By Dr. Chris Hulshof
Well worn paths can easily become ruts we find hard to escape. If we’re honest, sometimes this is an accurate assessment of our daily approach to reading God’s Word.
It’s something comfortable and well worn, but this over-familiarity has created a rut where we seem to bounce between “What am I reading?” and “Why am I reading this?”
I’ve found these four strategies effective to help escape a Bible-reading rut and create a new productive groove of Scripture engagement.
Listen to the Bible rather than read from it
For most of us, interacting with the Bible is a visual experience. It’s something our brain processes through our eyes as we read the words on the page. The only time some may have a listening experience with the Bible is when they hear it on a Sunday morning.
However, even this isn’t often a true aural experience. Many churches display Scripture on a screen, and we find ourselves reading the passage even as someone reads it to us. Thus, it’s still a visual experience.
One way to change the way you experience the Scriptures is to listen to it on an audio Bible. Attentively listening to the Word of God in an undistracted environment can produce an awareness of thoughts, ideas, and concepts we may have simply read right over.
Hearing the passage instead of reading it may help you notice some things you’ve continually missed as you read and reread that chapter or those verses over the years.
Read from a different translation
If you wander through the Bible section of your local Christian bookstore, you’ll quickly be amazed at the number of available translations and varieties of Bibles.
While there seems to be no end to the kinds of Bibles being produced, Bible translations are typically divided into three categories.
A formal translation works from a word-for-word translation philosophy. Attention is given to each word so that it is properly communicated out of the original language and into the English language.
A functional translation is developed using a thought-for-thought translation philosophy. In this translation what is most important is what the overall verse or phrase is communicating and how that can best be expressed using today’s vocabulary.
A third translation style is an optimal translation. This style blends the strengths of both the formal and functional to create a translation that gives preference to word-for-word translations but not at the expense of thought-for-thought readability.
Here is why this matters when it comes to breaking out of a Bible-reading rut. Each translation style has its own cadence and rhythm. This ebb and flow often helps create a good reading groove, but it also creates the rut we can feel stuck in sometimes.
One way to escape this rut and find a new groove is to switch up your translation for a couple of weeks. If you’re a formal translation reader (ESV, NASB, etc.), why not pick up an optimal translation like the CSB for your daily reading of the Scriptures?
If you usually read out of a functional translation like the NLT or NIV, you may find that using an optimal translation like the CSB or a formal translation like the ESV changes the tempo of your reading enough that you break free from the reading rut in which you find yourself.
Use a “Reader’s Bible”
Reader’s Bibles have quickly made inroads into the reading habits of many Christians. If you’re not familiar with a reader’s Bible, it’s a Bible devoid of chapter and verse markings that are part other Bibles.
The elimination of these navigational tools presents a different kind of Bible-reading experience. As you engage the contents of the reading, you find yourself more focused on things like the author’s flow of thought as he writes a letter or presents his testimony of Jesus Christ.
This is even more helpful in the narrative portions of the Bible. Here the reader’s Bible helps draw attention to the way God is at work in the characters and plot lines for each story.
Stop Reading Your Bible on Your Phone
As much as technology has made the Bible and Bible study tools highly accessible, I believe it also poses one of the greatest dangers to reading God’s Word.
Our interaction with our digital devices has become engrained in our daily activities. These devices are something we find ourselves continually tethered to as we consume, often without thinking, the material displayed on the screen.
When reading the Bible becomes a habitual digital experience, it can become nothing more than consumable content that has a short shelf life.
In other words, scrolling through the Bible becomes akin to scrolling through a social media feed, a web page of tech tips, box scores from last night’s game, or the saved-for-later items in our Amazon cart.
The danger here is that Scripture reading becomes so much a part of the daily mindless things we do that we pay the Bible no mind as we “skim-scroll” through its contents.
The author of Hebrews describes the Word of God by writing, “For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
Words like living, effective, sharper, penetrating, separation, and judge tell us the Scriptures are much too important to settle for a reading experience that is more rut than an enjoyable groove.
Chris is an associate professor and department chair for Liberty University’s School of Divinity where he teaches courses in Old Testament survey, inductive Bible study, and theology of suffering and disability.