THE BLOG
01/08/2014 04:48 pm ET Updated Mar 10, 2014

New Year's Resolution to Read the Bible? Here's a 5-Step Strategy

New Year's Resolution to Read the Bible? Here's a 5-Step Strategy

It's that time of year again, the season when we resolve that by this time next year, we'll be thin, debt-free, and totally right with God.

Lord knows I can't help you with the first two. But for folks whose resolutions have a more spiritual bent, here are five suggestions on how to read the Bible in 2014.

1. Start small.

I've tried several times to read the Bible from cover to cover, Genesis to Revelation, donotstopdonotpassgo. And guess what? It never worked for me. I would either get too busy somewhere around February or too confused by what I was reading to continue much past the Book of Leviticus. (A lot of animals get slaughtered in Leviticus. It's kind of disturbing.)

My mistake in trying to read the Bible in a year was in being overly ambitious and not setting smaller, deeper goals. I was trying to check something off a bucket list (been there, done that, studied the whole Bible) rather than actually digesting what I read.

So ask yourself: Why do you want to read the whole Bible? What if you decided instead to read several key books a couple of times each, to better understand and savor them?

Try, for example, just reading Genesis, Isaiah, Luke, and Romans. You've got the gist of the Bible right there: creation, exile, redemption, and living a spiritual life. Maybe next year you could add Psalms, Matthew, and the Exodus. Just start small and build from there.

2. Make it fun.

I've just finished four years of tweeting the Bible, a chapter a day with humorous commentary, with the end product being the book The Twible: All the Chapters of the Bible in 140 Characters or Less . . . Now with 68% More Humor! And you know what? When you dig down, the Bible is marvelously entertaining. Yeah, I know that there are people out there who are aghast at the very idea that the Bible owes it to us to be entertaining, but think about it: would God want you to read the Bible out of a grudging sense of obligation? Or does God want you to enjoy all of life, including the Bible?

So instead of slogging through the whole Bible, or even trying a greatest hits sampler as in Tip #1, you could go the route of the abbreviated bird's eye view. The Twible has all 1,189 chapters of the Bible, plus informative sidebars and dozens of cartoons. You get the general picture, only with 99% fewer begats.

3. Use the best translation you can.

It's not just reading the whole Bible that can be overwhelming. Even choosing a Bible can be a bewildering experience. Do you want the KJV, the NRSV, the NEB, or the XYZ? A jet-black Bible with traditional gilded pages and premium leather binding, or one that's been designed to look like a hipster fashion magazine?

So let's keep it simple. All the different translations have something to recommend them--the NRSV for accuracy, the KJV for poetic beauty, etc.--but you really only need one or two. Try the New International Version, available for free online at Bible Gateway or as an app, to get the basic meaning of the text. It's a straightforward translation in contemporary language.

And to get at the heart of the psychology and passions of the biblical characters, try Eugene Peterson's The Message. I only discovered this when I was several years into my Twible project and wished I'd found it much earlier. It's a gem.

4. Get a guru.

One mistake a lot of people make is in trying to read the Bible without a teacher. This is particularly true of Protestant Christians whose heritage teaches them that the Bible is all they need to get right with God--no priest, no intermediary. And then they sit down with the actual Bible, which is a mishmash of 66 very different books and cultures and time periods, and say, "Um, WHAT?!"

Luckily there's a whole cottage industry of Bible teachers to help. The "For Everyone" series of short commentaries is just what it says it is: for everyone. Bible studies by Beth Moore are also very popular, especially because they combine digging into the text with guided devotions. Some of those studies are available as online teachings or audio messages on her website.

If you're of a more scholarly persuasion, there's even more available for you. For the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, I like Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg (check out her Exodus commentary The Particulars of Rapture), Robert Alter (Psalms), and Walter Brueggemann (just about anything).

5. Phone a friend.

Finally, don't try this at home alone. Seriously.

Reading the Bible is something best undertaken with other trusted people who are on the journey too. So skip the John-Wayne-lone-cowboy method most of us default to at first and go right to the better option of reading the Bible together. Other people will hold you accountable to your reading goals, but even more importantly, they'll be a sounding board when you don't understand something or want to discuss how the Bible applies to your life today.

It doesn't matter if your buddy, like you, is starting from scratch with the Bible and doesn't know the difference between exodus and exile. The Bible tells us that just like iron sharpens iron, friends sharpen one another.

Reading the Bible is something best undertaken with other trusted people who are on the journey too. So skip the John-Wayne-lone-cowboy method most of us default to at first and go right to the better option of reading the Bible together. Other people will hold you accountable to your reading goals, but even more importantly, they'll be a sounding board when you don't understand something or want to discuss how the Bible applies to your life today.