I just began Don Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. I have read the book before, but it’s been a long time. My youth pastor walked through this book with me the year after I graduated high school. That marks about two decades since I’ve creaked apart the pages. The yellowed paper and beat up cover confirm this! But the truths inside are still in pristine condition.
The book addresses the reason for discipline in the Christian’s life, and then goes on to talk about various spiritual disciplines. Practices like prayer, worship, evangelism, serving, stewardship, and fasting are just a sampling of the robust treatment of this topic. But the preeminent discipline, which is to say the one that you need the most and can’t live with out, receives two full chapters of discussion. That’s double the thinking compared to the rest of the disciplines covered in the book. Which discipline is so important that Whitney needs to talk about it both first and most?
Of course, I need to read the whole book again before I give you a strong recommendation to buy it. But I would say that the chapters on Bible reading alone might be worth the price of the book. He shares some personal stories of missions in Africa where the churches had no Bible. The people had little to no understanding of the Scriptures, and it showed in how they lived their lives. Then he shares some startling statistics about how infrequently Christians in the U.S. read the Bible. His desire is not to shame us, but rather to make the point that we need to be taking in God’s Word. And we can’t claim that we don’t read because we don’t have access to a copy of God’s Word!
Whitney offers three ideas on how to make a sustainable practice of daily Bible reading. I found his ideas helpful, perhaps you will too.
Find a specific time to read the Bible
Whitney explains that most are fearful when they think of reading the Bible, but the reason is not what you would think. It isn’t that they will be convicted of sin, or see areas in life they should change. It’s often just the fact that most people don’t read. Anything. In today’s world, reading a book is a bit uncommon. It can seem daunting to think about reading the whole Bible since it’s such a long book.
However, Whitney points out that with just 15 minutes a day a person can read the entire Bible in a year. 15 minutes a day seems more approachable than the thought of reading a book with over 1,000 pages. To illustrate this idea, Whitney also points out the issue of media consumption. Most people consume large amounts of video entertainment everyday. Sometimes it is sitting down for a full two hours. But often it’s a few minutes of a show here or there. Those little moments add up in the end.
How can we fit a full season of our favorite show into our busy weeks, but we can’t fit in 15 minutes of Bible reading? Whitney suggests that one way to discipline ourselves to read the Bible is to find a specific time each day. Perhaps it will be just after waking up. That can work for the morning people who pop out of bed like a hot waffle out of a toaster. For others it will be after dinner when the day calms down. Whitney suggests that the earlier in the day, the better. Reading just before bed means fighting the desire to fall asleep. I agree, this can be quite a challenge. I have one friend who worked at a bank during college and seminary. He read a chapter a day over his lunch hour. This worked very well for his lifestyle.
If we value something, we put it on our calendar and make time for it. Bible reading should be no different than other responsibilities we have.
Find a Bible reading plan
Whitney also suggests finding a Bible reading plan. When we aimlessly select a text to read each day, it is much easier to get bogged down and discouraged. A quick google search will yield many Bible reading plans to choose from. I created a simple checklist that I print and put in the back of my Bible cover. As I read my Bible, I mark off the chapters. This shows me how I am progressing through the Scriptures. If you want a very attainable daily plan, this free and printable plan would be a good choice.
Find at least something to chew on from your reading
Lastly, Whitney urges the believer to take one thought with them as they finish their Bible reading each day. Perhaps it will be a word or phrase that really challenged your thinking. Take that with you and spend time contemplating the idea through your day. Perhaps God impressed you with something you need to change, but you aren’t sure how. Write it on a piece of paper and put it in your pocket. Then pull it out occasionally and spend a few moments pondering the thought. Better yet, in out technological age, you could type up the thought in a note, take a screen shot on your smartphone, and make that your phone’s wallpaper for the day. Every time you get a text message, wham! You get reminded of the thought. And of course this last tip is a subtle argument for reading your Bible earlier in the day, rather than later, since this will give you more opportunity to ponder.
So, if you struggle with your daily Bible intake, perhaps give Whitney’s advice a try. The only caveat that I would add is to remember that these are suggestions, not law. If you attempt two of the ideas, and not the third, I don’t think you are necessarily sinning. I will say that I think these ideas are very solid and very Biblical. But you might find another way to accomplish daily, consistent, Bible intake in your life. Whatever the means, remember that disciplining yourself to read and meditate on the Bible will reward you in time with a close and vibrant walk with the Lord.