can and then give yourself grace.  If you have more time, challenge yourself to complete everyday.  Even more time?  Challenge yourself to do all five days and then watch the video teaching.  

I was challenged to read the entire Bible a little over ten years ago.  At that point while I read the Bible regularly, I had not sat down and read it cover to cover.   I had attempted it though.  

I started in Genesis, made it through Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and then fizzled out in Deuteronomy.  

So, ten years ago I tried again.  But this time instead of just starting at the beginning, I bought a One-Year-Through the Bible, a Bible organized by daily readings from both the old and New Testaments.  Reading from both helped me not get lost or bored.  I also committed to read it with my husband, so we kept each other accountable and on track.  If I recall correctly it took us slightly longer than the exact 365 days, but we finished it.  Together.

Reading the Bible with Small Children:

Many in this community have small children and there are some amazing resources out there to read with children too.  In our family, we make Bible stories part or our regular bedtime routine.  Grace is still an emphasis though, because we do skip Bible Stories if bedtime gets pushed back for some reason.  Here is a list of four of our favorites Bible Stories for Children:

  • The Jesus Storybook Bible – Bible stories with an explanation how every story point to Jesus.  Seriously, I had more than one ah-ha moment reading this to my children.
  • The Story for Little Ones or The Story for Children – A selection of stories from the Bible that take us from Genesis to Revelation and cater it to the age of the readers.  Well written.   The artwork in The Story for Children is beautiful too.  
  • The Action Bible – a graphic novel depiction of the Bible.  A fun and engaging read for young children that brings the Bible to life in comic book fashion.
  • For girls – For Such a Time as This by Angie Smith is a collection of stories of Women from the Bible retold for girls.  Each story ends with a page of reflection on God and prayer for both mother and daughter.  It also highlights one Hebrew word and its meaning or significance in the passage.

Friend let’s commit together to read the Bible and pray.  As we do though, we will also give ourselves the grace and freedom to be realistic.  We won’t make grandiose goals we will never achieve.  We will be realistic and follow through.  We will embrace the freedom to sit down and confidently read whatever our schedule allows, whether that be an in-depth Bible study or one verse and a short prayer. Better a little than nothing at all.