It is very important to read the Bible every day, but sometimes we can find ourselves in checklist mode—read the number of chapters on our to-do list efficiently, cross them off our list, and move on to the next item on the list. While this does ensure we will read the scriptures daily, it doesn’t really serve much purpose. Reading the Bible is a commandment because God wants us to learn more about Him, to ponder what is inside, and to apply the lessons to ourselves. They help us develop a closer relationship with Jesus Christ and to build our testimony.
To make Bible study more meaningful, you need to slow down. If you’ve committed to reading ten chapters a day, you may want to consider either reducing the number of Bible chapters you’re reading each day or set a time goal instead of a chapter goal. This way, if you read a single verse and spend fifteen minutes pondering what it means to you, it won’t throw you off schedule and ruin your need for productivity. You can read as slowly as you’d like and allow yourself time to use your reading to increase your knowledge of the Bible, God, and Jesus Christ.
Next, create a plan for getting yourself to slow down and ponder as you read. Begin each session with a prayer to help you have the Holy Ghost (Holy Spirit) with you as you’re reading. Then put a few tools nearby to assist you with your reading.
One useful tool to have handy is a colored pencil for marking your Bible. Some people use multiple colors and a system of marking certain types of scriptures in different colors. This is useful for future study, but can cause you to focus more on the method and less on what you’re reading. The best systems are always simple. If you long for a color-coded study Bible, consider having a second one for that purpose. At a time other than your Bible study, go through your personal Bible, note all the marked scriptures, and also mark them in your color-coded Bible.
You will also want something with which to write. Put notes in the margins to remind you of thoughts you had, meanings you’ve applied to the verses, or explanations you’ve found as you study.
You may have more notes than fit into the small margins of most Bibles. A scripture journal can give you expanded room for your thoughts and ideas and force you to slow down and ponder. Purchase or make a journal, or keep one online (but print it periodically) and, as you read, stop to write your thoughts or inspirations. What does that verse or story mean to you? What can you learn from it that will help you in your own life? How can you change your life based on what you read? This record will be a valuable tool for you in the future, and can also be a way to help your children understand your faith process when they’re old enough to read it. (If your thoughts are too personal, you may want to type an edited version to save for your family.)
Take time to make the people in the stories come to life. They were real people (except in the parables, of course) and had complete lives that went on before and after the stories we have preserved. How do you think they felt about the things that happened? What kinds of people were they? How do you think the events recorded impacted their lives? Don’t just focus on the main characters. Sometimes there are great lessons to be learned from the minor characters as well.
Each day, when you finish your reading, stop and spend several minutes just thinking about what you read. Decide what you’ve learned and what you’re going to do about it. This is called pondering. Pondering is an essential part of your scripture reading.
You may find commentaries helpful in giving you more background or new ideas, but don’t let them do all your thinking for you. Sometimes, just read without the aid of a commentary. Let the Holy Ghost tell you what you need to know, instead of just accepting someone else’s interpretation.
Reading alone is important, because it allows you to ponder and to focus your reading entirely on what you need to learn. However, it can be helpful to also read the Bible with others. You don’t have to be in the same place in your group reads as you do in your private reading. Read with your children each day and encourage them to talk about what they’ve read. Children, even very young ones, often have amazing insights into the Bible. You’ll find you look at the stories and the people in all new ways after you’ve listened to a child’s opinion of them. You might also read with your spouse, as a way of finding what is in the Bible that can help you as a couple.
Try reading the Bible in several different ways. Sometimes read it straight through, as it was published. Other times, read it chronologically. (The New Testament is not published in the order experts believe it was written.) Still more often, read it by topic.
To read the Bible topically, choose a topic you want to know more about or that you feel you need to focus more on in your life. For instance, you might be thinking a lot about truth, faith, or service lately. Using a good topical guide to help you find those scriptures. Read each one, noting them in your study journal, and add your thoughts about them. Cross-reference those you feel add more insight into the other scriptures on the subject. Reading the Bible this way is a whole different experience than reading chronologically, because you’ll get a more complete picture of God’s teachings on a given subject. If you write out each scripture on the topic, along with your thoughts, you’ll begin to see the topics you’re studying in new ways. It will force you to think of them differently when you put all the verses together, instead of encountering them in pieces during chronological study.
Read both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Both parts make up the complete Bible and although the Old Testament is harder reading, there are great riches of understanding to be found there.
God gave us the Bible for a reason. He meant us to love it, study it, and apply it. Make the very best use of His gift you possibly can by increasing the power of your Bible study.
About Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.