I was recently asked to author articles for this column "Books to Grow By," which wonderfully coincides with the beginning of a new year. Several of the top books that came to my mind had to do with reading & studying God's Word! I'm guessing that as the new year began, you desired to spend more time reading God's Word. But if you're like me, within a few weeks, the energy & determination you had on January 1st has already begun to fade.
Thankfully there are many Bible scholars & teachers and even a few personal friends of mine who have shared wisdom on how to stay motivated and focused on God's Word. In the next few paragraphs, I will share a few fresh ways for you to engage with the Bible.
1. Before you open the Bible, there are a couple mental adjustments to make.
- First, determine to look for God Himself on the pages of His Word. Too often, I approach God's Word hoping to find direction for MY life or to reveal MY own faults. However, the Bible is the revelation of GOD Himself to us; these pages reveal God's character and promises. When you close your Bible at the end of reading, ask yourself, "What did I learn about God today? Where did He show up in the story today? How do I know God better?"
- This next tip is one that has shifted my mind permanently. Have you ever felt frustrated that you spent 20 or 30 minutes reading God's word, but "didn't get anything out of it"? Is that really the goal though - to make a daily withdrawal of wisdom? Instead, look at those 20 to 30 minutes as an investment of your own time & energy. Treat your time with God as if you're making daily deposits into a savings account, not making a daily withdrawal from a checking account. Then when you are in need of wisdom, it will be stored up already, because you've been faithful to make "deposits." (learned from "Women of the Word" by Jen Wilkin)
2. As you read, there are a few physical things you can do to stay engaged with the passage.
Journaling! I bet you saw that one coming, didn't you? Something that I learned recently is that writing things down is a Biblical pattern. Over and over, God commands His servants and prophets to "write this" so they can tell the future generations. Some of those writings became the Scriptures which we treasure today! How many times have you noticed something incredible in your morning Bible reading, then forgotten it by evening? Write it down right away! Personally, I had to let go of the pressure to write something "new and groundbreaking" every day. Many days, my journaling is simply copying a few notable verses into the blank pages. Other days, I write questions I have about the passage (even though I may not find the answers during the time I'm reading). I remind myself regularly that I'm not writing a book that's going to be published; in fact, it's likely (and hopeful) that NOBODY will ever read my personal journals. Give yourself permission to struggle through journaling, and keep going.
Two tools have been particularly helpful for me when it comes to journaling: a journaling Bible (try Amazon, Ollie's, Christian Books, etc) and a five-year journal (try either a guided journal or a blank one). Both of these tools allow me to review journal entries from previous months and years. Sometimes the notes I left 4 years previously are what God used in my life that day! Five-year journals are increasing in popularity and can be easily found online and in book stores. Skip to the end of this article for some links & examples of some of my favorite journaling Bibles and five-year journals (yes, I have multiple).
For using a journaling Bible, there are MANY ways to journal - from using stickers & washi tape, to highlighters and post-its, to watercolor drawings, to my preferred simple method of colored Micron pens (I use the 01 size). Over the past few years, I've tried several methods of journaling, and while the Bibles truly LOOK pretty, I found it distracting to have colored tape or drawings in the margins. I then tried using just black pens, and realized I needed a little more variety than that. I currently have a method using a set of six colored Micron pens, to underline and make marginal notes according to this color code:
Blue: word definitions (using Blue Letter Bible app), helpful explanations, memorable sermon illustrations
Red: cross-references to companion verses (since not all journaling Bibles include cross-references and also, not all cross-references are for verses that I personally find helpful)
Purple: promises of God, names of God, descriptions of God's character
Green: growth needed in my life, action required by me, commands to obey
Orange: prayers, verses that I can pray for others, jotted prayers in the margin
Black: any note that doesn't fit one of the other categories!
Do a simple Google search for "color code for Bible journaling" and you'll find lots of categories, and you can come up with a color code that works for you.
3. Add only ONE new thing to your routine.
I hope you've been helped by some ideas so far! But I'll caution you right now, don't do everything!!! I've found that when I try to add TOO much, I end up giving up and feeling like a failure.
