Why I Ditched Bible Reading Plans

by Jacob Abshire on February 4, 2019

Bible reading is a necessity. If you belong to Christ, you must drink from His life-giving Word. If a particularly Bible plan helps you do that—stick with it.

For me, however, there is a better way.

Like many, Bible reading plans were critical to kick-starting my Scripture intake. However, after years of Chronological, Straight Through the Bible, and Robert M’Cheyne plans, I found myself still needing help. While the Bible reading plans caused me to put the eye to the plow, they failed to help me behold it (Ps. 119:18).

The problem lied in the method of reading short increments of Scripture each day. I don’t have the best comprehension nor memory muscles, so these snippet-readings of Bible books yielded little understanding. Instead, it was choppy, incomplete, and disconnected.

Some plans intensified my frustrations by combining unrelated chapters from unrelated books into a daily reading. Not only were they brief jolts of text, they were also unnecessarily mixed. I was doubly frustrated.

These traditional plans were good for getting started, even developing familiarity and possibly habits. However, they trained me to find joy in ticking a box—not beholding God’s Word.

With the publication of “reader’s Bibles” like the now famous set from Crossway, things changed for me. By removing the chapters and verse numbers, cross-references and footnotes, as well as headings and introductions, I was able to experience the Scriptures without distraction. I could read the Word for enjoyment. And, it caused me to read the books all the way through, not snippets at a time. It turned Bible reading right-side-up.

So, I ditched the Bible reading plans.

I didn’t, however, ditch my Bible reading. Experiencing the joy of reading books completely through, I decided to embark on a new method of reading the Bible. I began reading books instead of chapters. If that sounds mystifying, let me explain what I did.

First, I timed myself reading. I read the book of James without stopping. I didn’t rush nor stop to cross-reference. I read for enjoyment—normal speed, normal reading. It took me about 18 minutes.

Next, I divided the time by the number of chapters. This will tell me how long it takes me to read an average chapter in the Bible. I learned that it required about 3 minutes. With this bit of information, I was ready to start.

Now, I only need one tool—a Bible Reading Chart (and a Bible, of course). The chart displays the number of chapters per book in a series of boxes. Using simple math, I can quickly estimate how much time I need to read a particular book. For instance, 1 Corinthians has 16 chapters, so I can plan to read it in a little less than an hour. Or, if I find I have less time, I can read something shorter like 2 Timothy, which requires only about 15 minutes.

Caveat: Larger books, like Genesis, can be divided up in multiple days. But, it is critical to end each day’s reading when a story naturally concludes—not when your time runs out. This will ensure you are not stopping mid-story, but taking a break when a break is inherent. This ensures that there is little to no coherence challenges. In Genesis, for example, I spent 2 days reading and stopped the first day in Genesis 25:18, at the birth of Esau and Jacob.

When it came to planning, I basically read what I want and when I want. (Sometimes, there are readings or sermons that stir up interest in a particular book and so I read it the next day.) The key to this is planning your time the day before. As I read a book, I mark it in the chart, so I know where I’ve been.

I’m now about 20 days into my plan. I have completed half the New Testament—some of the books multiple times. I’m about to finish the Pentateuch. And, never has it felt like work. I’m learning so much and enjoying every word.

Now, what about the benefits? You may have already picked up on some. I’ll summarize them to give you some points of motivation.

  • I can read in the sequence I desire.
  • I am not pressured to read each day.
  • I am not prompted to stop short of the full story.
  • I am stirred by the text to read more.
  • I am not motivated by checkboxes.
  • I am experiencing more comprehension.
  • I am allowed to read the same book multiple times.
  • I am more eager to read because of joy.

One final note. For best results, I recommend you read a distraction-free Bible like the ESV Six-Volume Reader’s Bible or the more condensed version, ESV Reader’s Bible. You can also purchase in alternative translations like NIV, NKJV, and CSB. The new Bibliotheca based on the ASV is also a good option.

So, I suppose I’m not ditching Bible reading plans. Rather, I’m starting my own, The Comprehensive Bible Reading Plan. Not very catchy, but let’s go with that.

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