The start of a new year invites us to stop and reflect, doesn’t it? We think about the healthy habits we need more of . . . and the unhealthy ones we need less of. About balance and healthy rhythms. (more…)
I was talking with a friend recently about how I’d been spending a lot of time reading books about the Bible, but less time reading the Bible itself. The spaces between my personal reflections on Scripture were growing wider. I still felt like I was growing and learning, but deep down I knew I was missing something.
Our conversation turned to my parents, who have been incredible, faithful examples of what it means to follow Jesus all my life—but they rarely read the Bible. For my parents, years of task-oriented, check-the-box dedication to Bible study left them with a bitter taste in their mouths. Reading the Bible and memorizing its verses had been impressed upon them so strongly that they could no longer read the Bible without also recalling the negative reinforcement and guilt that often accompanies regimented Bible-reading groups. Both of my parents have preferred to learn and grow by reading someone else’s reflections on Scripture rather than diving into it themselves.
They were spiritually scarred by their perspective of Bible study.
I grew up thinking, “But that’s still no excuse.” Yet, as I found myself encountering similar methodologies for Bible study, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Is this going to wear me out too?” My parents were once just as enthusiastic about Bible study as I was.
The church has more Bible study plans, methods, groups, and techniques than we know what to do with. But here’s the thing: these methods help you create discipline to do something you should want to do. If you don’t see the purpose behind the methods, you’ll burn out. On their own, Bible reading plans and verse memorization techniques are overwhelming—they take time and effort, and can leave you feeling guilty for missing a day, a week, or a meeting.
What’s the point of Bible study plans?
Starting a Bible reading plan is like starting a new diet.
Changing your diet takes discipline. Even if it’s something you really want for yourself, it’s easy to slip up and forget about it. If you let bad habits keep footholds in your life, you’ll fail before you start, and you’ll never create the healthy new habits you want.
The Bible is one of our greatest sources of spiritual food. But sometimes we still fill up on junk food. Blogs, social media, news, TV shows, books, and games. These things aren’t bad in themselves, but when they’re the only sources of perspective, information, and insight you consume, something is missing.
When you have a sodium deficiency, your body craves salty foods. You might not even notice that you’re craving salty foods in particular, but your body is reacting to that deficiency by creating a desire for something that restores it.
Many non-Christians have no desire to read the Bible. They want nothing to do with it. But that doesn’t mean that as God’s creation they don’t, on some level, crave his truth, his wisdom, his love, or his perspective. I see non-Christians all the time who have no idea how closely their innermost desires parallel God’s desires for them.
A Christian, though, is much more likely to notice the source of this spiritual deficiency—we’ve already been exposed to the source of God’s wisdom, truth, and perspective. God’s Word is meant to permeate every aspect of our lives. Our knowledge of him is supposed to transform us into “the aroma of Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:15), but something smells fishy.
The more the spaces grow between my daily readings, the more I find myself saying things like, “That reminds me of a verse in [book of the Bible],” or, “That sounds kind of like the passage where . . .” Before I know it, I’m not just paraphrasing Scripture anymore—I’m making vague references to it, or letting other sources have a greater impact on my understanding of God’s character.
In those moments, losing sight of the value of daily Bible study is more like cutting caffeine from my diet. I’ve never been a coffee drinker, but I have energy drinks all the time because they help me stay alert and focused when I need to be. Caffeine is something I’ve made a part of my regular diet for a purpose—and when I stop having it, I feel it. I don’t have the energy I used to throughout the day. I can’t focus as long. Or, worse, I get headaches.
Without your daily dose of Scripture, it’s tough to be at your best all day.
But reading your Bible isn’t just something you need to do to stay spiritually healthy. It’s not a pill you have to swallow or a chalky vitamin you have to chew. Reading the Bible is something you should do because you want to.
What if I don’t want to read the Bible?
Imagine that your parents wrote a book for you—it’s the history of your family, their marriage, your childhood, how you’ve become the person you are today, and their hopes and dreams for your future. Woven throughout the book is a clear, underlying theme: they love you very much. Maybe, just maybe, you pick up on another theme as well: you haven’t always known what was best for you, and they usually know what they’re talking about.
How do you think they would feel if you told them, “Look, at least I read a chapter today”?
How much you read and how frequently you read is not the point.
