To my recollection, I have only ever set one multi-decade goal, and I set it as a young teen.
I was reading a biography of the missionary Hudson Taylor authored by his son and daughter-in-law and read where they related that near the end of his life he finished reading his Bible one morning and, closing it, said, “That’s forty times through in forty years.”
The incident resonated so deeply that I still remember where I was when I read it. Something inside of me said, “I want to be able to say that forty years from now.”
As I remember, I was just finishing my first read through the Bible. Equipped with this newly-defined, long-range goal, I finished that first time through, noted the date in the back of my Bible, and began again the next day.
Less than two weeks ago, when I closed my Bible after reading Revelation 22 on New Year’s Eve, it was my thirtieth time through—a fact I didn’t realize until I decided to count the dates in the back of my Bible the next morning. As I finished counting, I felt profoundly grateful for how God has used His Word in my life. I posted on Twitter,
This morning I began my 31st journey reading through the Bible. Nothing has shaped my faith, directed my steps, answered my deepest needs, increased my understanding of God, or drawn me into the Lord’s presence like daily time with Christ in His Word.
In the back of my mind as I typed those words into my phone, another realization was surfacing. I was visiting my parents who still live in the home where several of my early journeys through the Bible took place. I was feeling particularly nostalgic and kept finding myself remembering poignant experiences from those days. What surprised me was that with many of those experiences, I remembered specific verses or passages God had used to build my faith through that time. It was as if the verses themselves had become landmarks to me. That’s an incredible gift.
A Word of Encouragement for Strugglers
Many Christians begin each new year with a Bible reading goal. And by the second week of January, many have already become discouraged by inconsistent progress.
If this is you, I’d like to offer encouragement that this is a goal worth pursuing. Don’t give up in discouragement. Don’t assume that consistent Bible reading comes naturally to a rare class of “super Christians” while remaining illusive to you.
As in developing any habit, persistence is key. It’s encouraging to remember, too, that the fact you even desire to develop this habit is evidence of God’s grace at work in your heart.
For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:13)
Thank Him for putting the will, or desire, in your heart, and depend on Him as you work at consistency in the doing of it.
But in addition to encouragement, I’d also like to give suggestions to help you flourish in your Bible reading goal this year.
I didn’t always have a daily habit of Bible reading. Even now, I have seasons when I find it slipping—in focus, if not in frequency. At these times, I come back to the suggestions I am sharing here.
1. Embrace Responsibility, and avoid excuses.
It’s easy to compare your situations with someone else’s and conclude that yours is an exception. (If I were married, it would be different. If I had a godly husband, I would have his encouragement in my spiritual growth. If my job or children didn’t leave me so exhausted. If?.?.?.?.)
The truth is that you will never develop a spiritual habit on excuses. Yes, you may face a set of challenges that another woman doesn’t face. But she won’t be the one to encounter the needs that life will bring your way. You need to consistently be in God’s Word to develop a strong foundation for when the storms come.
When you hear yourself making excuses for why you can’t consistently read God’s Word, stop. Identify the excuse, and ask instead, “How can I overcome this challenge?”
Most of us are good at solving problems if we will take a moment to define the problem and then look for a solution. I encourage you to take this same approach to overcoming the excuses that try to dissuade you from consistently spending daily time in God’s Word.
2. Use creativity to find consistency.
There’s no silver bullet. What works well in terms of schedule or even mode for one woman may not be what works for you. Consider your season of life and your specific schedule, and set a plan for what you can do consistently over time.
I’m not a big proponent of looking for the shortest possible time frame you can spend exposing yourself to Scripture. (Let’s face it: a daily pop-up verse on your phone isn’t exactly going to help you build a strong walk with the Lord and a mind steeped in His truth.)
But my number one suggestion for getting started in daily Bible reading is to start by getting up fifteen minutes before what would otherwise be your first obligation of the day. Use these quiet moments in the morning to spend one-on-one time with the Lord in His Word and prayer.
Most women I know who do this soon find that fifteen minutes isn’t enough and look forward to stretching that out to thirty minutes and sometimes longer.
