The New Year is usually preceded by many of us looking backward and forward. We look backward and think about all that took place in the last twelve months, for good or for ill. We look forward with resolutions that we hope make us better. Or, we hope to start new habits that will assuredly push us toward greater health or understanding.
One of the areas most Christians struggle with, and therefore often resolve to change, is their habit of Bible reading. We all know it's important. But sometimes the reasons we give for not keeping up with it are legitimate. We have a lack of time not already allocated toward responsibilities. We lack background knowledge of a culture 2000 years in the past. We think we're not good readers in general, so we worry about comprehension and boredom. Would anyone argue that these are not real barriers to regular reading of any kind?
So instead of debunking these excuses, I want to help us see the bigger picture.
Would you say that any amount of Bible reading would be better than what you are doing right now? Would you say that you'd appreciate any passages you could get your eyes on and into your heart?
If you'll indulge me for a minute, I want to talk about the ways we read. More specifically, I want to talk about the speed at which we read. Think for a minute about how many math classes you had to take between sixth through twelfth grade. Didn't you have to take one every year? What about science classes? At least, most years, right? And didn't the classes vary in content and increase in complexity?
When was the last time you took a reading class? I don't mean a literature class; I mean a proper reading class. Maybe in middle school? How many years ago was that? Are we surprised that our ability to read hasn't increased that much since our seventh grade reading class?
Reading is no different from any other skill. You can't expect to get better or faster if you don't push yourself. It's bizarre that we don't have reading classes after the time we're twelve-years-old, but we force trigonometry on students (I could only spell trigonometry because I took a reading class). The average person can read 200 words a minute. With minimal effort, that can be more than doubled. Wouldn't it be wonderful if you went from reading the book of Genesis in three weeks to one week? Instead of reading the while Bible in a year, you could read it in two months? How much better do you think your comprehension would be if the passages weren't so spread out and you read more of the story at once?
Different speeds are good for different levels of reading. Different practices are better or worse for comprehension and speed. I'm going to give you two practices that will help you read your Bible (and all texts) faster and still retain a good level of comprehension.
First, look at the words and don't subvocalize them. By subvocalize, I mean don't sound out each word in your head as you read it. One of the ways we learn to read is to sound words out and read aloud. It's a fine way to train but a bad place to stay. Subvocalizing drastically diminishes the amount we can read in a given amount of time. Instead, practice glancing at a word instead of sounding it out.
Second, read groups of words instead of individual words. After we get comfortable not thinking about how a word sounds as we read, it's time to group our words together. Try reading three or more words at a time. Move your eyes across the page at a steady pace. Don't stop and start. One trick to help train your brain to do this is to divide a page into three columns. Look at all the words in each column and move on to the second and the third.
At first, you'll think this is impossible and not see the value. You may not remember anything you read. Then, after a few days and weeks, you'll be doing it and not even notice. But, you will soon find that you just read the gospel of Matthew in forty-five minutes instead of a week! Wouldn't you feel like you are on top of the world because you read an entire book of the Bible in a single sitting? Wouldn't you want to eventually get to that level of reading?
Sometimes, it's best to just finish something. As you practice reading faster, your comprehension will increase. In the beginning, you may feel like you missed a lot—and you probably did. But keep in mind, this is likely the first advice you've received on how to read since you were in junior high or middle school. Are you as good at calculus today if the last class you had in calculus was ten, twenty, thirty, or more years ago?
This website is a neat tool that will tell you where your reading speed and comprehension is right now. Do your best, but take the results and improve from there. Everyone will have to start somewhere. And if you start now, you'll be better off than the person who put it off another year. You'll select a theme with which you're familiar along with a complexity level. Then you'll read as fast as you can while trying to comprehend the story. You'll take a short quiz to grade yourself. Then you'll know where to start!
Reading is not natural. It does not come naturally to anyone. It is a skill to be learned and improve upon. Some, not all, of your difficulties with reading the Bible will be helped by simply reading better.
Do you have any other tips for reading? Leave them below in a comment.