Part of my job at Faithlife lets me write reflections on Scripture or dig into biblical topics. To do that well, I need to dig into the Bible daily. But whenever I read the Bible for work, I’m reading with an agenda—I’m hunting for a verse or prowling through a passage. For Scripture to penetrate my heart and permeate my life, I have to read it just to read it, too.
Reading the Bible exposes you to the history of the creator’s relationship to creation—that includes you. If you want to know who God is, he had 40 people write a whole book about him over the course of about 1,500 years. Now all you have to do is pick a Bible up off the shelf, read the Bible online, or download the Bible on your phone.
However you read the Bible, you’re going to get the most out of it if you do it because you want to.
Don’t do it because someone is making you.
Don’t do it to show off how much you read.
Don’t memorize verses to get a cookie, a prize, or acknowledgement.
Those can all be useful motivators to help you get on the right track and create healthy spiritual habits you want to have. But don’t let those be the reasons you read the Bible.
Read the Bible because it excites you.
Read the Bible because you want to know God.
Read the Bible because it’s living and active (Hebrews 4:12).
Read the Bible because it can speak powerful truth into your life right now.
Read the Bible so that your life reveals more of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:3).
Those are reasons to open your Bible every day.
So why bother with Bible reading plans?
I lead a small group of high school freshmen boys. Every two weeks this year we’ve read a chapter of Mark and talked about it together.
Every time we meet, at least half of them say, “I didn’t have time to read it.”
One chapter. Two weeks.
Without discipline, you’ll never read the Bible regularly—no matter how badly you want to.
My wife started a diet because she wanted to. At first, she knew that she wouldn’t always be able to resist the unhealthy foods she used to have whenever she felt like. A group of her coworkers started dieting too, and together, they held each other accountable. Sometimes my wife would decline cookies because she knew she would have to tell her coworkers she’d cheated on the diet. But she didn’t start the diet because of her coworkers. She started because she wanted to eat healthier. After eating healthier for a few months, the reasons why she started were enough to keep her going. She didn’t need reminders or accountability.
In the same way, those external factors that help us read the Bible regularly are not the reason why we read. But they are, hopefully, tools we can use until we’ve created healthier habits and made Bible study part of our daily lives. These tools, coupled with meaningful, personal reasons to read the Bible will help you have a far richer spiritual life.
My church recently went through a series called, “Room for Cream.” The premise was that if we want to have room for God in our lives, we couldn’t “fill our cup” until there’s no room for the good stuff. If you don’t have time to read your Bible, what do you need to remove to make time?
The conclusion was profoundly simple:
If you want room for cream in your life, put the cream in first.
If you’re trying to make Bible study a habit, start your day with it. Don’t wait until you’ve filled your day with everything else. Don’t wait until you’re too tired.
You could even read the Bible right now.
Faithlife Groups have been growing in popularity for a few years now. But if you’re new to the scene, you may find yourself wondering, “How can my church use this?”
There are lots of ways Faithlife Groups work well in small groups, and when your group encompasses your whole church, the value of that group only increases. Some churches use an assortment of features to create fellowship, and others hone in on particular tools available in Faithlife Groups.
Here are a few ways churches around the country are using Faithlife Groups right now:
1. Sharing reading plans
In October, we interviewed Pastor Jose Fernandez Jr. about his group, “Friends of Pastor Joe.” Pastor Joe uses his church’s Faithlife Group to share a reading plan, and he and his wife hop on to share Community Notes about what the group has been reading. The group reading plan provides daily reminders to read the Bible and helps Joe’s congregation keep up by adding the reading from missed days. With a Faithlife Group built around a reading plan, you have an entire community to support and encourage you as you read the Word.
2. Making announcements
Faithlife Groups provide a designated place for your congregation to interact with each other, and with your staff. I chatted with Pastor Rich from Crosspoint Community Church about how they have been using their Faithlife Group. Pastor Rich makes announcements to the church about volunteer activities, upcoming events, and resources the church would like to share with everyone. The calendar feature makes it easy to tell at a glance what events you need to know about. In one instance, someone from the congregation asked about carpooling to an event, and another member quickly responded to give them a ride. The church can also use it to pick up last-minute volunteers when they find themselves short handed. If you’re new to your congregation, it can be difficult to know how to reach out about events, volunteer activities, or things you need help with. But when your church has a Faithlife Group, your entire community can interact within the comfort and privacy of your congregation.
