Bible study

Bible Reading 101 (Part 1): Start Slow

Image result for slow runningI often hear someone say, “I’m going to read through the whole Bible this year.”   I don’t say it, but I think, “Yeah, that’s not going to happen.”  I’m not normally a pessimist.  When I applied to college, the adjective I used to describe myself on my application was “optimistic.”  But when I comes to year-long Bible plans, I’m a realist–they are rarely realized.  I don’t want to be a heretic, but I think trying to read the Bible in a year is usually a bad idea.  And I love reading the Bible.

I’m reminded of the new jogger who boldly declares, “I’m going to run a marathon in 3 months.” I’ll believe it when I see it.  I’ve been running for twenty years.  I’ve run three half-marathons, but haven’t been able to do a full marathon for a variety of health reasons (AFib, plantar fasciitis, and a varies of injuries to my toe, calf, knee, hamstrings, etc).  Running in a marathon won’t happen for most people, and it’s probably a bad idea (running is hard on the body).

Reading through the Bible in a year is a lot like running a marathon.  It’s hard for most of us to do, and not very helpful.  The Bible contains 1189 chapters, which means if you read seven days a week, 365 days a year, you’ll need to read 3-4 chapters a day just to finish.

If you’re sick, or miss a few days on vacation, it goes up to 5-6 chapters a day.  How much do you comprehend, or even remember when you are reading that much Scripture that quickly?  Not much.  (If you’re retired and have several hours a day for long Bible reading–that’s fantastic–I’ll look forward to that!)

Most people who start with this lofty plan end somewhere in Exodus, or perhaps they make it as far as the desert of Leviticus.  Then they feel defeated, discouraged, perhaps like they let God down.

I never recommend reading through the Bible in a year.

I was speaking this past Sunday to the high school group at my church (Calvary Church of Souderton) with my wife Shannon about personal Bible study.  I gave them three recommendations.  My first was, “Start slow.”

Most people when they start running are excited, eager, energetic, so they run too fast, too far, too long, which often leads to injury, pain or burnout, which means they give up after a few runs, like most year-long Bible readers.  If people ask me about starting to run, I say, “Start slow.”

When I started running (in my 30’s), I began running a slow mile, for several weeks, and then very gradually running longer distances.  Over the course of a year, my distances increased, and I started running in races: a 5K, a 10K, then a half-marathon–but only after having run for several years.

When it comes to Bible reading, “Start slow.”  Plan to read your Bible just a chapter a day, or perhaps 5-10 verses.  It may take you a few years to finish it but you probably already know how the story ends.  And you will get more out of it from a slow read.  If you’re reading a short section, you can re-read it, and reflect on it since you aren’t in a hurry to tick off those four chapters.  You are far more likely to remember a chapter you’ve read twice, than 4 chapters you’re read once.  If God can speak through a donkey (Numbers 22), he can certainly speak through speed-reading programs, but it is more likely we will be able to hear him if we are reading his word slowly.

My next blog, “Bible Reading 101 (Part 2): Keep Track.”

Mom’s Legacy (part 3): Studying the Bible

My last two blogs have been about my mom who passed away two weeks ago.  There’s part of me that thinks I should move on to other topics, but I just can’t manage to do that.  And there’s so much good material.  And I suspect it’s going to help me in the grief process.  So if you’re tired of hearing about Jane Lamb, then perhaps you should check back on my blog in a few weeks.

My mom started a Bible study for women in Ames, Iowa (where we grew up) in the late 1960’s with her friend Win Stanford, whose husband John was a colleague of my dad’s in the Physics Department at Iowa State.  In these types of Bible studies, the leader would ask text-focused questions, encouraging the women to discover the meaning of the text for themselves.  (I’ve heard of “Bible studies” that watch videos, or read Christian books, both of which can be great, but I wouldn’t call either of those a “Bible study.”  This may be controversial, but in a “Bible study,” I think you should study the Bible.)  The leader was not the expert who enlightened others, but simply a question-asker who empowered others to encounter God in his word directly.

The initial Bible study became popular (part of the popularity may have been due to the fact that they provided child-care) and the group got big, so big that they had to split into two groups, and then those groups grew and also needed to split.  I think it’s supposed to be called “multiplying,” but I prefer “splitting” because it is painful.  Splitting was always hard relationally, but they knew that if more women were to be included, they would need to keep dividing.  They decided it was worth the cost relationally to be inclusive.

Over the course of the next twenty years, the initial group led by Mom and Win became twenty Bible study groups scattered around Ames, with hundreds of women involved.

In 1979, Mom wrote a history of the Bible studies in Ames, listing the benefits to herself (these are her words):

1) Friendship.  The women I know best are the ones I study the Bible with each week.  I express my needs, joys and the express theirs.  We get to know each other much better than casual friendships allow.

2) I am learning more about the Bible.  I am learning the stories, the chronology and the thread of Christ running from Genesis to Revelation.  But more importantly, I am learning that God speaks to me for my life, for my problems, for my successes today thru his word.  And it is life changing.

3) I am learning more about myself. I am not introspective (I’m like mom in this regard), and do not think thru all my actions and motives.  But as God speaks to me thru his word, I understand more clearly my motives behind these actions.

4) I get to know God better.  And I desire to serve Him more.  I want to see others come to know him.

These words of Mom were included in the program for her memorial service at Calvary Baptist Church of Lexington, Kentucky on August 11, 2012.  Her legacy continues.