- One of the best decisions I made in January 2021 was to add one new thing - a gratitude journal. I was gifted a 100-day gratitude journal, and even though I got behind for a couple days in February, I finished all 100 days. Then I got another blank journal and kept going through the whole year. Of the 365 days in 2021, there were 315 days where I recorded at least 3 things I was grateful for. Do the math - yes, I missed 50 days!!! BUT if I'd given up when I missed the first day in February, I would've missed far more days! And I'll let you in on a secret: by being intentionally grateful at the start of each day, I found myself more consciously grateful throughout the day too.
- Another simple thing to add is a prayer journal. You can either grab a blank journal and write out a few sentences of your prayer, or make a list of requests to pray through, or use the same five-year prayer journal that I have (included in the links at the bottom).
- Lastly, the EASIEST way to breathe newness into your daily routine is a tip from a friend of mine. Add zero new things, but just switch up the order! Do you usually read your Bible, then pray? Try praying first, and then reading! It changes the conversation - sometimes you start by talking to God (prayer), and sometimes you start by listening to God (reading). Do you usually end your morning routine with writing in a gratitude journal? Instead, start by writing down things you are grateful for, as a form of worship before you begin reading your Bible.
There's no wrong way to read God's Word! I hope that through the ideas in this article, you will find a way to connect more with God as you spend time in the Bible. God will multiply the investment of time & effort that you spend in His word.
Resources that I have found helpful:
- "Women of the Word" book by Jen Wilkin (as with all books, use discernment when reading and submit ultimately to the authority of God's Word over man's words)
- 5-year Spiritual Journal: This journal provides a prompt to answer each day, so the journal becomes more than merely a repetitive record of what you did that day - "Overslept, went to work, had tacos for dinner." The thought-provoking questions allow you to create a record of your relationship with God, favorite verses or hymns, and praises & struggles throughout the year. My favorite part is turning to a new year and getting to reread my previous entries!
- 5-year Gratitude Journal: I mentioned that in 2021, I recorded things I'm grateful for all year. I began this "Grounded in Gratitude" journal in 2022, and I'm SO excited to be able to glance back at things I was thankful for in previous years. There's usually at least one morning a week where I'm thankful for a sunny start to my day (yes, I absolutely repeat things I'm thankful for, I can be thankful more than once for the same thing!), but it's also great to remember my gratitude for that sweet note from a friend from 2 years ago or the kind client who prayed for me on the phone a year ago today. You could use any blank five-year journal, but I like this one because each day's page includes a specific thought or quote about gratitude.
-5-year Prayer Journal: I have the beautiful Edinburgh theme journal, and it's worth every penny! Each day has enough space to write a 3 or 4 sentence prayer, or jot down a list of requests that are heavy on my heart. Writing out my heart cries has been such a formative practice for me. Somehow it makes praying feel more tangible, because I can look back over the weeks and months, and SEE how God has answered specifically!
- Journaling Bibles: There are so many kinds of journaling Bibles that I can't link just one! Soft cover versus hard cover, and large print versus regular print (often called comfort print). I prefer bonded leather or soft cover for my church Bible, and I do use a cloth-over-hard-cover Bible for my at-home study Bible. Keep in mind that a large-print, hard-cover Bible may be heavy to carry to and from church, while a comfort-print, soft cover Bible fits in a large purse more easily. I bought one journaling Bible at Ollie's, another at 2nd & Charles Bookstore, and yet another at ChristianBook.com. Feel free to stop me at church to take a look at my Bible to see if it's something that you'd enjoy using. I LOVE my journaling Bible!
- Habit Trackers: I suggest this one and this one. I personally do a LOT better when I can see my progress on habits being formed. These very affordable habit trackers are from an artist on Etsy, and I've used them for a couple years now. I print them on colored cardstock and use colored pencils or markers to brighten up the page.
The goodness of God led Amanda to repentance when she was a 12-year-old girl, and despite a heart prone to wander, He daily draws her to Himself. She continues to attend Lehigh Valley Baptist Church where she was raised, and enjoys sharing digital art and snippets of what God is teaching her on her Instagram account (@amandaangrrr). When Amanda isn’t working her day-job of managing an insurance agency, she is likely to be found trying a new local restaurant, sipping a coffee delicacy, learning something from a podcast or audio book, or finding an excuse to show off pictures of her nieces & nephews.