I had posted a while back about some recommended ways of reading the Bible. With my schedule the way it has been lately, I rarely stick with one method strictly. If I have more time, I jump to a method that allows more reading. If I have less time, I may just read through a few chapters or something along those lines. But I do try to stay in the word every day.
I have, however, for the first time finished reading through one book of the Bible 30 times in a relatively short time (more than a month, however). This is the method recommended by John MacArthur (and a few others). I read through Philippians this way. Technically, I have probably read through the Sermon on the Mount and 1 John about that many times through my memorization, but in my mind that was a little different, although both focus on absorbing and understanding the material more than just reading for information and knowledge.
I found pros and cons to this method, although really, I suppose, there are more pros than cons in my mind.
The first pro, of course, is familiarity with the text. Sometimes when I am reading through the Bible in larger chunks, my mind tends to forget more than I remember of what I read. Reading a book (or part of a book) repeatedly allowed me to slow down, focus on the specifics more, and begin to really grasp the overall flow and connection of the text. While I have not memorized Philippians (although that is still my next goal), I am very familiar with what is in the book now and have memorized certain phrases and parts of it. I can connect to all the parts much better, and have a basic outline in my mind of the text.
Another pro, and one that builds off of the previous one, is that I am less likely to misunderstand the contextual meaning of part of the book. We all have verses from different books that we love, and while it is not wrong to memorize standalone verses, we have to be careful that we don’t change their original meaning by divorcing them from the surrounding context. This focus on context doesn’t limit the meaning of a text or rob it of meaning. In reality, it expands on the meaning by helping us better understand what was originally intended rather than putting meaning into it that is alien to the author’s original thoughts.
Since I was becoming more familiar with the text and was understanding it contextually, I also begin to carry it with me in my mind and meditate on it more. Because I was not reading large and various portions at one time, I could focus my thoughts more, allowing the word of God to work in me more deeply and dwell in me more richly. This allowed the text to take root as I stored it in my heart, and it began to come back to mind at the Spirit’s prompting when I needed it most. This allows the word to challenge, convict, and change me. This is, after all, the real intention of our reading of the word anyway, isn’t it? Aren’t we reading for transformation rather than merely for information (as D. L. Moody said, I believe)? What better way than focusing on one portion of Scripture until we begin to master it (or rather it begins to master us)?
Now, there are some cons, I think. One is that it is easier for my mind to wander if I am not careful while using this method. Reading a portion repeatedly begins to make me feel a little too comfortable with the text, so I have to be very active to keep my mind from wandering as I am reading, thinking that I have already read that portion enough. I have learned to overcome this in some ways from my memorization of Scripture, since the process is very similar. I have been able to train my mind to focus on familiar text more, but it still requires effort on occasion.
Another con is that I wasn’t reading widely since I was reading deeply. So where I might have covered a lot more Scripture in the time it took to read Philippians 30 times, I didn’t. This leads me to feel like I am missing out on something, as there is a lot more Scripture I am not reading. This is a trade off, I suppose. Breadth or depth. If I have time to read a few chapters straight through with the repeated reading of a book, that would solve the problem. But there is that time issue again. While this is a con in some ways, if I go back to what I said above, perhaps it isn’t so bad not to be reading as widely. Again, the goal is not reading for the sake of reading; the goal is to know God’s word so I can be transformed, and that requires time and familiarity.
One last con is that to stick with this plan long term (if I follow MacArthur’s plan strictly) would mean I really don’t come back to Philippians for about 2 to 3 years. I can always read through it again whenever I wish, of course, but that just delays working through other books when I do that, unless I have extra time one day. Granted, this con is a small one, but it is still real.
Ideally, I would love to read a portion of the New Testament repetitively, a few chapters of the Old Testament straight through each day, and a psalm and proverb every day, but that usually doesn’t work well on week nights. I have actually found myself wondering, however, if reading a book repeatedly if that is all I have time for may be the best option?
I am considering following the same process with Matthew’s gospel next. If I do, I have to decide whether I will read chapters 1 through 7 for 30 days first, then move on to 8 through 14, and so on, or if it would be better to do 7 chapters each day through the book and start over every 4 days. Either way, it will take 4 months to read through the gospel of Matthew 30 times that way, if I don’t miss a day. Still, the idea of being as familiar with a gospel as I am now with Philippians is exciting. Perhaps it will work.
If you have never tried reading this way, I would encourage you to pick a small yet powerful book of the New Testament (like Philippians, 1 John, or Colossians) and give it a try. If you do, let me know what you think!