You’d think that because I’m a pastor, reading the Bible regularly would be easy.
And by reading, I don’t mean studying, which I do every week for the morning and afternoon services at my church. I mean reading the Bible for the pleasure of hearing again the story of redemption, for the joy of seeing my triune God’s character revealed page by page.
That kind of reading has become more difficult than it used to be. And that is because I am now the father of one extremely active little girl and have a wife who technically works part-time as an ENL teacher (though no teacher works part-time).
That means that all the freedom I never realized I had to simply pick up the Bible any time of day has vanished beneath my daughter’s schedule, my wife’s schedule, and my own limited energy levels. So to all those out there who begin the day thinking, “Today I’m going to read my Bible,” but who find that time slips away from them under the other demands which our Lord has placed in your life, let me say: I understand.
And I think I can help you.
Here is what I have learned to do so that I can read the Bible regularly.
1. I get up at 5:30am.
I do this because that is when my daughter, whom I love with all my heart, is not up and is not likely to be up for at least an hour—and when our Lord is being especially merciful to my wife and I, two hours.
I also do it early because in the evening, I’m too tired to enjoy the Bible (and I really want to enjoy it while I read). I have also found that when I’ve stayed up until midnight to catch my second wind, my daughter’s rise-and-shine approach to each day means I will lose my first wind the next day.
2. I eat breakfast, read a bit of the paper, and pour myself some coffee.
I do this because it wakes me up so that I can actually enjoy the Bible. Sometimes, I’ll skip breakfast and workout for a half-hour because it accomplishes the same thing. My goal is to be alert, so I always drink coffee when I read.
3. I pray briefly and follow my reading plan.
Prayer is of course important because we all want the Lord to bless his word to us. My prayer is usually short, just a sentence or so, asking the Lord to fill me with a great knowledge of him and his word. Then I embark on my reading plan.
I’ve been following the Bible in 90 Days program, but any reading plan will do. I follow a plan because without one I’ve found that I spend a significant portion of my reading time wondering what I want to read rather than just reading.
4. I try to give myself 21 minutes of uninterrupted time.
Why 21 minutes? Because it takes the average person seven minutes to read the average length chapter of the Bible. So, my usual goal when not reading the Bible in 90 days is to read three chapters at a time. Sometimes I get more and sometimes less. When I get interrupted (say my daughter decides that 6:00 a.m. is a great time to get up and my wife is exercising), I will go and take care of my daughter because I know that I can find seven minutes for the remaining chapters throughout the day. During her newborn days, that was actually how I did it: I would use seven minutes of her mid-morning nap to read one chapter and then seven minutes of her afternoon nap to read another, and seven minutes in the evening just before dinner, while I was still awake.
Obviously people’s schedules are different, but I’m certain that if you look at your calendar you have seven minutes in various portions of your day to fit in Bible reading.
My only advice is this: Read it when you’ll be likely to actually enjoy it.
5. I don’t worry if I miss a day or two.
I try to not miss more than two days so that I don’t fall out of the habit, but if it happens, it happens. The reason why I don’t worry is because reading the Bible is a means of grace and communion, not a way that makes the Lord pleased with me. I don’t read the Bible to create communion with the Lord but to grow my communion with him.
That’s why I’ve worked hard to make reading the Bible a priority, not because I have to. But because it encourages my soul and my prayers.
Reading the Bible for a sermon is always geared to the church—What does the Lord have to say to my people? Reading the Bible for myself is geared to my soul—What does the Lord have to say to me?
The message is always the same, but my own posture of listening is different. In sermon preparation, I find I am listening for others; in private reading I find I am listening for myself. Someday those two things may become one. Right now, though, they are not. So I read with the freedom to miss a day because my real goal isn’t to complete a reading schedule (though I like checking off boxes).
So what’s my secret? Is it getting up early? Drinking enough caffeine? Not really. My secret is that my real goal is to listen to the Lord and grow in my love for him—not win his favor by reading his word.
I hope that, too, is why you’re reading the Bible—not to check off a box but to grow in your knowledge and love of the one who first loved you.
About the Author
Matt Barker is an ordained minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and pastor of Grace Reformed in Walkerton, Indiana. He married up to a wonderful wife who gives happiness and wisdom, and has a wonderful daughter who encourages fun and vigilante prayer.