How To Make Bible Reading A Habit in 2019
I know, I know - you say it every December 31: THIS will be the year I dive into the Bible and study it from cover to cover. Or even just read it from cover to cover. Or maybe skim. You wake up on January 2, with a zest for life and a plan in your hands and you start: In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…”
Perhaps that goes well for a bit, and you travel with Moses and Joshua to the Promised Land, but then: Leviticus. Ugh. Plan: Derailed. Self-esteem: Low. Bailing on Bible reading is so common - certainly more common than STICKING with Bible reading, but it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, or unspiritual, or not in love with Jesus or His word. It just means you set the wrong habit.
I’ve been studying habits for the past few years and my life has been changed by learning how to set them in the right way and for the right reasons. I don’t have the time to give you all the scientific or sociological data on this - but I will tell you this and hope that you believe me: In order for a habit to work, you must do *FOUR things to set yourself up for success and they are thus:
Make it OBVIOUS
Make it ATTRACTIVE
Make it EASY
Make it SATISFYING
So, how do we apply these steps to a Bible-reading plan? Only you can decide for sure what will work for you, but here are some ideas:
MAKE IT OBVIOUS:
Determine ahead of time when and where you will do your Bible reading. Turns out, the when and where is just as important as the “what” in helping people stick to their habits. We are overwhelmed with decision fatigue - we make thousands of decisions without even realizing it. Take Bible reading OFF the list by making it obvious. My habit is this: I will read my Bible at my desk every morning as soon as I pour my first cup of coffee. Knowing when and where I will read it takes those decisions off my list and sets me on the right trajectory first thing in my day. Attaching this habit to something you do every day, will help make it obvious - like “after I brush my teeth” or “after I make my bed” or “just before I turn out the light for the evening.”
MAKE IT ATTRACTIVE:
I connect my Bible-reading habits to mornings (which I love) and to coffee (which I love more). This helps me see Bible-reading as a lovely part of my favorite time of the day, with my favorite beverage in hand. If your favorite time of day is not mornings, NO problem! Turns out, there are lots of OTHER times of day. Pick your favorite and attach something fun to reading, like “I will read my bible curled up on my couch, as soon as I change out of my work clothes and make hot chocolate.”
MAKE IT EASY:
I have a theory that the primary reason most bible reading plans are abandoned to the pit of despair is because they are TOO LONG (<——all caps intentional. I mean it.) The Bible is not light reading and it’s not primarily narrative. It’s not like you get sucked into the plot line and wonder how things are going to turn out. I fear that as long as we connect our devotional lives with quantity of chapters consumed, we will not find the treasure Jesus has for us in the very big, very deep Word of God. The goal is not to “read the Bible”, the goal is to “become a person who loves the Bible”. Does that make sense? Get used to showing up every day. Start with one verse if you need to, but start. Become a person who reads the Bible and no matter how much you DON’T read, I believe in the power of what you DO read to help shape your life. With “Make it Easy” in mind, now our habit looks like, “I will read one Psalm every morning at my desk right after pouring my first cup of coffee.” See? Totally doable. (I’ll give you some ideas for breaking the Bible down into bite-sized pieces in another post.)
MAKE IT SATISFYING:
So, here’s the thing about Bible-reading: It doesn’t help you lose weight. It doesn’t make your house more organized. It doesn’t build up your savings account. The results do not necessarily show externally - so you have to build in some reward to make it satisfying, because we are unlikely to continue any habit that is not immediately satisfying, even in a small way. [SKIP THIS part if you’re not interested in the minutia of how I get stuff done in my day: I have three small jars on my desk that contain multi-colored beads which represent everything I want to accomplish in the day ahead. Five red beads = Health & fitness. Each one equals doing 30 of anything (jumping jacks, push ups, run 30 minutes, etc.). Six purple beads = Tasks. These represent the top six tasks I need to accomplish. Two greens = Professional habits. These are the fundamentals to which I’m committed in order to grow as a writer and they are thirty minutes or one chapter of reading and 300 words of writing. One yellow bead is for my time in the word and with Jesus. As soon as I accomplish any of those things, I move that bead from the to-do jar to “done” jar. When all the beads are moved over at the end of the day, I put a rainbow bead in the third jar - that’s the one that’s showing me how my daily habits are accumulating into the kind of life I want to live. (I had to add the third jar into the mix, because I was growing discouraged just starting over every day with the beads - I needed to see that they were adding up to something.) Now I’ve been doing this long enough that I can see in my life the clear and undeniable impact of my habits - but I also reward myself with a massage or manicure every time I get 30 rainbow beads in the jar.]
Another way to make Bible reading satisfying that is far less complex (but arguably less fun) than my system is to simply make an X on your calendar when you finish your reading. As the X’s line up from day-to-day, you’re goal becomes “Don’t break the chain.” If you miss a day - no problem - just start a new chain the next day and guess what your mantra is now? Yep. “Don’t break the chain.”
I know that’s a lot of information that actually has nothing to do with the Bible itself - but good habits are good habits. We often expect inspiration to carry us into the kind of lifestyle we long to build - but we actually are what we repeatedly do. We are not the sum total of our inspiration; we are the sum total of what we actually DO.
More than almost anything in life, I want to be a woman of the Word. It is a core value of mine. I don’t care how many pages I check off my reading plan, I care that I showed up, that I read and absorbed something timeless and true, and that I gave the Holy Spirit a chance to breathe life into my life. I wish the same for you and hope these habits help you start the new year off right!
*These four things are taken from Atomic Habits, by James Clear - easily my favorite book on this subject. I can’t recommend it strongly enough!