3. Creating prayer lists
Prayer lists are a great way to keep yourself accountable when you have things to pray about. At your church, you probably have a prayer team dedicated to praying for the needs of your church and the individual needs of your members. Whether you’re part of the prayer team or not, a prayer list can help you keep track of what to pray for each day. Once you set up a list for your church, anyone you let into your Faithlife Group can add their prayer needs to your church’s list. You can even create multiple lists for your various ministry teams and church needs. With the privacy of a Faithlife Group, you can share your prayer needs with your whole church without sharing them with the whole world.
4. Sending newsletters
Newsletters are a great tool for mass communication. With a large group like a church or a ministry, it’s not easy to keep everyone in the loop. Not everyone can be at every meeting. Not everyone gets to see the fruit of your ministry. Newsletters provide a great opportunity to show them what your church or ministry is doing and how they can continue to be involved. Faithlife Groups make it easy to design visually compelling newsletters that contain everything you need to get your message across.
5. Discussing sermons
Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to chat with a local pastor who is writing his PhD dissertation on Faithlife Groups, which he suggests is the future of church communication. Pastor Bill Koogle shared how Faithlife Groups provides an opportunity to create a more interactive sermon experience—one which he believes can help the youth in his church feel more invested in his teaching. In the past, Bill’s church has sent church-wide texts asking questions and gathering input which he later uses when he writes his sermons. This provided him with a lot of great insight, but it was a fairly one-sided conversation (the text messages were automated because of the size of the congregation).
With a Faithlife Group, your church can have discussions around topics, passages, or anything else your church needs to talk about. The discussions tab in your group serves as your church’s own private message board. The entire conversation is neatly nestled into its own thread, and all your threads remain in the tab. So each week, if you want to create an interactive sermon like Pastor Bill, you can create a conversation around the topic or passage you’re going to preach from, so you can craft relevant sermons that address the greatest struggles within your church.
These are just a few of the ways that churches around the world are using Faithlife Groups right now.
* * *
Does your church use Faithlife Groups? Tell us about it in the comments!
The Bible is a big book. So big that fully understanding it remains a lifelong goal. Rather than trying to read it through in a few sittings, like most of us do with many smaller books, many people instead read a small amount every day.
The slow-and-steady approach has a lot of benefits, and one major challenge—knowing what to read in what order. Enter: Faithlife reading plans.
A reading plan organizes your daily reading around a theme, so you can quickly get an overview of what Scripture says about a given topic without investing any time searching. We have a huge variety to choose from—57 unique plans to be exact.
Some are seasonal, five of them are geared for more advanced study, and these 45 are based on a variety of topics:
Now is a perfect time to launch a new study. Start a new reading plan from the homepage of your Faithlife Study Bible. Tap the plus sign, select Bible Reading Plan, choose to read privately or with a Faithlife group, and then select one of our done-for-you reading plans.
Which of the topical plans resonates with your life right now? Tell us in the comments.
Faithlife Reading Plans take the guesswork out of daily Bible reading—no more wondering what you should read next. Choose a reading plan and save time for the important part—reading, understanding, and living out the Scriptures.
The Bible is a big book. Rather than trying to read it through in a few sittings, like most of us do with smaller books, many people instead read a small amount every day. The slow-and-steady approach has a lot of benefits and one major challenge—knowing what to read in what order. Enter: Faithlife Reading Plans.
A Reading Plan organizes your daily reading around a theme, so you can quickly get an overview of what Scripture says about a given topic without investing any time searching. We have a huge variety to choose from—55 unique plans to be exact. Here are a few examples:
- 10 Psalms of Thanksgiving
- Advent Reading Plan
- Luke 1 Month
- Luke 1 Week
- Luke 2 Month
- 7 Days on Jesus’ Birth
- 14 Days on Resurrection
The Thanksgiving season is fast approaching—in fact our Canadian friends celebrated on Monday. The 10 Psalms of Thanksgiving plan is a great way to get in the spirit. You can find it and 54 others on Faithlife.com. Click Add in either Today’s Readings (to read alone) or Group Readings (to read with others).
Which Faithlife Reading Plan looks intrigues you most? Tell us in comments.