I recognize that there are a variety of situations where getting up fifteen minutes earlier doesn’t work. My encouragement in these scenarios is to be both realistic and creative. Instead of assuming you can’t have substantive, personal time in Scripture, consider some out-of-the-box ideas. Here are a few:
- Index cards: Choose a Bible passage or topic, and daily write out one or two verses to carry around with you throughout the day to think on as you perform other tasks.
- Audio Bible: Do you have time on your commute or time when your mind is not occupied with the tasks in front of you? Download one of the free audio Bibles onto your phone, and listen to Scripture. If you find it hard to retain what you are hearing, consider listening to the same chapter or book of the Bible multiple times before moving on.
- Lunch break: If you have even a free half hour at some point during the day—whether that is a lunch break at work or a child’s nap time—use that time to dig into God’s Word.
3. Refuse perfectionism.
You go to bed with every intention of rising early to spend time in God’s Word. But when the alarm goes off, you hit snooze and wake up ten minutes later disappointed that half of your time is already gone. What do you do now? You use the ten minutes you still have!
Perfectionism is a tricky thief because it insinuates that if you can’t do something the way you envisioned, it’s not worth doing at all. And in the end, it robs you of progress.
Give yourself grace, and look for progress—not perfection. Reading one verse is better than not reading a chapter. Three days a week is better than no days a week.
Getting started with any new habit often has setbacks. So when you hit a setback, get up and try again.
4. Make it a priority.
If you had a phone call tomorrow morning that you absolutely did not want to miss, what would you do to make sure you were up and ready for it?
Whatever that might be—setting six alarms, going to bed early, taking an early morning shower, asking a friend to call to make sure you’re up—choose to do it for something much more life-impacting than any phone call. Spending time in God’s Word is worth pushing through whatever discomfort is involved to make it a priority.
If your goal for time in God’s Word is getting up early in the morning, remember that getting up early begins the night before. Getting to bed on time and having your clothes and Bible laid out and ready for when you wake up goes a long way toward supporting your desire to get up with your alarm.
Another way to set a priority on time with the Lord in the morning is to determine you will read your Bible before all the demands of the day hit. I’ve heard a few phrases that underscore the priority of Scripture and offer catchy ways to reinforce it in your habits.
- Bible before breakfast: If you are in the habit of eating breakfast, determine to nourish your soul before nourishing your body. Or, if you live alone, consider “Bible with breakfast.”
- Word before world: Before you interact with others—in person or online, spend time in God’s Word.
- Prayer before phone: It’s easy to mindlessly scroll through your phone and lose the valuable time you have set aside to spend with the Lord. Consider not picking up your phone (except to turn off the alarm) before you have spent time in God’s Word and prayer.
5. Celebrate victories.
Did you learn something from Scripture you didn’t previously understand, or did the Holy Spirit use His Word to give you strength or insight for your current needs? Share it with a friend!
Did you spend five minutes in God’s Word that you would not have if you had not been purposefully pursuing a habit in it? Thank the Lord for progress!
Celebrating the small wins, even if they seem insignificant, reinforces the habit you are building and will encourage you to continue.
A Bigger Goal for You
Since I first set that “forty times in forty years” goal, I’ve found that it was an insufficient goal. It’s not that I want to read the Bible less than forty times. It’s that I want it to impact me more deeply.
Over the years, my desire has deepened so that I want more than to have read the Bible through a bunch of times. I want my life to be infused by God’s Word.
I want it to shape my thoughts, decisions, relationships, advice to others, daily routines, and every other aspect of my life. I want it to, as Colossians 3:16 admonishes, “dwell in [me] richly in all wisdom.”
Whether or not your specific Bible reading goal is to read through the Bible this year, I want to encourage you to set a goal that your life would be changed by God’s Word over the next twelve months.
For the word of God is quick [living], and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)
A life shaped by Scripture doesn’t happen by accidental or occasional exposure to God’s Word. It happens with purposed intent and repeated actions—one day at a time choosing to feed your soul on the life-giving Word of God.
This is a habit worth pursuing.