15 Ways to Feed on the Word in the New Year

Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4), and the prophet Jeremiah wrote,

“Your words were found, and I ate them,
   and your words became to me a joy
   and the delight of my heart,
   for I am called by your name,
   O LORD, God of hosts.” (Jer. 15:16)

And yet, believers often struggle to regularly and intentionally read and study the Bible. Sometimes it helps to get fresh ideas for feeding on the Scriptures. Here are 15 ways to feed on the word in 2016.

1. Read through the Bible in a year.

Don’t write this off as overly difficult or too time-consuming! The Bible contains about 800,000 words, which the average person can read in just 54 hours – or about 8-10 minutes every day of the year. In contrast, some surveys indicate that the average person spends 5 hours every day watching TV, plus another 1-2 hours on social media. You have time. You just need a plan.

Check out this website to test your reading speed and get a customized Bible reading plan for 2016.

2. Journal through a book of the Bible. 

I first learned this from Jim Elliot, the famous 20th-century missionary and martyr. When I was a teenager, someone loaned me Elliot's journals. Most of his entries were short meditations on a chapter from the Bible, interspersed with the personal details of his life. I started following his example and filled more than a dozen journals over the next decade.

The method is simple: pick a book of the Bible and read a passage each day, whether a single verse, or one or more chapters. Then write your observations about the passage. It doesn’t have to been eloquent or scholarly or profound. It just needs to be something based on the text. Then, write out a brief prayer. You may be surprised at how much you grow.

3. Read through a book of the Bible with the help of a study bible or commentary.

Sometimes the Bible can be a difficult book. It is filled with unfamiliar names and places and often uses theological terms we don’t understand. This is where a good study bible or commentary can be helpful. The eighteenth-century evangelist George Whitefield reportedly read through the entire Bible four times with the help of Matthew Henry’s commentary, the last time on his knees.  “I began to read the Holy Scriptures upon my knees,” he wrote, “This proved meat indeed and drink indeed to my soul. I daily received fresh light and power from above.”

Using a commentary has helped me, especially when reading difficult books in the Old Testament, like Leviticus. The new NIV Zondervan Study Bible is perhaps the best study bible on the market today, full of detailed notes, full-color photographs, and maps, and insightful essays and articles. Or, for an excellent one-volume commentary on the whole Bible, produced by a team of top-notch evangelical scholars, check out the New Bible Commentary, 21st Century Edition, published by IVP.

4. Read through one book of the Bible every day for a month.

I learned this method from John MacArthur. The idea is to take one book of the Bible, such as Ephesians or 1 John, and read it every single day for a month. When taking a longer book, such as the Gospel of John, MacArthur recommends breaking it down into smaller sections (e.g. John 1-7 every day for the first month, then John 8-14 the next month, and so on). By the end of the month you’ll have read the book thirty times and be more familiar with the themes of that particular book than you ever were before.

5. Read through a genre of Scripture in search of a particular theme.

With this method, you take one genre of Scripture (e.g., the Gospels, or the Minor Prophets, or the Letters of Paul) and read through in search of a particular theme. For example, I’ve read through all the New Testament letters to hunt down every reference to prayer. You could even take a couple of themes, such as the characteristics of God and the varied expressions of human emotion in the Psalms; the themes of kingdom and discipleship in the Gospels; the themes of wisdom and folly in Proverbs, or the themes of justice and mercy in the prophets.

6. Read the Bible before meals.

Many Christians pray before every meal. Have you ever thought about reading the Bible before (or after) each meal? This is a practice I observed at a Bible college I visited in Africa. At every single meal, three times a day, the faculty, staff, and visiting missionaries pause to read Scripture aloud at the table. My friend, Carrie Ward, learned to do this with her children, and read through the entire Bible aloud, by simply reading a chapter a day at the breakfast table. She chronicled her experience in a wonderful little book called Together: Growing Appetites for God.

