I think most Christians, at least intellectually, want to study the Bible regularly and learn as much from it as they can. Generally, there are a few things that stand in the way of establishing good Bible study habits, but I’m here to share an approach that really worked for me getting started. Read on for my step-by-step instructions, and a printable daily Bible study sheet!
Set aside a specific time every day.
The main thing that seems to get in the way of practically every activity that people want to do but never or rarely get around to is time. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve skipped the gym because I didn’t have time, I’d be able to quit my job and work out three times a day! However, when I have the most success with sticking to regular workouts its when I designate a specific time on specific days. The same thing applies to Bible study. Whenever I get away from designating a routine time for my daily quiet time, it tends to get squeezed out far more often than I would like. What worked best for me while I was in high school was right after breakfast, then while I was at NC State, I snatched a few minutes before I left my dorm every morning. Now that I have a full-time internship, I don’t want to get up any earlier than I already have to, so I read and pray right before bed. Any time can work, so long as you can count on not being interrupted too much, and if that isn’t possible, just do your best! I know a lot of people either working or attending school full-time who find that lunch is the best time for them, and my mom likes to do her daily study after she gets home from work, which can be a different time on given days, but is still a specific point in her day. If you can’t have the same time each day of the week, that totally doesn’t matter, the key is to set aside time each day that you commit to using for Bible study. If it doesn’t happen every single day, don’t beat yourself up! Everyone gets sick or has a car wreck or a work emergency every now and then. The idea is to simply do everything you can to protect the time yourself, and be realistic about it when you really can’t find 15 minutes.
Have a plan for what you will study each day…
Particularly if you’re working on limited time (a timed break, a train commute, the few minutes you have each morning before work, etc.) it’s important to have a good plan for what you intend to study so you can use your time effectively. If I only have 15 minutes, which is increasingly common, I try to pray for about 5 minutes and then read for the time that I have left, usually on some sort of schedule. Sometimes, I just read anything that comes to my mind or that I feel like I haven’t read in awhile, or go over a favorite Bible story (Esther and Ruth are two favorites of mine!), but I think a little structure goes a long way towards making Bible study effective. A popular thing to do is a “read the Bible in a year” plan, which can easily be found online. Some of these will have just a certain number of chapters for each day to finish the Bible in a year, others will Have a reading from the Old Testament and the New Testament, or even a reading from both Testaments and one each from Psalms and Proverbs. I personally don’t like jumping around like that and prefer the first kind, but it’s a completely individual choice; you can’t go wrong either way. Lately, I haven’t been using a formal plan, I’ve just been choosing a book of the Bible and reading 1 to 3 chapters each day, depending on how much time I have, how long the chapters are, and how much of my quiet time I opt to spend in prayer first.
….but be flexible.
Yes, right now I am reading Colossians. However, if I had an incredibly stressful day and I really want to be comforted with some Psalms, or I had an experience in my day that I wanted to do some Scripture-searching on, I would totally deviate from my plan. Also, some days, I take a break from reading the Bible altogether and focus on prayer, but just every now and then when I have a big issue weighing me down or a long prayer list or I’m really exhausted and don’t think that I can stay awake long enough to read a whole chapter.
I often find that I learn more about God’s word from reading 1 chapter and taking notes on it than from reading 10 chapters without taking any notes. In today’s world, we often read for basic comprehension, not deep understanding, but we’re seeking a profound knowledge of Scripture, and a wonderful way to get a step closer to that is to take the extra time to jot down our thoughts and questions as we go to help us process. Of course, different things work for different people, so this isn’t a silver bullet to solve all confusion, but it does help me personally and many of my friends. I’ve also heard from a lot of people that reading aloud helps them focus and understand what they’re reading.
