If you’re not familiar with the math of the “ish,” this is how it works. When longwinded teacher-types don’t want to handcuff ourselves to a preconceived number of posts in a blog or messages in a series we rely heavily on the “ishes.” I have a couple more things – at least – I wanted to say about reading the Bible with a minimum of tedium, and will try to say them as tediouslessly as possible.
Slow it down
Have you noticed that when after you drive a couple hundred commutes to work that you don’t notice the sights along the way anymore? You pull into your parking space at work and can’t remember anything except starting your car and turning on the radio. You were on autopilot the whole way and saw only enough stuff to get you there without any accidents. In your commute induced stupor all but the necessary sights went unheeded, but you punched in at work on time and that’s all that mattered till you punched out and drove home the same way you got there.
The other obvious reason people miss the roadside sights is they’re preoccupied with what’s going on everywhere else in the world on their smart phones. They’re thinking about everything but driving and sightseeing. As anathema as it sounds, you might consider doing a little less talking, texting, and facebooking (the latter two are illegal anyway) and doing a little more driving and observing the world around you. In the same way, when you go to read the Word each day, you might think about fasting all media for that 30-minutes or so if you think the world wouldn’t pass you by or your heart won’t slow to a stop.
Anyway, besides turning off your cell phone, one way to see more of the sights is to slow down, get off the freeway and onto the surface streets. It’s not always done by choice, but out of necessity to avoid road construction or a traffic jam. But once you do, you’ll be astonished to observe what you’ve been missing all these years. When I walk through a neighborhood that I previously had only driven through I notice so many more things than before. I may not cover as much ground, but I’ll see things that I wouldn’t have otherwise.
Similarly, in order to see what we’ve missed in Scripture, we might consider slowing down in our reading. I think we’re often in too much of a hurry to get through the Bible in a year or the Psalms by February. While I think there is great merit to reading huge chunks or from Generation to Revolution in a year, for some people in certain seasons there might be a little too much emphasis on it. “The pedal to the metal” reading method, for some might cause them to miss things that the Spirit wanted them to see.
One of my most common Bible reading MOs is to zoom in and read a particular book over and over. Sometimes I’ll plan ahead the number of times to read it and other times I’ll just read it until it seems good to me and the Spirit for me to go on to another book or section of Scripture. I’m not worried about reaching any particular destination by week’s, month’s, or year’s end; I’m just trying to immerse myself in section, genre of biblical literature, or theme for a season. If you do this I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how the Word comes alive to you, how the boredom factor will subside, and how you’ll be inspired going forward in a renewal of intrigue in what God says.
Speed it up
On the other hand, maybe you’ve been reading too slow and trying to parse each Greek word till there’s nothing left but roots and stems! A few times over the years I’ve read the narrative portions of the entire Bible in a paraphrased version as one continual story – generation after generation of individuals discovering God, hearing him, disobeying him, and getting back on track with him. Although I did my best not to stop and get bogged down with the details, it wasn’t pages or chapters I was trying to conquer, but a storyline I was trying to follow and glean from.
If slowing it down is “zooming in” on smaller portions of Scripture, when you speed it up you’re “zooming out” in order to get the big picture, the panoramic view of the biblical landscape. There’s a profound benefit in such a view. So many Christians seem to know a lot of verses and a few of the concepts, but are woefully ignorant of the big picture story of God in Scripture.
What sort of changing it up has helped you stay engaged in your Bible reading? Which do you prefer, zooming out or zooming in, the slower more meditative approach or the quicker pace taking in more volume?
Mark it up
I’ve always littered my Bibles with underlines, circles, arrows, and notes in the margins – legible only to me and sometimes not. On some pages it’s nothing if not indecipherable as to which text has been highlighted and which is merely the victim of ink that has bled through from the other side of the page.
To anyone’s eye but my own the text of Scripture can appear to be obscured by my scribblings. But those scribblings are my way of documenting what I’m seeing and hearing in those texts each time I read them. Sometimes when I can’t remember the location of a passage or even a key word with which to search for it, I can rely on the graffiti I left on a certain part of a page in a certain book of the Bible.
Of course, if you are reading off your electronic devices you have the option to highlight and make notes in a much more tidy and legible fashion. There are many advantages to electronic Bibles, including search and study options, greater ease of transport than the 10 lb. study Bible your dad bought you for your sixteenth birthday, to say nothing of stealth in the coffee shop and break room where everyone assumes you’re just surfing the net instead of reading the Bible. That is, if you care to maintain that kind of stealth.
Though I’m not so old school as to object to new fangled ways of reading based on the obvious spiritual superiority of paper and ink, I do think there is some value in reading with pen in hand and making marks and notes in our own distinct code. They say that handwriting – you know, where you actually have to use a writing utensil in your hand – is useful as it engages a part of the brain that is somehow tethered to memory. But I’m just saying…
On the other hand, one preacher used to say, “If you want to know what God is saying to you from the Bible, read all the parts you haven’t underlined.” His point was that we highlight the promises that we like hearing and leave the more convicting or challenging passages untouched. I have always loaned out a lot of books, usually quite soiled with many of my own thoughts inserted in ink. I’ve had friends to whom I’ve loaned such books admit to me that they only read the underlined sections, reasoning that since those must be the most important parts they could save a lot of time that way. Flattered though I am, I want them to think for themselves and decide what is and isn’t important based on their own convictions and the Spirit’s leading. So be careful to read in between the highlights, even the ones you put there yourself.
Many, whether averse to writing in their Bibles or not, have developed the magnificent habit of journaling, a practice, which has eluded me except during my darkest seasons of life. When things improve for me I tend to drift away from the custom, but I strongly urge you to consider it or stick with it as the case may be. When I’ve journaled in tandem with my Bible reading I’ve found that writing my praises and prayers was particularly helpful to give specificity to the things I was saying or should have been saying to God.
In their daily journaling many follow the acronym SOAP (Scripture, Observation, Application, and Prayer). I have used my own variation of it: A Praise, a Passage, and a Prayer. Others prefer freeform journaling without any particular format. Some journal by hand and fill dozens of notebooks with their thoughts. For ease of writing and future reference I prefer to do it digitally.
Bottom-line? Do whatever helps you stay in love with God and his love letter.
Since we’ve already taken advantage of the elasticity of the “ish,” if you don’t mind, I’d like to share one more brief post (which would make it “6 of 4ish”) on how to stave off boredom as we read our Bibles.
Which do you prefer journaling or marking your Bible?
Do you read from an ancient manuscript made of paper and ink or from a demonically concocted electronic device? 🙂