7. Mark up your Bible!

Studies show that writing uses a different part of the brain than reading. One of the best ways to push Scripture deeper into your memory and heart is to mark up your Bible. Buy some colored pencils or highlighters and start circling, starring, bracketing, and drawing lines. By paying attention to repeated words, the literary structure of the narratives, and the logical flow of sermons and letters, you will see things you’ve never seen before. For pointers on how to do this, check out Jim Hamilton’s article, How I Mark My Bible.

8. Use a journaling Bible.

The eighteenth theologian Jonathan Edwards actually took a Bible apart and inserted blank pages between the pages of Scripture, and then sowed it back together again in order to give himself a place to record his notes.

We don’t have to go to such trouble ourselves: we can just purchase a journaling Bible that includes wide margins designated for the purpose of writing down your notes. Here are links for journaling Bibles in the NIV, ESV, and NASB.

9. Write out a full book of the Bible in a journal.

Instead of simply writing your thoughts about the Bible down in a journal, consider writing out the actual words of Scripture. The kings of Israel were required to write a full copy of the law in their own hand (Deut. 17:18). I have a friend who found this practice especially helpful to his spiritual life. You can even purchase journals that are designed for this specific purpose.

10. Memorize Scripture.

The psalmist said, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Psa. 119:11). There are two ways to store up the word in your heart. You can either absorb Scripture through hours, days, and years of long familiarity through reading and re-reading, or you can memorize through intentional and focused effort. Both approaches are valid.

Committing entire books to memory has enriched many believers. I have one friend who has memorized all of Proverbs and Romans, and another who regularly works on Scripture memory while running on the treadmill. If you don’t know where to start, check out An Approach to Extended Memorization of Scripture by pastor and author Andy Davis.

11. Read a daily devotional.

My favorite is D. A. Carson’s For the Love of God: A Daily Companion for Discovering the Riches of God's Word. You can also read these daily readings in the format of a blog or subscribe to have them emailed straight to your inbox each morning. 

12. Read a children’s Bible Storybook.

Yes, even if you are an adult! Here are three to choose from; each one is well-written, with beautiful illustrations.  

The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones, illustrated by Jago

The Big Picture Story Bible by David Helm, illustrated by Gail Schoonmaker

13. Watch the Bible

For people who are more accustomed to image than text, watching the Bible may be a good entry point into feeding on the word. While this shouldn’t generally replace actual reading the Scriptures themselves, high quality video productions of Scripture can be a helpful supplement. For example, check out The Visual Bible - The Gospel of Matthew, which uses the text of the NIV.

I’m also quite impressed with The Bible Project, which is in process of producing animated videos introducing and explaining each book of the Bible, along with many biblical themes. Here, for example, is their video for Hebrews. 

14. Listen to the Bible on your smartphone.

I still remember when you had to pay a lot of money to get recordings of the Bible on cassette tape or CD. Now you can just download the YouVersion App and listen to the Bible at the press of a button. Consider listening to the Bible on your daily commute or during your morning run. It still counts!

15. Listen to expositional preaching on the Bible.

Finally, we all need not only the individual disciplines of reading and studying Scripture, but also the corporate practice of hearing the preached word. The Internet gives us access to some of the best preaching in the world, with sermons of pulpit stalwarts like John Stott and Martyn Lloyd-Jones available for free. But there is no substitute for gathering with other believers in the local church to feed on the word in the context of gathered worship. 

NOTE: This post was originally written for Crosswalk


mwh said...

Lots of good tips. I've previously found "The Books of the Bible (NIV)" [i.e., no chapters or versification] helpful. Recently I've also been trying to read according to the liturgical calendar (BCP), so that I'm reading along with other large swaths of the Church.

I've become convinced that one major barrier to regular consumption of Scripture for people is they're using a version of the bible translated above their reading level. They're usually completely unaware of how it hinders them. I've found systematically reading through the Bible in different translations helpful too.

Brian G. Hedges said...

Totally agree. I finished reading through the NIV last year and now am back in the ESV. I've also done some reading in the NLT in the past year or so and have found it really refreshing.