Find a buddy…
There are so many reasons that it is awesome to study the Bible with other Christians in addition to just alone. For one thing, it’s encouraging! During my freshman year at NC State, I was in an incredibly intense design program, surrounded by a lot of people who were nice, but didn’t share my values and participated in things and acted in ways that put me on edge. While I didn’t have a problem with anyone in my studio, after I left most nights I just felt tired of being surrounded by a lot of negative influences. It was a somewhat similar situation with my roommate, who was a very sweet girl but also not a Christian, so I couldn’t share that sisterhood with her, even though we got along great. Additionally, I was surrounded by a lot of profanity pretty much all the time, and many professors, notably my science teachers, actively made fun of my beliefs. Needless to say, I needed some encouragement and recharging throughout the week! I found that by joining a Bible study through a wonderful organization called Cru, which is on college campuses across the nation. Two girls only a year ahead of me in school started a group in the dorm next to mine, and made a huge effort to welcome and spend time with myself and other freshman girls. It was so wonderful to have a group of people who shared my values and beliefs, wanted to learn more about Jesus and be more like him, didn’t exhibit some of those negative behaviors, and were prayer warriors for one another! I was also part of a Bible study among some of my coworkers in high school that was led by some older women who set a great example for me and prayed for me through some tough times.
Additionally, studying the Bible in a group is just like studying math or physics or history in a group: more people equals more ideas, more perspectives, and more insights. Multiple viewpoints from multiple people (even if it’s only 2) is also awesome because it lead to really wonderful conversations about the meaning of a passage or its application to everyday life. Be warned, though, that these conversations can get long! Officially, my Cru Bible study was supposed to be an hour, but it often stretched to twice that, so if you’re going to study the Bible with others on a tight timetable, make sure to keep a timer handy and mark where you leave off for next time.
Another convenient way to do a group or pair study when it’s not convenient to meet someone at their apartment or a coffee shop is to FaceTime or Skype. When my boyfriend was at UNC-Charlotte and I was at NC State, we had to do our couple Bible study over FaceTime, which was almost as good as the real thing!
…but know when to go solo.
Personally, I don’t know of any topic in the Bible that isn’t appropriate for group discussion (at least among mature people), but sometimes, you need some time along with your God to really pour out your concerns and needs and ask for His wisdom in your life. Sometimes, when I’m really struggling with an issue in my life, I need to study it alone for awhile before I’m able to study it with others, and I’m tremendously extraverted. I love love love group Bible studies, and often attend several a week, but for my mom, she does almost all her Bible study by herself, and just meets with one friend once a week for a group study (outside of church activities, that is). Also, you might have extremely busy seasons of your life where you really crave quiet and solitude with God, or less full times where the time with a brother or sister is especially beneficial to you.
While I bet you’ve heard a sermon on avoiding “checklist Christianity”, in which a believer feels that he or she is right with God so long as they go through the motions of attending church, giving money, helping people, and going on a mission trip or retreat every now and then, I am still a big advocate of having goals for yourself as a tiny, tiny part of your Christian walk. For instance, I have a friend who struggles with some severe emotional issues, and I set myself a goal of praying for her every day for 30 days and for myself, that I would have wisdom and know how to help her if I can. When I first started my daily Bible study (heavily encouraged by my parents), I set myself the goal of reading the Bible in a year. When I lived on campus with a non-Christian at NC State, I set myself the goal of showing her Christ’s love to the best of my ability, and praying for her every week. When a friend of mine studies abroad, I make a goal of texting them every so often to encourage them in case they miss home. Anything can be a goal, and it’s good to have a few for your personal Bible study. If you’re just starting out, maybe your goal is to read the Bible every day for a month to help you establish the habit. If you’re a veteran Bible student, maybe your goal could be to start studying the Word once a week with someone you know who doesn’t have a Christian mentor or who you know doesn’t study the Bible on their own. Your goal can be absolutely anything that could help you learn more, prioritize better, or help anyone else.
So that’s my quick advice on how to study the Bible when you don’t have a lot of time on your hands. Yes, it would be awesome if we could all learn Greek and Hebrew and pour over the Word for hours every day, but God gave us other things to do for a reason! I think that daily Bible study is an important part of the Christian life, but when you have limited time resources, you can only do the best you can, and God will honor that. I don’t advocate only ever giving God back 15 minutes of the 24 hours that He gave you every day, but sometimes, that’s what you have! Hopefully these tips will help you maximize those little snippets of time when you’re pressed for time, and the basic principles still apply even when you have lots of leisure on your hands.
Thanks for reading!