My post on Advent Bible study generated the following comment:
i sometimes have free time at my work and sometimes i try reading the bible but a lot of it is hard to understand and follow. Maybe i should just skip the old testament… you have any tips for reading the bible effectively?
Although I answered the question in comments, I thought it worthwhile to create a post for others who might have a similar question and who might not read comments.
If you’re just starting to read the Bible regularly, you may want to start with the New Testament. The Old Testament has fascinating stories that help us understand where man came from and incredible prophecies as well as beautiful poetry. However, there are also lots of things that are hard to understand … and some – like So-and-So was the father of Such-and-Such – that can be boring to read.
You may also want to try a Bible reading plan that includes different parts of the Bible on a regular basis rather than reading straight through. I read the Bible readings from the Book of Common Prayer, which includes a Psalm, an Old Testament lesson, and a New Testament lesson for each day. I read the lessons from Morning Prayer one year, then the lessons from Evening Prayer the next year. The lessons can be found at Daily Offices. Click on the link to Ordo Calendar with links to Morning & Evening Propers to go to the current month’s calendar with links to the readings.
I also read one chapter a day in order from the beginning of the Bible. When I finish the Bible this time, I’ll start on a chronological plan to read the Bible in chronological order rather than the order the books were written. I find it fascinating, for example, to read Psalms along with the historical events, especially in King David’s life. You can find a schedule to read the Bible chronologically at ChristianBeliefs.org.
If you would rather read more randomly, you can find a 52-week Bible reading plan at BibleReading.com. The readings are selected for variety from day to day so you read the entire Bible in a year. You can spend more time on each reading if you want to take longer than a year. Meditating and understanding the Word is more important than reading on a specific timetable.
Heartlight offers a variety of Bible reading plans. A plan at Christian Answers breaks down the reading by type of writing. You can choose a 1 year plan or a 3 year. Suggestions for a variety of plans can be found at All About God. Bible Gateway offers several different reading plans. Some are for as short a time period as 61 days, which may be the way to start if trying to read the whole Bible seems overwhelming. About.com Christianity lists links to a variety of reading plans.
Try different versions of the Bible to see which you like best. I love to read the King James Version because it is so beautiful, but I usually read the New International Version because it’s easier to understand. A paraphrase such as The Message can be helpful for understanding, but a paraphrase is just that – different wording on the original text – so I prefer to read translations rather than paraphrases.
You may also find it helpful to read commentaries to help you understand specific passages. At Crosswalk.com, you can “include study tools” when you look up verses and choose among a number of different commentaries and study tools.
Look at these different options and experiment to see what works for you. The main thing is to make a commitment to read something – even if only a few verses – every day. As you grow in your knowledge of the Bible, you will find it easier to read and understand and will want to learn more.
In addition to reading the Bible on your own, I encourage you to participate in group Bible study. Check to see what studies your church offers, sign up for an online course such as those from JesusWalk Bible Study Series … or both!